Spotlight: Eileen Muir (Eileen)

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on July 19, 2010

Artists work in many media. Some paint pictures, throw pots, carve wood, write music, take photos, wield torches and some create wonderful images with stitches. I found this artist quite by accident when she very humbly asked if she could post photos of her needlework on the Sewing Cubit. Come with me and I'll introduce her to you!

If I ever had the opportunity, I'd love to visit London, England. Not only are the gardens beautiful, the food lavish, and the accents enchanting, but the people from London whom I've met, have indeed become my friends. I live a world away from them, and it isn't likely the path from here to there is going to get any shorter, but the reach of the internet is long and wide, and the reach of Cubits takes us right to their doorsteps. 2010-07-18/Sharran/aa6d4d

I met Eileen's son, Neil, first. From him I learned about London's gardens and food. When I met his mother, I learned about the perfection that goes into their every endeavor.  I learned to do needlepoint, bargello and crewel at the knees of my grandmothers, but I learned the art of creative stitchery by seeing Eileen's own work.

We'd like to know more about you, Eileen. What can you share with us?

Eileen:  I was born on the North East of England near the beautiful Cathedral City of Durham. The small town I lived in was dominated by a gigantic steel works where most of my family was employed. I had a basic education by nuns, as most of the able bodied men and women were in the services or doing war work since World War II was in progress.

I always wanted to be a nurse but my father insisted that I do a secretarial course.  Eventually I got my way and went off to train to be a nurse. During my training I had to have an emergency appendectomy and I went to Harrogate in Yorkshire to recuperate. Whilst I was there I met my husband, Richard, and we married two years later then settled in Harrogate where, Ian, my eldest son was born.

Richard was promoted 2010-07-18/Sharran/75eafeand we moved to London where Neil was born. After a while I tried to get some part-time work but this was very difficult, so I took a secretarial refresher course and got a job as a secretary in the Ministry of Defence where I stayed for 28 years till I retired.

I know you are interested in your friends, the theater and opera, Eileen. Would you like to share that part of your life with us?

Eileen:  I have a very dear friend from my nursing days. We are still very close as our husbands worked together and our sons were born within weeks of each other. When I joined MOD I met a girl who was mad about the theater and opera (having previously been a dancer in West End shows). I still go out with her to musicals, opera and films when we can. She recently went to live in Munich but cannot settle, so she i2010-07-18/Sharran/a208fas coming back to UK in August.

Now that you are retired, have your interests in other activities grown?

Eileen:  Since I retired I have been busy knitting for my three granddaughters and teaching them to cook, knit and crotchet . My mother was great at sewing and could run up a dress/shirt/blouse at a moment's notice, but I don't think she ever did needlepoint or decorative stitching.

We all know your son, Neil. He's well known for his love of plants and his love of cooking. Do you also enjoy cooking and gardening? Did you teach Neil?

Eileen:  My love of cooking came from working in hotels during the school holidays, watching all that was going on and asking lots of questions. Neil always wanted to help me cook when he was young and since then has come on by leaps and bounds. He is really much better than I at a lot of things, especially baking bread. His wife was a chef and between them they eat very well. When they entertain the family, it is always delicious!!

Neil was also taught by his grandma who was an excellent cook, having been in service as a Head cook.

Eileen, you are interested in many things, before we talk more abo2010-07-18/Sharran/a364e8ut your decorative stitching, are there other things you'd like to mention?

 Eileen:  Sharran, I have lots of interests. As I mentioned, I love classical music especially opera. I like the musical theatre and plays. I am an avid reader, I like a good murder and enjoy historical novels. I like television (especially period costume dramas).

I have done lots of different sewing over the years, I have tried smocking, embroidery, patchwork etc but almost always go back to needlepoint. I have travelled to Holland, Germany, France and Italy, as well as Northern and Southern Ireland. There is an opera festival at Wexford in Southern Ireland that I have always wanted to go to, perhaps I'll get there one day.  I went to Verona twice in different summers to attend the open air operas there. They don't start till 9pm and finish in the early hours of the morning. It's quite magical.

I have also been to La Scala in Milan and the opera house i2010-07-18/Sharran/b99d2bn Genoa. I think Italy is my favourite place and I try to learn a Little Italian so that it helps with the opera and my visits. I go as often as I can to Covent Garden but it has got very expensive lately. I also go to English National Opera where everything is done in English with surtitles (which can be off putting). I do garden but under very strict supervision from Neil. I am allowed to do the watering and help with planning sometimes!!!

You say you always come back to needlepoint. If I had talent such as yours, I think I'd come back to needlepoint, too. I know you studied at the Royal School of Needlework, where they do the gold and silver standards, cushions for church pews, and badges for the military. That's impressive, and tells me that you work with accuracy and precision as well as beauty. Tell me about your piece entitled "Neil's Dream Garden".

Eileen:   Sharran, Neil supervised me making this 2010-07-18/Sharran/4f2495picture. The lawn had to be stitched in different directions so that it looked as if it had been mown properly and all the flowers were done as he wished. He practically stood over me whilst I was doing it!! Still, he was quite pleased with it when it was finished. My favourite piece is the Tiger I did for him (he is very keen on the preservation of the big cats). I took it to be framed and the lady in the shop offered me £200 for it! That was along time ago, but I told her it was for a very special birthday. It still hangs over Neil's bed!

It sounds as if you and Neil have a special bond. At this point in your life, I think it might be difficult to say who is the teacher and who is the student. Maybe it's a combination of both with the two of you.  

 Eileen:  My mother always said "If you want your children to stay close, give them a long string!"

As a mother myself, I know we often (lovingly) give our children the last word. And so it is with this interview. With his words, Neil shares with us his love of the history of his country, and his love for his Mother. Th2010-07-18/Sharran/bcda0fis post script is from Eileen's son Neil Muir:

"Dear Sharon,

You know yourself the hours and devotion it takes to do these remarkable things, I do not just refer to my mother's, I mean anyone's! I do think you can appreciate the time involved in mother's work here. At the Royal School of Needlework they teach the students to make military badges (for the military), Standards and cushions in Gold and Silver wire, that is hard and intricate work as well.

I was watching a program on Hampton Court Palace, where King Henry VIII used to walk from his inner private rooms to hold Court. Either side of the walls was covered in a single tapestry, that is 30 feet high and 100 feet long! Evidently hundreds of people worked on them and each one took over 25 years to compete. They were doing both at once, and competed them in 1510.

They were taken down years ago and stored very carefully, of course. This year is the 500th anniversary of Henry Viii, so it was decided to get the tapestries out, restore and clean them and hang them2010-07-18/Sharran/b284e5 back on the walls for a year! As for restoring it, the Royal School of Needlework did that, but Sharon, as for cleaning them, I would not like the responsibility of that! Big washing machine, or what.

Here is a link to the largest tapestry in the world which has just been moved from Devon to Bristol, 267 feet long and 139 millions stitches.

The Bayeux tapestry about the French invasion of Britain in 1066 and the Battle of Hastings is in France, it was commissioned in 1070. However, we have a copy of it in Britain. See this.

Best wishes.


Thank you, Neil. My very best wishes to you and to your entire family right back to you. Eileen, I have enjoyed seeing your needlework, and thank you so much for sharing it with us. What a great way to get a glimpse of your beautiful country and it's appreciation for fine handwork. Thank you also for sharing Neil. My kindest regards always, to both of you. 2010-07-18/Sharran/7f4813

If you'd like to chat with Eileen, please do so on the threads that follow this article. I'm sure Neil would enjoy chatting, too.

Related articles:
bargello, cross stitch, needlepoint, needlework, sewing, stitches, tapestry

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired Art and Humanities teacher living in western Kentucky. I love writing and art with equal measure, but I also have a passion for nature and plants.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Eileen's Poppies Sharon Jul 27, 2010 2:30 PM 15
My Compliments, Eileen! nap Jul 24, 2010 3:12 PM 25
Neil's Tiger Sharon Jul 24, 2010 5:48 AM 11
Neils Sparing Partner kareoke Jul 20, 2010 7:04 AM 2

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