Assignment Two (Option 2): Exercise 2.2: Focus on embellishment and risk taking in experimentation. Heavily stitched areas

Isolating an area to densely stitch:

One artist who comes to mind in this area is Audrey Walker.


Her work is very strongly biased towards a fine art feel.  Yet with the added texture of thread.  From a distance, her work looks very much like a painting.  I focused on her work, as she does concentrate on women and looks at them from a particular point of view. 

.  I found out more about her, by looking on The Embroiderers’ Guild website and an old interview with The Victoria and Albert museum.

She went to Edinburgh College of Art from 1944 – 1948 and gained a diploma in Art – D.A. (Edin) specialising in painting.

The EG website tells us that ‘She taught drawing and painting in schools and at Whitelands College but in 1961 she made a radical change in her own art practice. She had an exhibition of “fabric collages” by Margaret Kaye and she was entranced and excited by the expressive possibilities of the textile medium – especially embroidery. Needing to know more, she joined the Embroiderers’ Guild and attended evening classes as EG Headquarters.’

It is interesting that she calls her work fabric collage.  This has a more painterly feel than collage to my eye.

She discovered the rich and diverse history of textiles which are stitched by hand and machine with simple, direct, non-decorative marks. To begin, a variety of fabrics would be assembled together to act as a support for the stitching and to establish broad areas of colour and tone. Layers of fine stitches would then be built up to modulate the whole surface and to allow the gradual emergence of the image. The imagery would be figurative and derived from observations, memories, poetry and myths. It sometimes referenced the work of such artists as Piero della Francesca, Rembrandt, Titian and Greek sculptures. A few simple objects could prompt a “still life” which was concerned with the qualities of quietness and light. Explorations of colour and light are essential ingredients in all her work.

She of course mostly used hand stitching in her work.  However I will trial my own way of stitching densely on my machine.  I may do more hand embroidery using this densely saturated way of working also, as time allows. 

e1Using the same isolated area as in the experiment above, I began to draw what I saw (see above)

What’s interesting, is that the shape of the face changes shape, because when looking just at this section, a lot is based on assumption, not knowledge.  It is reminiscent of “visual” Chinese whispers.

From this drawing, I wondered what would happen if I used my sewing machine to heavily embroider.  Background fabric?  I like to use personal items or those with a story.  Thus I used a Muslin Liz Earle face cloth.


I have cropped the image of the cloth to just show the facial area.  I really like this, as it is beginning to take the drawings and my work apart.  I am no longer looking at a face I know, working from an image, but the work is becoming a memory of the image, yet not seen as a direct relation or copy from my drawings.  I used some light coloured paints to gently pastel colourize the fabric.  Then heavy embroidery in lines was used.  If you can feel the piece, you will see that the lovely thing about the fabric is that because of its open weave, it pulls and becomes drawn in places, creating holes.  Thus creating tension and see through areas when held to the light.

The above image shows how I laid out all my material to work from, making sure I could access everything visually.

This type of heavily dense stitching work, reminds me of Alice Kettle.  Her work is generally on a very large scale, but she does use this way of working:

I have recently observed her work at several destinations, including my own local art gallery The Shipley Art Gallery, Edinburgh Royal Academy and finally The Knitting and Stitching show a few years running, including this year in November 2016. 

A key element to her practise is story telling.  Through one piece, we can feel like we have read a novel or been to a play.  This piece in particular looks quite theatrical.  Shakespeare?

What can I take from her work?

–          Storytelling element – this can be often quite literal, not subtle.  Long pieces allow for more pictorial prose.

–          Space in between the stitching and the background layer can add the same value as the stitched areas themselves.

–          Looking to museum collections to inspire – I may be looking at this further on in the course.

–          Mixed surfaces, metallic threads…

–          Strong sense of line.  Outlines on figures helps them step away from the painterly surface she creates.

I think that this experiment I have tried with the machine embroidery is actually strong enough to develop at a later stage.  I wonder what I could do with it on the computer to edit?

Looking at my ideas list, I wonder now which ideas to try, which could create the same densely coloured areas, but in a different material?

Another artist who I found was:

Stewart Kelly

It is appropriate to look at his style of work in this context, as I feel it fits in with my methods at this stage.

Stewart’s work observes and documents the human form, recording its contours and expressions. The drawn and stitched lines are an accumulation of observations and experiences giving rise to the many possibilities of interpretation.

Occasionally figures are visible, whilst in contrast a line may represent a gesture or brief moment in time.

I love how observational his work is.  It has a deeper quality that a portrait.  He sees beneath the clothes, the facial expression.


He experiments with the style in different mediums.  For example, this one above was machine embroidery and wax.  I like his names for his work too.  This one is caled ‘Trace’.  It does feel like something is there, but not fully.

I found an interview on him on Textile Artist (org) and have pasted in some telling comments:

Tell us a bit about your process and what are your techniques.

My current practice is inspired by observing and drawing the human form. I use the drawings as a basis to construct layered surfaces which are created using a range of media. In particular, I am interested in exploring the effects of layering drawing and stitching. The accumulation of lines results in abstract images which are open to interpretation from the viewer.

Initially, I make observational drawings in response to the figure. I work intuitively to create expressive drawings which aim to capture the subtleties found in both gesture and movement. I record my responses spontaneously, focusing almost entirely on the subject, unaware of the image evolving on the paper. As the lines accumulate and overlap, the image becomes abstracted. The figures become less recognizable almost camouflaged amongst the multitude of lines. Each mark is unique and documents a moment in time. My observations and responses are distilled into lines.

I then transform and develop the drawings by cutting, re-assembling and stitching. Existing drawn lines are emphasized with stitch whilst additional lines derived from separate studies are imposed over the surface. The diversity of drawn and stitched marks create unique textures and quality of lines throughout the work. The drawn line is immediate whilst stitching is slower and more reflective. Occasionally figures are identifiable, whilst in contrast a line may represent a gesture or brief moment in time.

That’s what I like about his work – it reflects that moment in time, it feels alive.  He often works in layers and overlaying images.  This is something I had thought about exploring – especially the overlaying.


I was especially interested in his collections which combine ink with stitch.  The collection above illustrates this, under the theme ‘Face to Face’.

His work divides my mind, I don’t necessarily like his work, yet I respect it. I like the themes he works with and his sentiments and material choices, rather than the actual art pieces themselves, if that makes sense!

The above piece is especially clever, as it looks very much like a pencil drawing, yet it is actually machine and ink.  One of his methods seems to be painting paper ink backgrounds, then combining this with overlaid stitch as his drawing medium.

What can I personally glean from his work?

–          Ink coloured backgrounds and overlaid stitch.  How could this be executed?  I am thinking of dissolvable fabric or voile?

–          Overprinting work – could this be in stitch?  Digital format? Voile layers? Print making medium such as dry point?

Looking at his work, reminded me of a piece seen in the book ‘Contemporary Applique’.  (Page 43)  Called ‘And There your heart will be also’.  James hunting.  The space in this particular piece was effective and its use of blacks of fabric colour.  Thus I wanted to look at his work a little:


This piece named ‘The Gardener’ is one of my favourites.  The floral aspects seem to flow into the drawing of the person.  The person has been Screen Printed, thus a cross section of ideas here.  The embroidery is very correct and RSN like.  Where the human form is contemporary, which I like.

Above, a selection of his work.  The drawing on fabric seems to go against the piece itself, which actually works.  The space left around some pieces, adds to the view and helps us to focus.  I think I am warming to his work, due to several factors:

          Use of facial detail

          Aged fabrics


Yet all the above are used in a contemporary way.

His work has a sketchbook feel, yet is actually real finished pieces.

His work is more risk taking than the ordinary, as it can be love or hate.  Some of his pieces I really hate, yet others I love.


This piece here has some beautiful flowers, which seem to disappear as the piece moves downward. They remind me of my own Clematis drawing work from assignment one.  However I hate this aspect mixed with the torso.

His website does not say too much, but he does give this artist statement:

Current inquiries through my work are looking at the ubiquity of cloth in our daily lives, functionality, decoration and sensuality/sexuality. I am looking at the artistic potential of working with designers on the display and utility of textile art, it does not need to be wall based or ‘displayed’ in order to fulfil the emotional and ‘abstract’ function of art.

Mark- making, colour and texture each piece is representative of moments of time, either the past, present, or future. They encompass real or imaginary moments, emotions experienced, desires acknowledged, thoughts barely captured, dreams realised, yet to be realised or even destined to remain unrealised. Pieces should awaken half forgotten associations within the viewers’ memory. Certain stitches, colour combinations and images should unlock a more personal reflection on emotions and lives lived. The intention is that each viewer will move on having spent some time occupying a less concrete dimension of their daily life.

I seldom title the works, allowing the viewer to infuse each piece with their own interpretations, although I have my names for the pieces that I am happy to share if requested. The more abstract pieces, although presented in one way, may be hung according to the owners feeling, each viewer ‘sees’ the work in their own way, bringing their memories and ideas to their viewing.

I feel that I can really learn from his way of using aged fabrics, mixed with these particular themes.  They don’t always appear “finished”, yet they are.  Thus a real thought here.

What can I learn from his work?

–          Use of florals/facial detail and space.

–          Sketchbook like work – I have made thread and fabric sketchbooks in the past – could I try this again?

–          Simplistic line in relation to human form.

–          Mix of materials, such as ink staining on fabric.

Using the resource Textile Artist online has been invaluable.  The website also has an interview on this artist.  One particular comment which interested me was his thoughts on Sketchbooks.  He prefers loose paper linked together.  I do to, but I think sometimes I display them wrong, as I tend to make more display books out of them, rather than beautiful artistic working sketchbooks, which are rough around the edges.

I have many sketchbooks like this from my past. Thus I would like to delve into this again and really go back to the “findy” out way of working, more exciting.

His blue florals reminded me of a disintegration study of mine, using a blue (dyed) rose…

Initial drawings based on the blue rose, which was gently dying. Then primitive stitching with own dyed blue fabrics. Also more drawing work of the blue rose, using oil pastels and inks.

Just a little insight above, but I felt it fitted in with the artists florals here and maybe it will be a way of working for myself in the future again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s