Textiles: A Personal Journey

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m an artist working with fabric and thread. I tell stories through embroidery, creating stitched images and sculptures. I’ve been working with textiles for as long as I can remember and I was taught how to hand knit and embroider by my paternal grandmother.

Did you undertake any formal training?

In 2006 I graduated from The University of Huddersfield with a degree in textile crafts. I learnt so many new skills on the course and I specialised in machine knitting which I embellished with silkscreen print and embroidery.

A few years after my degree I decided to do an MA in textiles at Manchester Metropolitan University. My tutor was the wonderful Melanie Miller, she inspired me to push my boundaries so I began to use digital embroidery.

What attracted you to working with embroidery?

During my degree I was told by a tutor that I wasn’t great at embroidery! This gave me the impetus to improve my skills so I began to incorporate hand and machine embroidery into my knitted textiles.

I love the way that different combinations of threads and stitches produce a variety of textures and finishes. I like the labour intensive nature of stitching, even with an embroidery machine I still spend hours working on each piece.

What inspired you to start your own business?

After I finished my degree I spent a few years working in offices doing administration roles. I continued with my practice and taught workshops in my spare time but I wasn’t really focused on myself and what I wanted to achieve.  In December 2012 I decided to go for it and quit my office job, a scary move but it paid off.

I now have regular teaching work and I get to spend time in the studio working on pieces for exhibition and commissions which is great. I don’t think I would ever go back to working 9-5 in an office, it’s not for me.

Can you describe your studio?

Studio Sewing Table
Studio Sewing Table

I work from home in a room which looks over my garden, so I can watch the birds in the apple tree and my neighbours’ cats. My walls are covered with samples and research for my current projects, and the shelves are full of boxes and jars which contain embroidery threads, buttons and beads.

I have a lot of desk space so that I can have my Pfaff embroidery machine working away whilst I’m using my laptop for research and answering emails. I usually have background music on or listen to Woman’s Hour on the radio. I love working at home as it allows me to work whenever I get inspired, even when I’m in my pyjamas!

Studio Storage
Studio Storage

Tell us about some of your projects to date…

I’ve been lucky to work on some great projects in the last few years. The Warm & the Cold and 365 Leeds Stories were the first big projects I took part in and I benefited from the experience of the artists and writers I worked alongside.

In 2016 I completed Going Sane? An Archive which was exhibited at Leeds City Museum as part of Love Arts 2016. I had such a positive response to the project which was really touching.

What themes do you like to address in your practice? 

My work is centred on personal narratives and includes mental health issues, people’s relationship with food and wellbeing. The work may change for each project but I usually respond to stories, places and objects that have a personal connection to my life.

Can you explain your creative process?

I differ from a lot of textile artists because I don’t use a sketchbook; instead I have a selection of research files and a notebook where I jot down ideas for new pieces. I like to work straight from objects and photographs, gathering fabrics, threads and embellishments from my stash that work well with the colours and textures in my found objects and imagery.

I love to work straight onto fabric and I resolve problems and generate new ideas through the making process.

Where do you turn to for inspiration?

I’m inspired by the world around me, I often joke that I see the world as if it were made of fabric but to a certain extent I think this is true. One place I return to time and time again is the Yorkshire Coast, I visit Whitby, Runswick Bay and Scarborough at least once a month. I love to beach comb and photograph rusted metal and fisherman’s nets on the seafront.

Who or what has influenced your work?

From an early age I was inspired by my grandmother Nora Mills, she was always making or mending something. I sat at her feet learning how to sew on a button and knit clothes for my Sindy dolls.

Photograph of Nora Mills
Embroidered photograph of Nora Mills

Over the years I have been inspired by so many artists and makers but in the last few years I have been looking at the textile work of Louise Bourgeois, the sculptural elements and use of text in her work are fascinating.

Untitled, textile work by Louise Bourgeois

Ruth Singer is another artist I admire; her use of narrative textiles is wonderful. She combines objects and hand embroidery to create detailed pieces that tell a story.

Pinpebbles, Ruth Singer

What is your favourite thing about what you’re doing now?

I’m currently working on pieces inspired by the Archive at Sunny Bank Mills and the Finishing Rooms. I’m hoping to create some pieces for an exhibition later this year which respond to the theme of weave.

I love the colours that are coming through in my photography and sampling.

Cloth Samples
Cloth Samples at the Archive

What are your goals?

I would love to record some of the projects I am doing and make them into books, projects like Going Sane? An Archive would really work well as a book.

2017 also brings new challenges my way as I want to push the boundaries of my work with performative embroidery piece for the Love Arts Festival in October.