Date that this item was entered on to the web-site: 26th August 2003


Christine Risley

Christine Risley, (04.11.1926 - 16.08.2003)

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Christine Risley, who was interviewed by Maragret Hall-Townley at her home in London on 10th June as part of a collaborative project between NEVAC and Goldsmith's College, London, (see below for details). Reproduced below is Maragret's obituary of Christine.

The Christine that we all knew was a charming, understanding and consistently elegant lady, always with time to listen and always interested in the kind of problems her students and friends brought to her. These ranged from difficulty with a piece of embroidery to how to deal with a problem in their personal life. She always made each individual feel special, worth listening to and cared for. Christine rarely appeared ruffled, always giving the impression of coolness and elegance. Few people realise that Christine Risley had a long and distinguished career and achieved a great deal during her lifetime.

Born in Richmond in 1926, moving to Lewisham in 1935 her first contact with textile was through her family, especially her Mother and Grandmother who taught her to sew. She made her own dolls clothes, graduating in a short time to her own clothes and developing what was to be a life long passion for fashion and textile, quickly developing her own very distinctive style of dress.

Christine stayed in London through the war and in 1944 started attending Goldsmiths College where she took the National Diploma in Design in Painting. Post graduate in 1949, Christine, whilst on the Art Teachers certificate course saw a small exhibition of fabric pictures and met Constance Howard. Christine was Constance's first student at Goldsmiths and this initial meeting was to be the beginning of a lifetime's relationship.

Post ATD, Christine was offered and took a job at ST Martin's School of Art. In 1952 she attended a four day course with Dorothy Benson at Singers. Christine so enjoyed the precision and speed of the sewing machine that she went on to Bromley College for further instruction on trade sewing machines.

By 1954 embroidery had become very popular and Christine was exhibiting her work and it was selling rapidly. She says ' It was a pleasure to be able to express my own individual ideas in a decorative manner and to arrange simple shapes and lines of colour as I wished, freed at last of the suffocating rigidity of 'reality' imposed by the NDD in Painting'

Christine taught machine embroidery to fashion students at St Martins from about 1955 but few people are aware that she also worked as a commercial artist, designing wallpapers, fabrics, illustrations and advertising for which she was made a Member of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers in 1976.

By 1967 Constance had appointed Christine as Head of Machine embroidery at Goldsmiths and Christine set herself the task of developing the machine area into one of the most exciting and adventurous of the period.
To assist in this she wrote three books: Machine Embroidery, [1961] Creative Embroidery [1969] and her third book; 'Machine embroidery: A Complete Guide' first published in 1973. This last book set the seal on her as an authority on the sewing machine. To achieve it she worked long hours in libraries and museums, travelling to France and Switzerland for information, speaking to people who had worked on machine embroidery in industrial and trade situations. The publication of the book resulted in her being asked to lecture at home and abroad on the subject.

Christine's commitment to Goldsmiths increased after the department broadened out to become 'Visual Arts -Textiles' and this meant that she was unable to find time for her own stitched textile. 1981 saw a sabbatical year and a new and exciting surge of very different work. Christine writes " I began to realise how fragmented I had become, quite contrary to the image of the efficient, cool, blonde lady that I thought was me - so, strengthened by this personal insight, I was able to amass appropriate visual research that led me to begin to machine small decorative fragmented motifs" which lead to "pretty intense confections with a magical mood."

In 1990 Christine Risley retired from Goldsmiths having started at the very beginning of the course and finishing as Head of the Textile Department. She had seen many changes over the years, including a physical move of the department from New Cross to the Millard Building at Camberwell and back to New Cross. She has continued to support the department in her retirement, especially of late, to the Constance Howard Resource & Research Centre in Textiles she has given her research, slides and some of her work. In June 2003 to NEVAC and the Centre she gave her last interview.

We all lose someone who brought glamour to a subject area that had been associated in the past with the unnoticed and with it the perception and intelligence of the best of human beings. We have lost a great teacher, a wonderful artist and a great friend whose contribution to the world of textile has yet to be measured.

Margaret Hall-Townley