'a' conversation with Hand & Lock

May 14, 2015

Hand & Lock is older than the battle of Waterloo and the embroidery Atelier, in possession of a Royal Warrant as M. Hand, has been operating in the heart of London since 1767. Past commissions include gowns for the Queen, the Queen Mother and countless generals’ attire. Alice Made This is working with Hand & Lock to manufacture its new collection of embroidered Military Tailoring lapel pins, using techniques dating back to Roman times. I spoke with Scott Heron, Head of Design, to learn more about keeping embroidery relevant. 

Military lapel pins

“Press it against your cheek and you’ll feel the cold!” I’m standing in the embroidery treasure trove of Oxford Circus, Hand & Lock, while holding gold metal ribbon against my face. The proportion of gold in the ribbon means that it feels as though you are touching a solid piece of jewellery, except it’s soft. Remarkable. 

Military lapel pins | Army lapel pins | Alice Made This

Everywhere I look there is something different waiting to fascinate me, all intricate and detailed. I ask Scott how he came to work in this wondrous inventory.

“I had ambitions of becoming a printer”, he tells me. “I love to work with image, but, once my tutors heard the news, they were adamant that I was an embroiderer. I was quite taken aback. At this time I’d never sewn a button never mind anything else!”

“A trip to Premier Vision in Paris, as well as an eye opening visit to a Christian La Croix Couture exhibit and various books on Lesage, made me realise that this is what I wanted to do,” he continues. “After a couple of weeks of interning, I was offered the position of Design Assistant at Hand & Lock and moved down to London to begin my career as a textile designer, specialising in hand embroidery. I’ve not looked back since!” 

Draws and draws of sequins, ribbon, beads and thread line the walls of the workshop. Military jackets in rich reds, adorned with gold embroidered leaves, stand proudly in the corners, reminding visitors of the history and heritage behind the work. Having grown up as part of a military family, Alice Walsh, our founder and head designer, was inspired by military symbols and designed the new lapel pins based on Hand & Lock’s military accoutrement manufacturing techniques.

The Goldwork process used to embroider the lapel pins is extremely precise. Tracing paper artworks are pricked with a needle and pounced with chalk dust to form a ghost of the pattern upon a base fabric. This fabric is then tacked onto a Holland linen base, stretched on a trellis frame and embroidered with gold and silver metal wire.

Magnets are then secured and sealed with military Melton cloth and edged with black dye.

As we walk between the workstations, Scott talks more about our collaboration and his previous military projects. “I felt extremely inspired”, he says. “By incorporating embroidery into smaller men’s accessories, we provide a particular application of embroidery with the potential to overshadow previous attempts.” 

Military lapel pins | Army lapel pins | Alice Made This

Military lapel pins | Army lapel pins | Alice Made This

“My favourite form of military embroideries are the highly decorative and ornate variations we see in diplomatic coats, privy councillor coats and other high ranking uniforms like the Queen’s own body guard. There is a clear, straight path to producing these. Many embroidered accoutrements and badges have a specific look. You can’t just add a flash of colour or change a motif from an acorn leaf to a laurel leaf for instance. The embroidery is there to communicate a particular visual message.”

It is these visual messages that form the foundations for our Military Tailoring collection. Following the end of the Napoleonic wars, simple geometric icons formed a graphic language used across the military. The new collection draws upon this geometric dialogue, incorporating the primary shapes used to represent land, air and sea. We wanted to take a piece of history and make it simple, refined and precise.

The more we talk and look around, the more I wonder whether these techniques will survive for another 250 years. “Education is a big part of what we do at Hand & Lock”, Scott tells me. “Every month we have a specialist embroidery class here in our London studio. These can be a whole weekend, a day workshop or even just an evening taster class. Sharing our skills is essential as embroidery is rarely taught in the UK and is in decline all around the globe.”

“Since starting up the classes two years ago, we have had demand to teach from all over the world and now run classes in New York. We are proud to be able to share our know-how, heritage and skills – we actually feel it’s our duty.” 

Military lapel pins | Army lapel pins | Alice Made This

Military lapel pins | Army lapel pins | Alice Made This

With a decreasing number of people practicing the skills, and access to learning becoming harder, it seems more crucial than ever to find fresh and modern applications of embroidery. The Alice Made This lapel pins work to provide a geometric and graphic approach to a historical technique. After understanding the time and precision taken to complete each product, it’s easy to become captivated by the intricacies.

“Designing on the whole can never move forward without looking to the past”, Scott reflects. “We can design an embroidery in a contemporary manner, but the skills and techniques of hand embroidery will always be deeply rooted in the past.”

“We see innovation in materials, fabrics, techniques and processes continuously. Luckily we are in a position to harness these developments with the knowledge of traditional embroidery processes”, Scott concludes. “One very important thing to remember is that an embroidery will always speak for itself.”

Learn more about Hand & Lock here