Name: Dr Susan Kay-Williams
Job: Chief executive Royal School of Needlework
Lives: Streatham, south London
Education: Fleetwood Grammar School, BA Hons Cardiff University, MA at the Shakespeare Institute, PhD University of Birmingham, CASS Business School, City University London, professional marketing qualifications
Family: Married to husband Stephen
Radio 4 comes on at 6.20am and I listen to the business news, sports news and general headlines before getting out of bed, just to get a sense of the day. Then it is a quick shower and I am out of the house by 7.05am on the way to the station for the first of two trains from Streatham to Hampton Court Palace, where the Royal School of Needlework is based.
I am at my desk by 8.30am, trains willing. The day can involve many different activities because as we are a small organisation I multi-task and am chief executive but also responsible for exhibitions, for our collection and archive and for fundraising.
So a day might include preparing for a meeting of the trustees, or planning an exhibition and writing the catalogue, such as that for the For Worship and Glory exhibition at Chester Cathedral or for the Peacocks and Pomegranate exhibition in our rooms at Hampton Court.
We have a wide range of visitors and I take great pride in showing them around the various classes we offer (leisure courses, certificate and diploma in technical hand embroidery, BA degree in hand embroidery and future tutor programme).
In each, visitors will see how students are developing their skills but also how they are using them in different creative ways. I also enjoy showing off the work produced by our studio, whether that be conserving an old altar frontal or embroidered curtain to creating new pieces for clients.
Our visitors might include funders, academic assessors, international colleges as well as internationally known stitchers.
Some days I will be out of the office giving lectures to a variety of audiences from Embroiderers’ Guilds to National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) groups. These might be about embroidery, about the RSN or about my own research area which is about the history of dyes in textiles.
I very much enjoy giving lectures and am looking forward to the two I am giving at Chester on February 12 on ecclesiastical embroidery and on February 23 to show just what can be achieved with ‘just a needle and thread’.
The RSN has been asked to work on some remarkable pieces.
A work by Cornelia Parker on the Magna Carta featured 200 stitchers and the 87 pieces were brought together by the RSN Studio. I contributed by stitching the letter ‘O’ in the word ‘royal’, chosen for us by Cornelia.
I usually leave for home about 6.30pm unless I have an evening function to attend, which can be quite often but I am always keen to promote the RSN and its work to new audiences.
No two days are alike, which I enjoy – it is hard to believe I have been here for 8½ years already.
What do you wear to do your job? Working in Hampton Court where it can be chilly, especially walking between our three areas, it is vital to be warm, and then it is about wearing what is appropriate for the tasks to be done that day: suits for when visitors come and trousers and jumpers for changing an exhibition.
What is the favourite part of your job? Showing visitors the work of the students and particularly seeing how the students develop over their time on the course and what they can achieve by the end of it.
What is the least favourite part of your job? All the bureaucracy for higher education compliance – larger organisations have additional people to work on this.
What would be your dream job if you weren’t doing what you do now? I would love to have more time to research the history of dyes in textiles, at the moment I have to do this in my spare time, but I published my first book on this in 2013.
How do you relax when you are not working? For general relaxation I enjoy my garden where I grow organic veg on six raised beds, but I also enjoy holidays to different countries. I was able to visit RSN students on a visit to Japan because we teach there and in the US as well as in the UK.
What is your favourite film? I love dance films so it is a toss up between Strictly Ballroom and the original Step Up.
What is your favourite book? Elizabeth Gaskell North and South, closely followed by Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
What is your favourite song? It’s Raining Men, The Weather Girls.
If a film was made of your life, who would you like to play you? I think I would vote for Dawn French.
Have you had your 15 minutes of fame yet? Well after the RSN was asked to work on the wedding dress of the Duchess of Cambridge by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen I think the RSN certainly had its 15 minutes of fame. We had RSN Friends from America and Australia emailing us while the ceremony was still on and many more people heard about the RSN as a result.
For Worship & Glory exhibition is at Chester Cathedral until February 28, Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 11am-4pm. Entry £5 adults, free for children under 12. Dr Susan Kay-Williams will give a lecture tomorrow (Friday) at 6.30pm and Tuesday, February 23 at 6.30pm (tickets £8). Booking essential.
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