The Story of Glorafilia (Part 13)

The Ultimate Needlepoint Collection Book 5 and some of the people who are involved with Glorafilia in their own words.

The Ultimate Needlepoint Collection

We began Glorafilia in 1975 and so The Ultimate Needlepoint Collection, published in 1996, was Glorafilia’s coming of age, 21 years after it all began, longer than most marriages! A magazine features writer once asked: “How is it that you two women don’t kill each other?”, to which there are several answers, but an enigmatic smile will have to be enough. Obviously, we had our moments but on the whole it was a wonderful partnership, as long as Carole did what I wanted!!! “Ah, which one are you?” customers asked, “Are you Gloria?” In long marriages those involved often grow more alike, and while we finish each other’s sentences and supply forgotten details, on the whole we resist similarities. Our homes and tastes are quite polarized, and this created a dynamic that worked very well. One of us goes off on a tangent avenue of exploration and the other appears in the name of taste and commercialism.

The book was a continuation of the first book and we hoped it included something for everyone, jumping between themes that we return to again and again as they are so inspirational, like Arts and Crafts and 1920’s china, as well as designs that we are always asked to revive, butterflies and shells, more kelims, Victoriana and Venetian and textiles and chintz. There were small projects for Christmas decorations, the usual cushions and pictures and large projects to get your teeth into like rugs and wall hangings.

In the introduction of the book, we also paid tribute to our wonderful ‘Glorafilia girls’, some of whom had been with us almost since the beginning (although in the beginning there was just me and her and an Appleton’s wool chart). As the years progress most of us are wondering into rooms in a more menopausal than girlish way.

Daphne was with us since the days of wool in the garage and her serenity presided over the top floor mail order department. Malu, a beautiful Indian lady, who was actually Miss India in the beauty contest of many year ago, ran the work room. Julie B made our designs into exquisite cushions and her place was taken by Gill who continued the good work. Djien painted our hand painted canvases with military precision, complaining about designs she didn’t like,” this is horrible, horrible.” We knew then that the design would be a winner!

Sousan, Julie C and Helen all began by running the shop, then started babies and continued to work for us in other capacities, always somehow involved with the company. Sousan stitched for us, Julie C put together kits and ran stitching classes and Helen went on to produce some of our catalogues. We then had a new intake that were younger fresher and knew how to work a computer, enter Katrina, Shilpe and Clare (more about Clare later). They could still smile when they reached the top floor of The Old Mill House as well as remembering why they went up there. Sian, another talented designer who worked on the latest Stitching Made Easy designs joined us when she came to live in London from South Africa. Sorel, Carole’s daughter made a slice of time between academia and going to India, to paint some of the charts in The Ultimate Book. And then there is Ros, our chief designer and collaborator, first working with Carole and then I am delighted to say, still working with me. She is an extremely talented artist, a perfectionist, slightly bossy, but we have a wonderful rapport and I love her to bits.

Here is what some of our valued employees, really friends, had to say:

Glorafilia and Ros
Ros says:

“I came across the mysterious world of Glorafilia way back in 1976, replying to an advertisement to hand paint canvases, when the very first Glorafilia catalogue was published. Heady days of priming brown canvas and inhaling white spirit and oil paint……thankfully, acrylics were invented later on.

All canvases were hand painted in those days, with me working from home. Carole and I became ensconced and gradually she trusted me enough to give me a design idea, then wait for me to translate it onto canvas. Throughout the ensuing years, we generated hundreds of new designs for the many seasonal catalogues, as well as unique ones for The British Museum and The Royal Academy. Personal design favourites of mine include The Devonshire Hunting Tapestry collection, the Blue and White China designs and all the cats and dogs!

A favourite time for me was working on the designs for The Venetian and Impressionist Books, the best moment of all, seeing the photo of the sewn Wisteria Rug I created hanging over the mint green bridge in Monet’s garden at Giverny!

Working for a short while in the picture-perfect shop in Mill Hill was an experience never to be forgotten. Shelves upon shelves of wools, cottons and fabrics, bundles of sewn cushions, rugs and pictures adorning the small space, sparkly gifts galore and hanging rows of smartly squared needlepoint kits, ready for choosing…the whole atmosphere cried out for the fairies of a Midsummer Night’s Dream to come and play. Sad to see it gone now.

With countless commissions over the years, from houses, dogs, children and wedding samplers, the most unusual request was from a lady who wanted a life-size canvas of Queen Elizabeth l, in all her ruffled glory. That was some challenge. Maybe by royal command?!

45 years on, I am still here, designing with Jennifer now, for a regenerated online Glorafilia catalogue and long may it continue to flourish.”

Clare, the best needlepointer and writer of instructions in the business, now assisting me in photographing the designs for the website, has worked for Glorafilia on and off since 1995.

Glorafilia and Clare
Clare says:

“I did my first Glorafilia kit aged 12 – it was an embroidery based on The Country Diary of an Edwardian lady and I was immediately hooked! I had always enjoyed creating and sewing, and The Glorafilia Shop was an Aladdin’s cave full of beautiful things – glorious needlepoint kits surrounded by fabulous gifts and trinkets, set high on the Ridgeway in Mill Hill Village in an idyllic location with views over London. I worked my way through the Blue Ribbon Rug, which adorned my bedroom and the strawberry cushion amongst many others and was gifted beautiful needle cases and scissor keepers to assist with my pursuits.

Several years later in 1995 I had just completed an art degree and was looking for a job and Glorafilia came back into my life. I began work as a mail order administrator, dealing with large quantities of orders which came through the post or by telephone. If we had a Special Offer in one of the monthly magazines or weekend newspaper supplements, we would be swamped with sacks full of orders on postcards or order forms. Our computer system was long before Microsoft and Apple, with the old green screens and strange ways of searching for data which we would print onto paper with holes down each side, or onto address labels.

All new employees were given A Learn Needlepoint kit – mine was a peach butterfly and I loved stitching it. Carole realised that my stitching was pretty competent and asked if I would like to stitch samples of new designs. I jumped at the chance and I am still doing it all these years later, except that now I am the one who decides how a piece should be stitched!

As with any small business, employees at Glorafilia helped out in other areas when needed – making up kits, serving in the shop etc. I eventually began to take needlepoint classes upstairs in the kitchen with its fabulous views over London. We would dress the room with plants and accessories to make it the perfect classroom for groups keen to learn how to do needlepoint or improve their skills. I was also really privileged to be involved with the window displays. A few Sundays a year I would help Jennifer and her friend Joan (an experienced professional window dresser) and we would fill the large bay windows of the shop with a sumptuous array of cushions, rugs and pictures from our collections along with throws, gifts and antiques, which Jennifer had selected to enhance our needlepoint range. The two dressers in the shop would be similarly decorated making visitors gasp with delight when they reached their destination, many had often travelled from far and wide, especially to visit the shop.

Big highlights of the Glorafilia calendar were when our catalogue was posted out and our annual sale. We advertised the sale and sent invitations to our customers. On the days of the sale, sleepy Mill Hill Village would see a huge queue of customers lined up on The Ridgeway waiting for the doors to open and we would receive bulging sacks of orders from our mail order customers. Our customers would eagerly await the publication of a new catalogue and it was a coffee table must in many homes! It would feature all the latest designs, with favourites, best sellers and accessories and would look fabulous. Photos were chosen, using transparencies and a light box to ensure that the finished samples were shown at their best and with others of a similar theme or colour palette.
All the copy was checked and re-checked until the catalogue which was a real piece of art was ready. We would all be exhausted by the process, but even when you look at them now, after all these years, they still look as fantastic as they did when they were produced.

Eventually I left Glorafilia for other jobs, but I always continued to stitch samples. After my children were born, I would go and help Jennifer one day a week with office work and customers’ special commissions. And I still do! – I still stitch samples, write instructions for the kits and photograph new designs for the website and also look after the Facebook and Instagram pages. My relationship with Glorafilia has lasted nearly 38 years and is still going strong!”

Glorafilia and Sian
Sian says:

“If my memory serves me right I started working for Jennifer and Carole shortly after arriving from South Africa in 1997 and it was truly the best job I could possibly have wished for …….life long friendships made and the quintessential Englishness of the products and the building. AND being able to be creative was simply the cherry on the cake. Thank you, Jennifer.”

Jill and Joanne of Craft Wool & Thread Co. Ltd.
Jill and Joanne say:

“We have produced Glorafilia kits since Jennifer relaunched her brand in January 2018. We love being part of the Glorafilia story as we have grown up with Glorafilia since the 1980’s. We both worked for William Briggs, the needlepoint people who manufactured Glorafilia kits all those year ago. When we were presented with the opportunity to work with Jennifer and Glorafilia again we jumped at it! We both love needlecraft although rarely do we have the chance to stitch our own.”

Jill says: “My husband did surprise me one Valentine’s day with a Glorafilia heart that he had stitched for me, not realising that it was from a kit that I had probably put together. I still have the heart and other pieces picked up along the way. Joanne and I are astounded by some of the telephone calls we receive from customers who are still stitching kits from the 1970’s and everyone has a story to tell about their ‘Glorafilia’.”

I do hope that you have enjoyed The Glorafilia story. It has been a cathartic experience and brought back many happy memories. This is the final part, but I will still keep in touch with anything I think may be of interest.

If you have missed earlier editions of the story you will find them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11 and Part 12.

Jennifer Berman Autograph
The Blue Vase

The Blue Vase.

The Clarice Cliff Wallhanging

The Clarice Cliff Wallhanging.

Abundance of Fruit

Abundance of Fruit.

Venetian Shells

Venetian Shells.

The Glorafilia girls

The Glorafilia girls.

A section of a life size Elizabeth 1 special commission for Anne Miller

A section of a life size Elizabeth 1 special commission for Anne Miller.

Perfect Pets

Perfect Pets.

Kits from the Blue and white collection

Kits from the Blue and white collection.

Wisteria Rug

Wisteria Rug.

Blue Ribbon Rug

Blue Ribbon Rug.

Peach Butterfly

Peach Butterfly.

Sunflowers and Poppies

Sunflowers and Poppies.

Majestic Animals Cushion

Majestic Animals Cushion.

Blue and White Heart

Blue and White Heart.

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