Last weekend I was at Denman College, learning lots, eating lots and generally having a wonderful time. Denman is the Women’s Institute college in Oxfordshire. It’s a beautiful Georgian house and they run brilliant courses on all sorts of things, history, gardens, music, cooking, and of course crafts of all types…I always do a craft course.
I travelled down by train on Friday morning, I had a couple of hours to mooch round Oxford before the complementary taxi picked me up to take me to Denman.
The college was pretty full as there was a federation visit on at the same time, my WI is in North Yorkshire West federation (there are about 100 WI’s in NYW) we have a federation visit to Denman every two years and take over the whole college. By coincidence West Yorkshire federation were down there this weekend, ironic seen as I actually live in West Yorkshire!! I thought it might make it a little cliquey, but not at all, it was as friendly as always. I think about half the guests were from West Yorkshire federation.
I stayed in the Moonraker room, which is Wiltshire Feds room, it was very comfortable. All the rooms are sponsored by a federation, they often have a lot of handmade things in them such as pictures, quilts, cushions, it makes it very personal.
My course was Silk Ribbon Embroidery by Marilyn Pipe, I booked it at last years federation visit as she taught us then and I loved it so much I booked to return there and then. She’s a wonderful lady, she creates a really happy and encouraging atmosphere in her classes, helped along by jelly babies!
The class this time was silk ribbon hollyhocks. We started off painting the background with watercolour paints. These have the advantage that if you don’t like the effect you can dab it off the silk noil with kitchen roll and start again! Having a little bit of colour in the background just helps give a bit of depth to the picture.
The tops of the hollyhocks are embroidered using stranded cotton and french knots, then the lower buds are french knots with silk ribbon. Marilyn taught us three different ways of creating the hollyhock flower, either gathering along the edge of 4mm ribbon, down the middle of 7mm, or folding the wider ribbon in half and then gathering along the fold. The flowers grew pretty quickly.
We added leaves and stems and then a few extra ‘twiddly bits’, I stitched some curly lines of back-stitch in variegated thread in between the flowers and also added some french knots and straight stitches along the bottom.
Considering we all started with the same pack of ribbon, our pictures were all very individual and all very pretty.
Marilyn dyes all her own ribbon so we had a lesson in microwave dying as well.
We had a great time, I even managed a bit of fabric shopping as Marilyn had heard of a fabric sale at a pop-up shop in a nearby garden centre and kindly gave me a lift. I got a nice selection of quilting fabrics. There was also Denmans Craft Cupboard; a mini shop jam-packed full of craft supplies that members have donated, so of course I bought a few things there too!
The food as usual was delicious, we had a big breakfast, homemade shortbread with morning coffee, two course lunch, home-made cake with afternoon tea, three course evening meal…you are well looked after at Denman!
You also work hard! Our first lesson was 8pm on the Friday night, we were back at 9.15 the next morning, stitching all the way to 6pm, although we did have a long lunch (time to go fabric shopping!) and back for an hour after dinner. It’s surprisingly hard work embroidering all day! On the Sunday we had another three hours before lunch, we had time for a good nosy round the other classes to see what they had been creating; beautiful flower arrangements, lovely paintings and lots of fun scandi crafts.
All in all I had a wonderful time and can highly recommend it! Don’t ever be afraid to go down alone, Denman College has such a lovely atmosphere, you can happily join anyone at the dinner table or in the bar, we already have the connection of WI to help start conversation and friendship. Non members can go too, you just pay a little extra!
Our Federation trip is next May, I’ve already booked to do Jacobean Crewelwork 🙂