Welcome to Michelle Holme’s Workroom
What do you do after the horses have bolted? Fret or think a little creatively? Let’s turn to the inspirational Michelle Holme for the ultimate solution – a fabulously moody old-stables studio that puts all others in the shade. By Susan Hurley
Michelle Holme’s romantic stables studio is actually part of a creative co-op of jeweller, ceramist, blacksmith, baker, dressmaker, painter and model-maker. A candlestick-maker would complete the picture beautifully, but alas … Still, the scenery (serene rural England, grand manors, church steeples) and stables setting (all cobbly and charming) is storybook perfect. Or as Michelle Holme’s says, “It has a very English look about it, a little Jane Austen, to be honest.” A LITTLE Jane Austen Good grief, she even has newts and baby wagtails strolling into her studio. And isn’t that Mansfield Park in the background?
We should apologise in advance to all those readers, designers and stitchers out there who have to make do with regular rooms (or even just corners of regular rooms) for their sewing. They may find this unsettling when they stack these surroundings up against Michelle Holme’s fabulous Archangel Studios. But this is simply too lovely not to share. And, prepare yourself, because Michelle Holme’s following description only rubs salt into the sewing wounds.
“The workshop is deep in the countryside. You take a single-track lane, which winds through fields and little woods to the side and a stream on the other. An area near to the centre is now part of the National Forest so there are quite large stretches of trees. I often see deer, rabbits, pheasants, badgers and skylarks as I drive down and return home. There are no street lights, so the stars in winter are very bright and the moon is often to the left of the lane as I drive home. It seems to dance along the hillside. The stable block is Georgian. It used to house horses and estate workers.
Make this charming cushion with appliqué forest mushrooms!
Now there are workshops. My window looks down towards the main house, Staunton Harold Hall. There is a lake to the front of the house and lawns. Swans and moorhens live on the lake. A church sits next to the house, which is owned by the National Trust. The courtyard is sheltered from the winds and catches lots of sunshine. In the summer, I sometimes start the day with a cup of earl grey outside on a bench and have a chat with Janet the Jeweller.”
Why a nag would choose to bolt in the first place is unfathomable. But that was donkey’s years ago, and the Ferrers Centre, as it is known, has been operating successfully ever since. Michelle Holme has worked here for the past 14 years.
“I actually grew up in a small village not far from here. I used to ride my bike on to the estate and loved the walled garden; it still had ancient greenhouses and little doorways, and I used to think it was like something out of The Secret Garden book.”
Capturing that child’s imagination has ultimately led to stitched artworks that now capture the hearts of viewers. Michelle Holme is a fine embroiderer who paints pictures of dreamy blue moons, windswept beaches, complete with gulls and lighthouses, using just fabric and thread. And stay tuned to Homespun for a Designer Edge feature about Michelle Holme and her wonderful Miss Betty series of embroideries.
Ma Bunny Pincushion is a sweet little project and the perfect sewing accessory!
They tell wondrous stitched tales of a sweet little character that has come to life via Michelle Holme’s imagination and skill. Sketches of observed characters, buildings and wildlife are the starting points for her “embroidered worlds”. Linen, cotton, silk and heavy-weight calico are the foundations for building her stitched wonders. Onto these Michelle Holme adds patches, dyes, appliqués and embroideries – piecing and layering until she reaches the charming complexity that characterises her work.
The resultant art pieces are not only expertly executed, they are hauntingly nostalgic, snatching at dusty recollections tucked somewhere at the back of your consciousness. “They are fragments of my vision and my journey,” says Michelle Holme. “I think they resonate with viewers because they bring back memories. It’s very exciting for me when this happens. As I have got older, I think I put more of my own story into the pieces. I open my studio to the public several days a week, so I’m able to see people responses to the work.”
The studio the public is stepping into is as captivating as they works they are viewing. Most of the furniture has been bought for next to nothing from places that were closing or churches getting rid of pews – and very often the items are connected in some way to sewing. There are a couple of lovely old desks, a bishop’s chair reclaimed from an old church and an ex-haberdashery shop cabinet. “It has 16 drawers with brass handles and is oak and glass. It’s so evocative of tailor and outfitters, and I love it. I also have a work table, which is a new addition, from a tailor in Leicester who was closing down after being in the same building for three generations. I love this table. It has marks and grooves in the top, and I just think about all the suits that have been cut out on it … the skills and the craftsmanship it has witnessed.”
There is, of course, an old stable door leading to the workshop side of the studio, which has one window overlooking the imposing Staunton Harold Hall (not Mansfield Park, after all!). “A holly tree is outside this window, and I have put a bird feeder onto a branch so I can watch the birds as I make a cup of tea. The main shortcoming is the cold. The ceilings are very high and the door wide, as it was originally made for horses to pass through. The floors are stone, too, so in winter, I have to wrap up in lots of layers.
Katrina Hadjimichael’s Jelly Friends quilt will help you use up your precut fabrics in no time.
“The aesthetic has evolved quite naturally over the years. I didn’t set out with a definite plan. It is very much a working space. I like the idea that there are a few beautiful solid pieces and then other things just come and go, like collections of twigs or shells or postcards. In that sense, it is a bit like my work – there tends to be solid patches of applique with lighter drawings overlayed.”
If you want to find out more about Michelle Holmes and her Archangel Studio, visit www.archangelstudio.co.uk or Facebook/MichelleHolmesEmbroidery. Or email her direct on firstname.lastname@example.org
A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS:
THE HABERDASHERY CABINET – I got it from Boons, a Leicestershire haberdashery shop that was closing after many years. It made from oak, glass and brass and has gold leaf on its feet – love the worn quality of the gold leaf. Part of its charm is that the lady who owned the shop polished the brass trim every week until it shone.
MY PERUSING DESK – I bought it at The Bothy, which is a little antique/reclamation/gardening shop. It’s 19th century and would have been a clerk’s desk. I like the solidness of it and the patina of the wood. It is a lovely burnt umber colour and perfect for laying work on to check composition.
THE TAILOR’S TABLE – Originally from a Leicester tailoring business that had run for three generations. The wedges that hold the legs together and the little marks/writing in the top marking out cutting sizes add to its charm.
NORFOLK STORAGE TINS –I’ve collected tins since childhood. And I now keep buttons and ribbons in them.
COTTON REELS – They’ve been bought from antique markets – large reels of thick vintage linen button threads. I particularly like the ones with the original labels. Around this area (Leicestershire/Derbyshire), there used to be lots of thread-making industry. Most of my textiles are machine stitched but I like to add hand stitching in these threads.
MY SYLKO THREAD CABINET – My mother’s friend found this. It had belonged to a shop in a nearby village, which, again, was closing. It has two drawers and is oak and has compartments inside for the threads. There is gold and black lettering on the back. Once upon a time, it would have sat on a shop counter. I keep special threads in it.
Photography: Steve Bond Images