A blog post written by Margaret Fairhead RBSA.
I am a textile artist, working mainly in machine stitched pieces. I have developed a particular way of working with a few of the automatic stitches on my machine which I manipulate freely over the surface. Variation in surface texture is achieved by constantly changing the width, length and tension of the stitches whilst moving the fabric around which requires considerable control.
I use a subject or theme which I feel offers the opportunity for experimentation and development into a wide range of pieces which move on one from another. A time span of 2 or 3 years is normal, as was the case with the Rivers pieces. I find moving one step forward from one piece to the next very rewarding, choosing aspects which worked well and developing them further. As stitching is in any case a very slow process, there is much thinking time whilst working, so I am always ready with ideas for the next piece when one is finished.
I am a member of several Art societies and exhibit with other Textile artists as well as artists who explore other mediums. Recently I gave a talk to Lichfield Embroiderers and looking back over past themes of my work it made me realise just how many different starting points, or turning points, there had been. One was when RBSA offered Members the title “Birmingham Today” for an exhibition in the year celebrating 200 years since their foundation.
I had been working with flowers and fruits at the time – not particularly appropriate – so a walk along the nearby canal started a whole new series of work. The first challenge was to of the buildings nearby. New textures, for instance in cobble stones, also offered the opportunity to try out new stitch techniques.
Canal Lock near Snow Hill Rail Station
Curzon St – Old Rail Terminus
This “green wall” was planted near the entrance to New Street Station at St Martin’s end in Birmingham City Centre around the same time as the RBSA event.
Reflections Of Trees In The River
There are many ways in which to be inspired to start a new phase of work. Recently I chose to select a photograph taken whilst walking with a friend near the river Trent in Staffordshire. I was attracted to the rhythmic patterns the tree reflections were making in the water.
Firstly, I experimented with black ink on water-colour paper to try out different interpretations (image shown on right). One or two of these I felt were suitable for me to translate into stitched textile.
For the first piece I used white thread on a black fabric, machining freely over the surface and manipulating the stitch size and tension to create the main lines and for the ripples on the surface of the water.
The second – was worked very differently - over a background of fabric painted in grey tones to represent the changing colours of the surface water. The machine stitching was again worked freely, but this time in black thread and using a variety of thicknesses.
The third/fourth were both long narrow pieces – measuring 12" x 36" overall. White stitching was worked over net and then applied to the black background. On another occasion I had witnessed a compete change – the sunset was behind the trees and reflected in the water. This latter I created by placing torn fabric strips in sunset colours over a cotton layer and stitching all over in automatic stitches to “hide the joins”. In each one I created the winding river lines over a surface of matching white or black net (instead of soluble) which could then be cut back as required.
The fifth and sixth – became more abstract and more rhythmical in pattern:
Two were worked in contrast – white stitching on black, then black stitching on white. In each I also added cord to create even more texture on the surface. The cord I stitched over first on soluble fabric, creating extra stitching either side for more emphasis. The background this time had added satin-stitched areas, tapering to fit in with the rhythms of the main lines.
Creating the rhythms in colour was my next project. Both similar in technique but two different colourways. This time I used a few of the automatic stitches on the machine to blend the coloured threads I was using – rather like a painter who blends colours on the canvas with a brush.
Working in one colour highlighting the tones is my usual way of starting sketching and designing for a new subject. So much of the early design work is in monotone which provides dramatic contrast. However, I am a “colour” person and soon feel the need to gather lots of different colours of fabric and threads to experiment with the next stage, as seen to your left and right. These two designs are similar but I find it challenging and stimulating to try out different colourways. I love the way I can overlap stitching for colours to merge and “move” around.
I am currently working with drawings of a spider plant which was hanging from a basket in my conservatory. This also fits in with the new exhibition title chosen by Tangent Textiles, of which I am a member – “Draw the Line” – as the flowing lines of the leaves offer much scope.
'Draw the Line' Exhibition will take place from 5th May - 13th June at the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre, School Road, Craven Arms, SY7 9RS.
Opening times need to be checked before visiting.