Just before Christmas I received an email from a reader in Australia. Her name is Rachael and she’s an embroidery teacher. She was writing to ask me if I would feature an embroidery frame her son, Mark Harris, had made for the ladies in her classes on my site. She also kindly offered to send me, via her son, a frame as a gift so I could try it myself before writing about the frame.
As mothers do, she had many, many good things to say about the frames her son makes:
“The frames are not just beautifully made but have met our expectation of being lightweight, easy to prepare and most importantly they keep the work super taught throughout the stitching process.”
I was interested! If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you’ll know I like to meet and write about all the people who make the tools and materials we use as embroiderers. Now, I couldn’t meet her son face to face, nor could I visit his workshop since he lives in Canada and I live in Germany. But I could learn about him and his work and share that story with you in addition to writing about his frames.
When Mark was a teenager, Rachael went through her Embroidery Guild instructor’s training. During that time he helped her type up her notes and by doing diagrams for her work. What a great son!
During her Guild training, he repaired many scroll frames for her that had broken when she tried to tighten them enough to get the fabric drum tight. Little did he know he was doing research for his own slate frame design! Finally, the two of them worked together to make a frame that met the needs of his mom and her students.
Once he felt confident about the design, he struggled to find the wood he needed in Perth, their hometown. The import laws are very strict in Australia (with good reason) and getting the steamed European Beech was prohibitively expensive and complicated. He was able to make enough frames for the ladies in his mother’s classes but just couldn’t get the raw materials to make more.
Not long after, Mark and his wife, Tarryn, emigrated to Canada. Not (amazingly) to make embroidery frames! Mark works in applied research as an electronics engineer and thoroughly enjoys his day job. But the move to Canada meant that suddenly the wood he needed to make slate frames for his mother and the embroidery community was readily available and relatively inexpensive compared to the cost in Australia. In fact, he was thrilled at the wide variety of wood he found on the shelves of his local lumber store – woods he could only dream of while in Australia.He was in woodworker heaven!
He’s been doing woodworking since he “could hold a saw” and his real love is building radio controlled aircraft and high power rockets, both of which require extreme precision. Although he doesn’t do much with radio controlled aircraft these days due to restricted flight paths in Canada, he has the highest level certification for high power rockets – these are 10-20kg rockets going way above the sound barrier. If these things are not built precisely they tend to explode, or fall apart at supersonic speeds – both of which, while exciting, are not exactly the desired outcome!
So, in addition to working full time and pursuing his passion for rockets, he still finds time to make slate frames, all because his mother asked him to all those years ago.
Not long after I got the email from Mark’s mother, Rachael, I got the first of many emails from Mark.
It broke my heart.
You see, he apologised for taking so long to reply to my first email, sent in late December 2016, in which I sent him my address so he could ship the frame to me here in Germany. He wrote that his infant son had died at the end of 2016 and it was taking time to get things going again.
I’ve never shared here that my second daughter died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, just shy of her 4 month birthday. So, when Mark told me what had happened, my heart went out to him and his whole family. In the course of many, many emails, he shared with me (and gave me permission to share with you) that the majority of the profits of the sale of the slate frames would go into making infant sized caskets engraved/carved with a message, name, pictures, whatever the family wants and offer those through the funeral home at no cost.
Now I was doubly motivated to make sure every single reader of my blog, my Facebook page, my Instagram page – the whole embroidery world – knows about these frames.
Next time, more about Mark’s company, the story of the frame getting to Germany, getting it from the customs office and trying it out!