The secret sewing studio behind a door at Lancaster Castle

If you visit Lancaster Castle, you may just walk right past the discreet door leading into Sara Dennis’s studio, fitting snugly into the walls of the 12th century castle, and not discover the threads of magic sewn quietly inside the workshop or the curious story behind the craftswoman.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Friday, 6th May 2022, 3:28 pm
Updated Friday, 6th May 2022, 3:28 pm

Although the castle has a dark history encompassing hundreds of years of prison use, executions and Lancashire witch trials, in recent years it has been inhabited by a local coffee roastery, a hub of craftspeople and Sara Dennis – a world-renowned embroidery and textile specialist.

As well as running embroidery groups from her studio space, Sara is also the resident textile expert on BBC’s The Repair Shop, but her story stems right back to a career in nursing and wellbeing through creative activity.

Sara began her journey at Leeds General Infirmary and progressed to running an operating theatre in Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps. She returned to education in the late 1990s, and studied for an art history degree at Lancaster University.

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Sara is also the resident textile expert on BBC’s The Repair Shop.

After following her husband in the military around the globe, they moved to London where Sara took an opportunity to complete a three-year Future Tutor Programme run by The Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace.

Sara said: “Nursing is where I started, needlework is where I’ve arrived. The connecting fibre between the two is wellbeing.

“In between my first and my latest careers, the power of art and craft to promote wellbeing has been demonstrated over and over.

“At the height of the Iraq war working with US veterans, I saw how creative activity helped to promote healing – alongside I have to say video games - a rather less-peaceful activity.

Sara Dennis at work.

“Back in the UK during my three-year master-embroiderer apprenticeship at the Royal School of Needlework, I saw it again with veterans at Combat Stress. It seems curiously appropriate that I now have a studio in the old prison hospital of Lancaster Castle – and I’m seeing again the benefit of art and crafts to people.

“The studio is a really lovely space where I run several regular embroidery groups. Over time, these groups have developed beautifully, everyone enjoys learning, creating and, if they feel like it, socialising. The members have become friends and work in a mutually supportive environment.

“We have created a safe space to develop our embroidery practice and almost more importantly enjoy a morning of collaborative enthusiasm. We swap ideas, materials and stories. And most importantly have fun.”

Sara is offering a series of Summer Day Classes, starting in June 2022, for anyone looking to try out their hand at embroidery in a safe and supportive environment. From beginners to returners, all are welcome to learn the craft of embroidery.

Some of Sara's work.

For more information on Sara’s courses, go to contact [email protected]