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Debbie Mercer breaking the rules, going across the boundaries

Debbie Mercer is a creator, an artist as much as an inspiring designer and embroiderer. 

Coming from a family of creative people, she has dabbled in cake decorating, pottery, painting, lead lighting and watercolours as well as crochet and tatting – but her love is, of course, all manner of embroidery. 

“From an early age, I have been surrounded by creative and practical women. Fabrics, threads, paints etc were all available and when we stitched samplers in early primary school, I was in my element. Home Economics teaching became my chosen career and I have been lucky to be able to stitch and teach most of my working life. Teaching adult embroidery classes locally and in guilds and groups in different states has allowed me to share my passion with other like-minded people and to travel.”

“Creative embroidery allows me to mix different types of embroidery and create my own designs. Nature and vegetation play a large part in my designs. Having a good basic knowledge and appreciation of stitches allows you to interpret what you see in your surroundings. Traditional work from different cultures can also be used with this style of embroidery. There is always so much to learn and explore – having time in retirement is looking good!”

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Q: In quilting and other creative arts, there’s traditional and there’s contemporary. Would you say that this true of embroidery? Do you think this is to be embraced or can it go too far, be too far removed from the tradition of embroidery and become more sculptural? 

A: I have no problem with it – I’d rather they did that than not stitch at all!

Q: A quote from INSPIRATIONS magazine: The rhythm of the stitch soothes your senses, lifts your spirit, nourishes your soul and ignites your passion. Is this you?

A:Yes! I love the gentleness of fibres and fabric. And the whole process: the inspiration; the designing; the thinking time, where I plan which stitches to use, which styles can be combined to create the “look”; then laying down the backgrounds and, best of all – adding in the “filling in” bits like the curly bits on fronds,a sunlit piece of wheat, fragile fragment of coral….

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Q: Do you experiment with, create and trial new stitches for a different “look”? Or using traditional stitches in different ways?  

A: At college, I majored in textiles and embroidery, learning about different stitches from countries from all over the world: Spanish Blackwork, Crewel Embroidery, lots more. I think first, you’ve got to know your stitches, learn and master the traditional methods and techniques – and then you can break all the rules! I create new stitches, combine techniques to achieve a texture – tree bark, coral, wings – a modern approach, going across the boundaries, using and combining traditional techniques.

Q: How would you describe your “signature” style: 

A: I believe that embroiderers do leave their signature, their thumbprint on their works and their works can be recognised. I am classed as a creative embroiderer – my work is planned to a degree, but once the main elements are in place, I design as I go. I am inspired by nature – landscapes, seascapes – and spend time thinking of how to create a realistic outcome, and then experiment and play with combinations of styles techniques, sometimes with painted backgrounds, until it is achieved. 

My favourite books are botanical (Debbie flicks through her “Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady”, exquisitely illustrated with beautiful paintings on very page of flora and fauna through the seasons). 

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Q: Most ambitious or challenging project?

A: One that I am proud to have worked on is “The Red Dress Project”, a collaboration of many embroiderers throughout the world. I got together with other some embroiderers, through Allthreads Embroidery, and together, we created the Australian piece to go into the dress – it’s there somewhere in the folds! 

Q: The piece that you would never part with?

A: I wouldn’t part with my “African Sunrise” piece. I was in Africa with my late husband, and was inspired by the magnificent sunrise. I took a photograph, lying on the ground, seeing the sun through the grasses – it’s very personal, sentimental.

Q: What can we look forward to seeing in “The Gentle Arts” exhibit at this year’s Q&C Spectacular? What type/style of embroidery will you be displaying? 

A: The Covid lockdown has lead me to tackle a series of miniatures – I’ve loved it! – and also, a traditional rococo whitework I’ve been working on. I’ll display my “African Sunrise”, but I’ll be showing lots of work that are mixes of diverse creative embroidery styles…. my signature pieces.

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