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Most familiar from floral samples framed on your grandmother’s wall or pastoral scenes stitched into cushions, needlepoint has not enjoyed a particularly trendy reputation in recent years. With a history stretching back to the ancient Egyptians, it could be said that needlepoint has hit somewhat of a wall in terms of its aesthetic development, stuck in quaint patterns depicting animals and flowers, and struggling to find a place in the contemporary home. However, two ambitious women are now seeking to change this, updating the traditional craft with bold colours and contemporary patterns, giving the neglected form of embroidery a new lease of life. “I want everyone to have more needlepoint in their home,” explains Emmie Hope, co-founder of Hunt & Hope, which creates needlepoint fabric used on anything from cushion covers to upholstering furniture. “It just needs the glory and exposure it deserves. Needlepoint used to be a celebrated fabric but it fell out of fashion due to onerous costs. Now it’s time for it to return.

Oct 18th 2017
Lois B-E

Spearheading this revival is a combination of Hope’s business acumen and Hunt’s needlepoint knowledge, developed over several years spent manufacturing her own needlepoint kits which sold in department stores in London and across the world. “Izzy first developed a passion for embroidery when she was travelling across India after university, prior to her law conversion course,” explains Hope. “Everything was decorated and flooded with colour and she fell in love with it.” Upon her return to England and feeling inspired by her journey, Hunt decided to enrol at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace. However, after graduating with a distinction and establishing a successful business, Hunt craved a new challenge. “One day I visited Izzy and she was feeling fed up with the kits,” explains Hope.

“I said, ‘come on, we can surely do more than a cushion – let’s create something funkier, bolder, brighter’.”

From this, Hunt & Hope was born, with a vision of opening up needlepoint to a whole new range of applications. “The sky is the limit, we can customise anything really,” Hope says. “We’ve upholstered chairs, ottomans, window seats. I’d love to create a long bolster for someone’s sofa, and also a pelmet for a window. We’re currently working on a commission to upholster dining chairs in our swirl design, with each chair in a different colour, chosen to match the client’s wallpaper. Anything goes, and that’s the joy of it.” Hunt & Hope needlepoint also has applications beyond furniture. “We offer a numerical range and an alphabet range – a letter or number in Perspex that you can display on your bookshelf,” Hope explains.

“A client recently commissioned a pair of initials for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.” Conceiving and refining Hunt & Hope’s range of vibrant, unique patterns is an extensive process that is masterminded personally by Hunt and Hope themselves. “In the studio it’s just me and Izzy,” explains Hope. “I do everything from the finances to the marketing and Izzy heads up all the technical stitching aspects. The one thing we do together is the design origination.” Initial ideas for a design can be inspired by a wide range of sources, from flowers and art to museums. “The fact that inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time, makes it so exciting,” says Hope. “One of our patterns, Margot’s Scarf, was inspired by my mother’s friend whose home I helped to clear out as she was downsizing. I discovered this fantastic geometric scarf from around the 1920s, fell in love with it and bough it for £10. We then created a needlepoint pattern inspired by it, naming it after Margot herself.”

Once an idea for a pattern has crystallised, Hunt begins to bring Hope’s vision to life in stitch. “We choose the colours together and then Izzy stitches a small sample. I offer feedback and she responds. She has to be very resilient and prepared to unpick and start again countless times. We do it all with humour and love but I think now and then she must go home to her husband and say, ‘Emmie has driven me mad today!’ By far, the design stage is the most time-consuming aspect of the process.” Once Hunt and Hope have agreed on a pattern and a client commissions it, the samples are sent to Madagascar to be stitched. “It was previously a French colony and they have a rich history of needlepoint and embroidery,” explains Hope. “They are a wonderful team of women and fantastic craftspeople. They send us photographs every day of their progress and we respond with pictures of happy clients with their purchases.”

From there, every piece of needlepoint needs to be blocked – a method that ensures the canvas is straight and returned to its original shape after stitching. “We offer a lot of geometric prints so it’s essential the pattern isn’t distorted,” says Hope. “The canvas is stretched and nailed across a piece of wood. It is then dampened before being stretched again – the whole process takes a week.” With one person taking five weeks to stitch an average single headboard (due to the nature of the craft, only one person can work on one order at a time), which is then followed by blocking, needlepoint is the antithesis of high-turnover mass manufacture. “We have to make sure ‘slow’ is a good word as we can’t speed up the process,” explains Hope. “At first, Izzy and I tried to fight the pace at which things operate, but now we’ve realised we shouldn’t be ashamed of it and that for something this beautiful, it is worth the wait.” In return for their patience, Hunt and Hope feel their customers are rewarded with a quality, handcrafted product that will endure. “Needlepoint lasts forever,” says Hope. “It’s stitched on a very robust canvas – it’s the thickest, strongest fabric there is. I also love the feel of it – because it’s 100 per cent wool, there is a warmth to it. If you keep it in direct sunlight constantly it will fade, but even that has a charm. I love my faded silk curtains for just that reason.”

By pairing this traditional craftsmanship with contemporary aesthetics, Hope feels she can diversify the homes of her customers. “I believe that all beautiful things match,” she explains. “Even though needlepoint is an old craft, it can fit with anything. I love mixing old with new, and there is room for both old-fashioned and modern in the home."

Our tagline sums it up – ‘modern design, traditionally stitched’ – old and new together.” Similarly, Hunt and Hope themselves offer a blend of two different aspects of design. “I naturally lean towards a more colourful, bold style,” says Hope. “While Izzy prefers a more shaded, muted approach. The combination of the two ensures that we have the breadth and depth required to satisfy all tastes.” The result is a broad range of fabrics, from tiger prints and camouflage to classic stripes and a design inspired by the tiles of the Alhambra Palace in Spain. Designs such as Starry Night capture the beauty of the night sky, while Patterned Ground plays with zig-zagged lines of colour. Each pattern that makes the final cut is subjected to rigorous scrutiny by both Hunt and Hope, who maintain uncompromising standards. “We’re in our mid-forties, so we figure that we don’t want to do anything we don’t love,” says Hope. “We have got to be proud of every single design we launch.” Each design also needs to be adaptable enough to look great in any of the multiple colour combinations that a customer could opt for during the made-to-order process. And the duo are happy to provide wool samples and advice for those who are unsure about what combination would look best. 

“There are more than 420 different shades of wool to choose from,” explains Hope. “So customers can match the needlepoint with the colour palette of their own home, often to within a shade or less.” Being able to offer a handcrafted, bespoke service in an age of mass manufacture is something Hunt and Hope have come to recognise as the unique strength of their business – one that is a direct result of working with a traditional craft that cannot be rushed. “It’s a wonderful, beautiful process but it does take a bit of time,” explains Hope. “However, each piece we create will last for generations – it’s an heirloom in the making.”


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