Beth Russell started her career in needlepoint at the Royal School of Needlework in London. After a few years there she branched out on her own forming her company, Designers Forum. To this day, Designers Forum manufactures her kits to the highest specification focusing on quality above all else. Her interpretations of William Morris’s designs are based on years of study. To successfully adapt other people’s patterns reducing the number of colours or altering shapes to suit manufacturing requirements is a rare skill and Beth’s talent is her ability to capture and retain the spirit of the originals. Very few designers can do this.
“William Morris has become so much a part of my daily life that it is easy to imagine that I knew him”
Recently Beth Russell has expanded her range. “Whereas I have continued to enjoy producing designs based on William Morris’ originals I have also branched out a little into the Georgian period. The cushion designs have many colours and interesting shapes; however, they are particularly easy and relaxing to stitch because each shape is filled with flat colour. There is no change of shade within a leaf for instance (unusual for me) so the only part one has to concentrate on is the outlines and making them as smooth and even as possible – to help we provide a simple chart. This really can be a project for long dark evenings.”
Work in progress
Probably the biggest change in the way Beth works has come about with the arrival of the computer.
“I have completely changed my method of producing designs. Originally the design was on paper then traced onto the canvas and then sometimes painted onto the canvas and handed over to someone to stitch. On occasion, only the outline would be drawn on the canvas and the coloured picture used as a guide for the stitcher to recreate it on the canvas. Some of the shots illustrate the old method – those with the drawings and wools or little bits of stitching. This required a very good needlewoman with an understanding of how to ‘paint’ in stitches. I would have done quite a lot of stitching in preparation for this stage so that I was sure the wools chosen would work well together.
By using the stitched design the printer would create a screen for every colour used by tracing where each appeared on the design. This is very skilled and specialised work. It meant that the number of colours in any one piece was limited. It also meant that because of the time it took to set up the screens it was not economical to
produce very small numbers of any one design.
With the arrival of computer and digital printing all this has changed. Now I still start with a drawing – sometimes coloured but more often an outline. This is transferred to the computer and I create the design stitch by stitch on the screen. A big advantage of this is that once the design is in this form and the printer has matched the colours to his inks it can be economical to print in much small numbers (The big disadvantage is I do all the work!)
Also the number of colours used in a design is no longer limited by the number of screens that could be dealt with but by the number of thread colours available. This gives much greater scope to the designer.”