Sourcing ideas and subjects to depict in embroidery is no problem for Brenda Ryan. “I find inspiration from flowers in my own wild garden, from children and their worlds of fairies and dolls, goblins and toy soldiers. My influences are the arts and crafts movement and the Belle Époque,” she relates. “I am very influenced by the pre-Raphaelite art movement and the romanticism in their art. Australian artists Napier Waller, Rupert Bunny, Sydney Long and Thea Proctor are also real heroes for me,” she continues.
Romantic cottages, the female form, crinoline ladies, children, roses, forget-me-nots and other flowers all appear in her work. She is conscious of her market, and designs both simple beginner stitcheries for quilts through to complex designs for more advanced stitchers. “In terms of my embroidery-pattern business, I am always most interested in encouraging a free approach to the art. I am so pleased that so many people find peace, relaxation and escape in stitching, however simple the designs,” she comments.
“Drawing for embroidery has its own set of challenges,” she remarks. “I stitch from my drawings every day. The first concept drawing I find the simplest part of the process, with the refining of the drawings quite a complex and tricky process, as drawings are often not really so easy to translate into the stitchery medium and can often lose too much in the process,” she explains. “Floral and children themes predominate in my work. I like to draw children and their worlds, flowers — increasingly I am interested in Australian themes ... our unique flowers and animals and particularly our Australian history.”
Brenda has seen her direction change somewhat over time. “The last 14 years have seen a big transformation for me from a purely embroidery focus to a quilt focus. I don’t patchwork or quilt myself, preferring to leave that to the quilter/patchworker. I confess it is all a big mystery to me. There is nothing quite like cutting a piece of embroidery out of the frame and handing it over to the quilt maker with instructions about what I want, but no instructions on how to do it. It appeals to the dictator in me!” she relates. Her range of patterns includes hand-embroidered stitchery quilts and cushions, buttons, brooches, table runners and embroidered boxes as well as framed designs.
Underpinning her creative output is a stable and content home life. “I have been married to The Engineer for 40 years. Leon plays a big part in my work, using his drafting skills to calculate quilt patterns etcetera. He is a good sounding board for me and can draw hands and feet irritatingly effortlessly. I would like him to work full time for me, but he informs me that I can’t afford him,” Brenda says with a smile.
Teaching others is also a major focus and she can’t stress too highly the importance of three simple things: good light, a high-quality needle and thread, and a gentle touch. Her classes take her far from her hometown of Leongatha, Vic, and in the last few months she’s been to Tasmania, Newcastle and Hay in NSW, and throughout Victoria. She has found her recent involvement with the Bushfire Relief Group particularly satisfying and rewarding. “To see those strong women, devastated by the fires that destroyed their environment, pick up a needle and stitch themselves together with just a little help from me has been remarkable,” she concludes.