"You can’t produce stitching fast and the dyeing process is the same"
It was 2007 and Pam Spurway was working in an aged care home in Mirboo North when her long-time friend – embroidery designer Brenda Ryan asked her to try dyeing variegated thread. “It can’t be that hard” was how Brenda put it. Brenda loved using variegated thread in her illustrative style of traditional embroidery but had trouble finding a reliable source in Australia. The brand she used was from overseas and the supply was erratic, the dye lots differed greatly, and the colours bled. Brenda saw an opportunity and Afterall Pam had experience with hand dying cotton fabric, so how different could it be? Pam laughs heartily, recalling that she bought one cone of cotton thread and literally started at her kitchen sink, teaching herself the alchemy of dyeing by the age-old method of trial and error.
Read our blog "/blogs/news/cgt-school-the-dye-lot-dilemma” for more about the challenges of hand dying.
Within a couple of months Pam had invented her initial range of 31 variegated colours and within a year had resigned her job as an aged care worker to work on thread dyeing full-time. Pam heeded the advice given to her by an industry mentor “If you’ve got something to fall back on, you always will.” The Cottage Garden Threads journey had begun.
To be a stitcher according to Pam, is to embrace slowness. It’s all about the meditative state in which each stitch is made, building to the finished piece, whatever the scale and design. “You can’t produce stitching fast” says Pam. “and the dyeing process is the same”. Entirely hand-made and reflecting a deeply held philosophy that stitching should be constructed from raw materials made with the same intention as the stitcher holds in her mind when she works.
A lifetime of engagement with the stitching community in Australia and beyond has fed Pam’s experimentation with colour and function. “I knew how I wanted the thread to work while I was stitching with it,” she says; and my thread is dyed to deliberately enhance colour so that when it’s stitched out the design takes on depth and tone. Colour placement on a variegated thread is as important as creating the individual hues that go into it.”
Read our blog “CGT school: Anatomy of a Cottage Garden Thread” for more about each thread's unique features.
Pam hasn’t tired of the magic of hand painting thread to blend the dyes into each other on a single strand of thread. Even when some colours that cause her more difficulty than others. Pam has a selective form of synaesthesia for the colour purple. As an auburn-haired child, she first noticed it when her mother tried to dress in her lilac tones. “I can smell and taste purple and all its hues” she says, “I experience a sickly-sweet smell and taste.” Perhaps an explanation to why purples made a late entry to the Cottage Garden Thread range and “could do with a few more” or so we’ve been told.
Recovering now from a year of significant health issues, Pam is feeling huge gratitude to her stitching community. CGT’s Hearts for Pam initiative brought a flood of well wishes that have left her humbled by the love and acknowledgement she’s received from the stitchers who buy her threads. “Asking for help has been difficult” she says. “I’ve faced a lot of fear and pain and here I am – feeling strong again and inspired. I love this community that I’m a part of and I want to keep creating beautiful threads for them”.