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Exploring Colourful Bridalwear - My Journey with the Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery

My Colourful Bridalwear Epiphany

Earlier this year I started experimenting with dyes, I cracked open my dye book from my university and began playing. I noticed that some brides were looking for a touch of colour in their bridalwear and after creating a wildflower bridal embroidery for a client last year, I wanted to push the boundaries from stitching in colour to adding colour to finished stitches through dyeing.

Left Photo: Becca's Wildflower Wedding Dress.

Right Photo: Close up of bridal embroidery detail, featuring 'forget me not' flowers.

I embroidered flower stems in white thread and added colour with a small paintbrush. I loved the fluid transition of colour which I sometimes find a little too abrupt when shading with stitch alone. My style of drawing has always had a sketchy feel to it with my favourite medium being a stick and ink. At university it was clear my drawing style and embroidery style were somewhat different. Working with the dye helped me connect the two and showed me a whole new way of working which now feels more natural. This technique has translated beautifully into the growing trend of colourful wedding dresses and veils sought by the alternative bride.

Left Photo: Stitch.

Right Photo: Dye.

One day I came across the advert for the Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery and decided to enter. Each year Hand & Lock create an exciting brief for embroiderists across the globe to challenge themselves and create something that truly celebrates the amazing art of embroidery!

New Embroidery Projects

I always loved the beginning of a project…even back at school! I would get excited over a fresh new sketchbook, shiny new threads, and dream of all the things I could cram into it. Most of them didn’t close as they were full of tea-stained wrinkly pages, singed fabric, and sweet wrappers.

Photograph shows the individual materials used. A piece of tulle, lace, a small container of dye, a paintbrush, beads, a reel of thread and a white embroidered rose sample.

My materials for the competition submission. Tulle, Lace, Rayon Threads, Dye and Beads.

The competition took me back to my years at university in the dye room and embroidery studio working alongside fellow designers. It was so exciting being amongst other designers, sharing ideas and spurring each other on. We would sit in the evenings flicking through our work offering healthy critique and ideas for tired minds. Wine was usually present, I even remember a tutor commenting on one of my inky drawings and him saying ‘Whatever you were doing when you painted this, do more of that!’ I didn’t tell him I was with a glass of rosé!

Competition fashion sketches, showing my sketchy suggestive style.

These days I eagerly show my work to my clients and wait eagerly to see if I get the reaction I was hoping for. My clients are at the very heart of my work, so their thoughts and feelings are key.

Creative Blocks

Sometimes there are days when ideas don’t flow as readily as others. It takes a while to find some inspiration

and get going.

Ideas to combat creative block:

- Go for a walk (Fresh air really helps, sometimes you just need a change of scenery)

- Listen to your favourite song and dance around the room (Music and movement helps release endorphins)

- Call a friend or family member (Sometimes you need a little human contact)

- Meditate (This is great for grounding yourself through breath)

- Organise your materials (See if you feel like using any of them, interesting fabric usually does it for me)

- Clean your workspace (This can help clear your mind and start fresh)

A wheat field, the city visible on the horizon. Beautiful blue sky. Crops in focus in the foreground.

My favourite place to walk, the fields behind our house in Bedford, daytime.

Beautiful sunset, orange and yellow turning into a dark blue. The field is in darkness, the city outline is visible on the horizon.

My favourite place to walk, the fields behind our house in Bedford, catching the sunset.

I often take these moments to go for a walk and think about ideas and how to achieve them. Countless times I have been asking myself which leaf I should stitch first to create the neatest line, laughing when I catch myself speaking aloud, alone in a field. Speaking to the trees I imagine. They are very good listeners.

Trees lining the edge of the river running through Bedford. The sun is shining and the sky is a dappled blue with clouds. The reflection of the trees can be seen in the water.

The beautiful trees on the Embankment, Bedford.

Vulnerability in Art

They say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ My embroidery often speaks for me and exposes me in such a way I’m not sure my words ever could. I lean into this concept when creating embroidery for my brides. I listen to their hopes and dreams for the future but more importantly, learning of their past, their journey, and what has led them here, to the day they are now planning for.

Pushing my boundaries

A fresh brief allows you the time to question yourself, challenge your beliefs and grow into new practices. Much like therapy for the mind, I try to channel my learnings into my work to produce pieces I didn’t realise I had the capacity to create. I have more patience these days which helps greatly when my dear sewing machine and I are not seeing eye to eye. I was always told by my Nan and mum never to approach a machine with negative energy, for it will sense this hostility and refuse to sew in a sensible manner. This always brings a smile to my face. The days I sit down and notice the thread isn’t catching and the tensions askew after checking the mechanics, I realise I may need to take a step back, a deep breath and come back with a fresh mind. This usually does the trick along with a few drops of oil. I find peace in feeling a connection to my equipment and materials, they allow my creativity to flow, so if I believe them to be more than inanimate objects, so be it.

Photograph of an old Irish singer sewing machine. The machine is black with a faint and worn gold 'Singer' logo. The machine sits in an industrial sewing machine table.

My Irish Singer sewing machine, who creates the beautiful delicate stitches hand guided by me.

My Irish Singer sewing machine, creating a 3D rose.

Much like the beginning of a new sketchbook or project, a new bride brings a new challenge. Who are they? What’s their story? What do they want their bridalwear to say? And how can I express it?

Brides usually come to me because they are looking for something unique and something that ticks all their ‘dream dress’ boxes. Sometimes the image they have of themselves on their wedding day isn’t quite being fulfilled. There are so many beautiful dresses out there, but none of them have been made for the bride standing before me. That’s where I come in with my bespoke embroidery services.

My Irish Singer sewing machine and I in action.

Emotional Connection

This brief encouraged us to explore our making processes and likens them to rituals. I love the layers of emotion that go into art, textiles, and fashion. It is rarely just a red dress or a blue square on a canvas.

Layers of dyed and beaded embroidered roses following the shape of a vine. A 3D rose has been placed to show development and variation of embroidery styles.

Layered embroidery featuring 3D petals, lace and beads.

The true beauty is that although there may be an explanation for a specific design and an insight into what the artist or designer intended you to think and feel when exposed to their piece, it is up to you.

Art is subjective and you decide how it makes you feel and what you think. This sometimes means that we will have an entirely different outlook to that of our companion, but what a conversation that begins. Art offers a level playing field in that respect, for how can what we feel be wrong? It is simply how we feel.

My Statement

My competition submission design began with white embroidered flora and fauna representing the beginning. My soul as a blank canvas. I added coloured dyes to areas of the embroidery symbolising my memories and experiences. Patches of brown representing decay and the impermanence of life. 3D petals, lace and beads would embellish and signify the most intense parts of my existence. The floral vines designed to encompass the body and suggest a visual narrative of my journey.

Photographs showing a white embroidered rose, then a second rose with colour added through dyeing, then a third rose embellished with beads.

Samples showing the dyeing and embellishment process.

Your bridalwear is a work of art and it should shout your name, nobody else’s. The details personal to you. Whether it be a motif of your travels, your favourite places, a quote, names, dates, whatever makes you who you are. This is your statement.


This competition has given me the opportunity to reflect on the last few years and how I have sought comfort in my work. Turning to embroidery as a way of expressing my emotions.

A cluster of dyed and beaded embroidered flowers, a rainbow of colours. The embroideries are densely layered on the left side, then disperse out across to the right of the photograph.

My journey expressed through flora and fauna, saturated in colour and emotion.

I now look to share my therapeutic practice with my clients by creating their bridal embroidery. I want to help my brides find a way to express themselves, show their true colours and tell their story.

If you are interested in my embroidery services, head over to my contact page and send me a message. I would love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading, Ashleigh X

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1 Comment

Nov 26, 2023

What a wonderful journey you have taken me on in your blog. I don't often read blogs never mind continue to the end. I enjoyed it and found it fascinating. I loved your description of both the technical skills and how your emotions and creativity are blended into the pieces you create. Thank you for sharing . Beautiful.

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