Hanny’s on a straw sustainability quest

17th August 2023

Hanny Newton Straw 1

Hand embroiderer Hanny Newton is on a mission.

Through her recently awarded QEST Scholarship funded by the Broderers’ Company, Hanny is determined to discover what plant-based materials can be used to create thread that shines and shimmers, without using gold or other metals.

“Wheat, rye and oat straw have been used in embroidery for centuries, often in place of gold thread, but not many people have explored how we can use crop leaves, plants, vegetables and different grasses to make refined embroidery supplies that looks like natural gold,” she said.

“That is part of my training – to question why we do things and what is possible. There is something missing in terms of deeper connection to our materials and where they come from.

“I’ve been using gold, silver, copper and tin for the last decade since studying goldwork at the Royal School of Needlework, but I am really fascinated by natural materials.”

Hanny, who works with interior designers on large scale commissions for hotels and restaurants internationally, also teaches courses and sells special threads made by the last remaining metal thread makers in the UK.

She is passionate about improving sustainability in the craft sector.

“When I distribute my threads to customers, I make sure my packaging is recyclable and I know where it’s coming from.

“I also love the process of seeing something that has grown from the ground then turning into a high-quality thread at the end.”

As part of her QEST Scholarship, the Shropshire textile artist is determined to gain a deeper understanding of the historical use of straw as an embroidery fibre.

She’ll study with master embroiderer Jenny Adin-Christie and travel to Switzerland on a study trip to learn from the one of the only remaining Swiss straw craft experts, Ottilia Leemann.

Hanny will study examples of historical straw embroidery in the archives of the Schweizer Stroh Museum in Wohlen, Switzerland.

Hanny is also working with the UK’s queen of straw – Veronica Main MBE, a 1995 QEST scholar.

“It’s been a dream come true.” Hanny said.

“Veronica has spent a lifetime researching and upholding the straw plaiting industry, so taking this forward means a lot to her and it’s equally important to me.

“I’ve learnt the entire process of turning a raw sheaf of wheat into thread, splitting the stems, milling/polishing the straw and spinning it and I’m now in the process of documenting the whole process.

“Veronica and I got really excited the other day when we managed to spin thread from meadow grass that can be found on the side of the road.”

Hanny’s goal is to discover ways to make spinning natural gold thread easily accessible, to encourage more people to take up embroidery.

“In order to take this craft forward, we need to make specific tools to be able to prep the straw,” she said.

“[Using skills learned through her QEST Scholarship] I also want to create work that is about the cycle of life.

“I would like to exhibit at high end galleries to tell this story, creating big immersive artworks on dark backgrounds, using the contrast of the straw so that it emulates gold and really shimmers.”

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