Posted in on 11 April, 2017 in News



Hand & Lock signature embroidery

This year, the prestigious embroidery London embroidery atelier, Hand & Lock, sponsors of the successful Opus Anglicanum exhibition at the V&A, London, celebrates its 250th anniversary. The Carriageworks in Sydney hosted the first of three major  presentations, the others being London and Chicago. The conference ‘Heritage, the Now, and the Future of Embroidery’ explored the enduring appeal of embroidery in fashion and textile arts and the Tambour Beading workshop introduced students to the specialist haute couture embroidery technique.

Tambour Work

Creating Tambour Work with the special tool. Design is produced on the underside.

Expert speakers, practitioners and teachers from Australia and around the world gathered to debate, network and learn about the long history of embroidery and where the practice is heading. I was fortunate enough to be asked to present a presentation during the Heritage section entitle “Silken Treads. Ottoman Embroidery: 600 Years 1299-1923” from its earliest beginnings down to the changes taking places in the middle of the 19th century due to western influence. Ranging from campaign and ceremonial pieces such as tents captured at the Siege of Vienna, through to an array of domestic embroidery and then on to couture, I finished with the memoirs of Leyla (SAZ) Hanimeffendi, especially her recollections of the embroidered entaris and kaftans worn by two of Abdulmecid’s daughters, Refia Sultane and Munire Sultane. Sultan Abdülaziz was the first Ottoman Sultan who travelled to a number of important European capitals, especially Paris, London and Vienna in the summer of 1867. On his return, the Ottomans admired the material progress that was made in the West. Interestingly, when I mentioned that Ottoman embroidery ateliers, many of which were family owned, were awarded gold certificates at the Great Exhibition on London in 1851, Alastair Macleod, chairman of Hand & Lock, informed that at that time, many British embroidery ateliers fell into a slump, possibly due in part to much of the work going to Ottoman ateliers.


19th c. Entari from the Sadberk Hanim Museum Collection, Istanbul. Note the silk cord detail compliments the laid-cord technique in the body of the dress.

Detail of entari showing silk-cord trimming.

Due to time restraints I was unable to continue the many beautiful descriptions Leyla described of the weddings, especially some of the exquisite gifts on display prior to the the wedding of Munire Sultane. She particularly admired a set of richly embroidered napkins for the coffee service.

“On a background of sky blue silk there was embroidered a sun with multi-coloured sequins representing all the colours of the rainbow. The border was also embroidered and had silk braids of assorted colours ended with fringes on which were set coloured sequins.”  She adds that “They were so beautiful that one longed to be a coffee maid just to be able to hold the cloth”

She also described another set of gold embroidered hand towel and napkins used at Munire Sultane’s wedding banquet saying “We washed our hands in the basins brought by the ewer-bearers, and dried our hands on gold embroidered towels held by the chief ewer-bearer. Then I sat down on the floor cushions laid around the table. The table napkins placed on our knees were also embroidered with gold wire”

Kerchief detail.

It’s interesting to note that whilst there was quite a collection of fine embroideries on display as part of the wedding gifts, there were never any items of clothing. These were viewed only by the immediate family and personal household of the Sultan and then put in boxes (usually about 10) as part of the trousseau. Thankfully we can now see these in museum collections.

The convention was opened by the Alastair Macleod himself, and he proudly talked about the company’s origins started by  a young Huguenot refugee from France named M. Hand who came to London in 1767 and began manufacturing and selling lace to military tailors. At the time this was one of the largest waves of migration ever of a single ethnic community to Britain.

Hand & Lock Embroidery

Textile manufacturing, in particular silk weaving, formed the largest single occupation for the French refugees. This work was concentrated in Spitalfields, and a substantial number of large workshops were established. These employed many hands and made their owners extremely wealthy and the wealth of the silk weaving community increased in importance to the broader London economy. The fortunes of this community waxed and waned with those of the silk industry and went into sharp decline in the early nineteenth century. We have mentioned the Ottoman influence but embroidery was also being produced in  India and China at that time.

M. Hand later incorporated the design and manufacture of military badges and uniform accoutrements and became a trusted name used by Savile Row and Military tailors for over 200 years.. Officer’s dress uniforms were and still are highly specialised and require very specific embellishments. In the 1950s Stanley Lock was a talented embroidery designer at specialist embroidery house C.E Phillips & Co. Upon the owner’s retirement in the late 1950s, Stanley Lock bought the company and renamed it S. Lock & Co. The newly formed couture house worked with couturiers such as Christian Dior, Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies on gowns for the Queen, Queen Mother and later Princess Diana and was subsequently awarded the Royal Warrant.

In recent years clients requiring embroidery services have grown to include international fashion houses, emerging designers, interior designers, the Royal Forces, the Royal Family, PR companies and costume designers for theatre, film, and television. Hand & Lock pride themselves on the fact that the design methods and embroidery techniques have changed very little since 1767.

On hearing about M. Hand’s refugee beginnings in London, I couldn’t help recalling the Greek refugees that I wrote about in The Embroiderer. What were the tools of M. Hand’s trade that he took with him as he fled Flanders. Many of the Greek women fled Turkey with only a sewing machine or carpet beaters and special scissors for carpet making. All had to begin life again. All had hope.

In 1998, Alastair Macleod (himself from a family of tailors) acquired M. Hand & Co and, in 2001, merged the two businesses to produce Hand & Lock, combining Hand’s stately decoration with Lock’s stylish flair. Today, the mix of traditional versus high-fashion work covers military, royal and ecclesiastical commissions to jobs for designers including Burberry and Anya.

Chairman of Hand & Lock, Alastair Macleod

Listening to Alastair, dressed in a fine uniform with gold braiding, it is evident that he is a man of passion and sensitivity to his craft. He speaks of creativity, passion and love for the work, quoting the famous embroiderer, Francois Lesage, who once said “To embroider is to dream”. In that one sentence he had me hooked. Creativity is all about dreaming and passion.

He then went on to define embroidery as “the art of decorative design to fabric by hand or machine“.and the requirements for include determination, focus, concentration, patience, time, but the thing that he likes the most about embroidery is “that which delights the eye!. – coincidentally the title of the book I had just recently bought in Istanbul: Ottoman Embroideries in the Sadberk Hanim Museum Collection…skill of the hand, delight of the eye.”

 Among the speakers was Dr Susan Wood, Senior lecturer at Charles Sturt University, whose presentation entitled “So far away from the rest of the world” was part of the “Heritage” section. Susan explored the development of embroidery in Australia of individual embroiders and the development of The Embroiderer’s Guild in Australia.

Adelaide Artist, writer and lecturer, Sera Waters, enthralled us with images of her contemporary embroidery in which she often explores modern themes including her own heritage, with the use of Blackwork which resemble photographic images and fine mosaic work. She has exhibited in Australia and internationally and teaches art history and theory at Adelaide Central School of Art .In 2006 Waters was awarded the Ruth Tuck Scholarship, which enabled her to attend the Royal School of Needlework (Hampton Court Palace, Surrey, UK) to intensely study hand embroidery, particularly Blackwork.

Dr Cheah Hwei-Fen

Dr  Cheah Hwei-Fen studies the embroideries of Southeast Asia and craft history in Malaysia. She  is the curator of the exhibition Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World,   now showing at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore and is currently working on a catalogue of Peranakan Chinese needlework. Her extensive presentation entitled  “Gold Embroidery traditions in the islands of Southeast Asia” explored the various techniques of certain islands and the influence of Islam.

Mary Brown

Mary Brown, has been artistic director for the Embroiderer’s Guild of NSW, Inc. She is also a tutor for the Guild and the co-ordinator of their new Contemporary Stitch and Design Modular course. Mary took us through the changing fashions in embroidery with a particular emphasis on its use in couture and the combinations of the latest technology and traditional hand work. Her slides of such prestigious houses such as Chanel, Alexander Mcqueen, etc were “a delight to the eye”. Mary specializes in the age old technique of goldwork and has recently collaborated with Dr Cheah Hwei-Fen,for the Nyonya Embroidery exhibition at the Peranakan Museum. She was a Visual Arts teacher for over 25 years, and at the end of the 1990s became increasingly interested in textile art which led her to England in 2000-2001 to do the Certificated Course at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace. Today, Mary works across many fields of embroidery, but on graduating from the RSN, she was particularly enamoured with metal thread embroidery. Her book Goldwork Embroidery: Designs and Projects is a must for those interested in this technique.

Alexander Mcqueen dress (detail), spring/summer 2012, Prêt–à–Porter. Machine– and hand–sewn nude silk lace bonded with laser–cut black patent leather, hand–sewn godets of nude silk tulle, hand–appliqued with nude silk lace motifs

Head designer at Hand & Lock, Scott Gordon Heron




Among the other eminent speakers in the panel discussions were: Scott Gordon Heron, Head of Design at Hand & Lock (wearing a fabulous pair of claret shoes highlighted with embroidery);





Detail of a dress  designed by Scott Gordon Heron


Polly Kenny, Director of Programmes Fashion Textiles & Menswear at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London – ‎London College of Fashion. Polly talked about her emphasis, not only on the creativity of students, but the importance of embracing new technology and the need to learn about business in order to succeed. Coincidentally, Polly and I both started our careers at Loughborough College of Art. The sixties was a period when we thought we were pushing the social boundaries, but as Polly points out, Her students are still doing this and are encouraged to do so.


Anthea Godfrey/Artistic Director of The Embroiderer’s Guild gave us an insight in her work bringing together The Embroiderers Guild, The Royal School of Needlework, Hand & Lock and Fine Cell Work they produced this huge piece of embroidered art depicting the penultimate scene from Season 5, Game Of Thrones. Commissioned by HBO to celebrate the launch of the 5th series release on Blue-Ray and DVD. Like all of the speakers, Anthea emphasized the need for better education in the arts and a return and appreciation of the old skills such as embroidery.


Valerie Kirk, Head of Textiles and HDR Convenor at the Australian National University; and Dr Jenny Underwood, lecturer on Fashion & Textile Design at RMIT University, Melbourne alsp contributed to discussions on the future of embroidery.

The Design Team at Hand & Lock.

Jessica Pile

Thanks also goes to all the designers at Hand & Lock, including Jessica Pile who did an amazing job co-ordinating everything, especially the exhibition.

The Exhibition. There is far too much to write about here but here is a taste. There are links to the rest at the end of the blog, especially to the 2016 prizewinners and the hand embroidered handbags which are to be auctioned by Sotherby’s later this year. Apart from the many samples shown, I was particularly drawn to the personal letters written to Mr Lock by such luminaries as Hardy Amies and Cecil Beaton. Many of the exhibits were hard to photograph these due to the lighting so here are just a few:

Letter from Hardy Amies to S. Lock; June 1972.

“Dear Mr Locke,

The remnants of a slight cold keeps me at home and have the time to do what I have meant to do for some time; namely to write and thank you and Peggy for the trouble you took to make the embroidery so beautiful for the Queen’s dress for Versailles. (picture on the cover of Paris Match, 27th March 1972)

I was lucky enough to be standing with Marc Bohan of Dior, Cardin himself and Guy Laroche in the Galerie des Glaces when she passed through and she truly looked splendid and quite outshone Mme Pompidou.”

The same dress was worn by the Queen for the official Silver Jubilee photograph in 1977

Letter from Cecil Beaton.

“Dear Mr Locke,

Thank you for the beautiful embroidery you have done on Paulette Goddard’s Dress. We were all thrilled by it and everyone admired its ingenuity and detail work.

With many thanks and admiration.

( another name unreadable),

Cecil Beaton

Copper sheets utilsed for the “Prick & Pounce” method.


Mask 1

Mask 2


Sample of embroidery produced for a dress designed for Princess Diana by Catherine Walker just prior to her separation with Prince Charles


The final dress.

Throughout the convention it became evident that embroidery is undergoing a renaissance, thanks in part to technology and the internet bringing the world into our homes and exposing us to the arts in general. And so the final word must go to Alastair Macleod himself. “There is nothing new,” he told us. “Technology may change, cultures merge, but ever since man first sewed two pieces of leather together all those centuries ago, we still use the same basic stitches and have the same appreciation for something beautiful. We at Hand & Lock firmly believe that education and sponsorship is vitalThe skills must be passed on to the next generation. It is they who will carry on this skill that “will delight the eye”

250th Anniversary and the London Embroidery Conference 2017

The EmbroidererThe Embroiderer is a beautifully written novel spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, set against the backdrop of the Greek War of Independence. It was published on 5th November 2014 and is available to buy in paperback and as an ebook.

You can order from all good bookshops and online retailers.

Purchase directly from the publisher here:

Published by SilverWood Books Ltd.