Hannah Frew Paterson

Born: March 31, 1931;

Died: September 8, 2023

Hannah Frew Paterson, who has died aged 92, was an artist who taught at Glasgow School of Art for 22 years, from 1968-1990, and was awarded an MBE in 1992 for services to embroidery.

Her modern, imaginative work was full of colour, texture and radical invention, and quite unlike traditional embroidery. She experimented and pioneered 3D textile forms, panels and tapestries, ever pushing boundaries, inventing surfaces inspired by natural form via meticulous stitchery. These breathtaking creations illuminate many churches across Scotland, including outstanding examples in Cardross Church, St Margaret's Chapel in Edinburgh Castle and many others.

Hannah was born in Chapelton, Lanarkshire, in 1931. A blacksmith’s daughter, her brothers took precedence in education, the norm back then, so it took her a while to find her niche. "We weren't wealthy. My two brothers wanted to be architects, which was a long training," she later remembered "It was never discussed. I just decided to get on with it.”

She worked at J&P Coats in Glasgow and at 16 took graphic design evening classes at GSA. "Initially I trained as a Coats diagram artist, showing people how to do embroidery and crochet via written instructions." But at 19 she discovered a brave new world when the company sent her to GSA on day release.

“I was sent for non-diploma classes in basic design given by Gordon Huntly, and embroidery and weaving under Kath Whyte,” She excelled, her abilities spotted by Whyte, who asked why she hadn't applied to art school. "I decided overnight that's what I wanted to do.”

Coats were supportive, giving her part-time work. Interviewed by then registrar, later director Sir Harry Barnes, he warned she would have to work very hard. “Thanks to my first tutor, the unorthodox Ted Odling, I developed a strong textile appreciation based on a natural love of surface qualities of all kinds of materials, and endless possibilities of combining thread and fabric."

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Paterson described 1960s art school as daunting, but exhilarating, since there was a sea change in teaching methods breaking away from the traditional to develop a more imaginative approach. “We were set a wonderful variety of projects designed to stretch the imagination.”

Her section became known as "the inventors’ club” due to their experimental work under inspiring tutors such as Whyte. A post-diploma year in Birmingham made her understand just how special GSA was. “Its wonderful atmosphere set it apart from all other schools.” She was top student in her year and in 1967 won the coveted Newbery Medal, a prize open to all students, designers and architects. She became a full-time lecturer in 1968.

The panels in Cardross are regarded as an outstanding example of Church embroidery. Almost like a sculpture, some was inspired by the burned-out motor of a food mixer! Other church works were inspired by water and sand or "the small stones trapped in the web of stitched and textured seaweed”.

Her creations for pulpit falls include Old Parish Church Hamilton, Glasgow Cathedral, Wellington Church, Mansfield Church Kilwinning, Westerton Parish Church, and a commission from Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh.

She married Tom Paterson in 1972 and began teaching part-time to bring up her three-year-old stepson John. While working on Cardross Church's famous giant triptych, she spent three years at weekends on these magnificent 12ft by 6ft embroidery panels, themed Animal, Vegetable and Mineral.

One day John came into the workroom asking “Mum, are you coming to the park this time?' She said ‘It broke my heart. I knew I had to finish fast’.” She carried out lectures, including a tour in Australia and continued to design inventively for exhibitions. Her book Three Dimensional Embroidery was published in 1975.

Hannah took early retirement to spend time with Tom, who died in 1993. Awarded an MBE in 1992, she continued to make waves in the art world through her church embroidery work.

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Artist Adele Patrick remembers Hannah as “a remarkable creative, someone wholly committed to her very specialised practice and someone I greatly admired. I met her on my first day in Glasgow for my interview for embroidered and woven textiles and I saw her each day during my degree course.”

Fellow artist Claire Heminsley told me: "She was the kindest person, with a great sense of humour. Passionate about textiles and embroidery, she was extremely supportive of new approaches to working. She encouraged us all to break boundaries. I have so many lovely memories of Hannah. Her legacy will continue long into the future.”

Hannah is survived by her stepson John and grandchildren Ines and Isla.