Artists Interview

Isolation is the experience of being separated from others, either physically or emotionally.  Through our posts, we hope our small contribution of sharing our working practice allows us to  strengthen the sense of community. Hopefully the insights of our artists, will inspire you to continue creating or even maybe even start. This week we  bring you another revealing interview from member Sheila Mortlake.

Sheila Mortlock 

Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new ?
During the beautiful summer of 2018 whenever I was out in the local countryside I spent time as I walked observing those areas at the edges of fields that mark the boundary between the cultivated and uncultivated, edge lands. However, it was a holiday that year to a much loved and area of enormous personal significance in the North West Highlands of Scotland that the idea for my project crystallised when I became aware of the boundary markers that set out the divisions between individual crofts. First visited as a child many years ago, the area at the time of our earliest holidays was predominantly Gaelic speaking; a community of crofts, small arable holdings that relied on sheep and fishing. The historical element of this project was important from the start as I investigated the issues surrounding the Crofting Acts of 1886 and 1919 when many of these boundaries were created. This body of work was inspired by the place, imbued with many happy memories of long ago and hopefully reflects something of the culture and heritage of a remote part of Scotland.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
Had I not gone to art college I would have studied history. It is an interest that finds its way into all my work and so the early stages of any new project are always filled with days of investigation and reading, visiting and observing, an immersive process that will inform the textile work that evolves. I feel that a depth of knowledge of the subject is a critical part of my work’s development. For this project, after our 2018 holiday I visited the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness and had access to documents relating to the specific area around the time of the 1886 Crofting Act which for the first time gave security of tenure to the tenants. However, I also looked back at old photographs taken by my father in the 60s and 70s to back up my sketchbook work and the photographs I had taken to develop ideas. However the landscape in all its colours and textures were also important inspirations including the range of seaweed colours, grasses, rusty corrugated iron sheds and the rocks, the fabric of the landscape.  As I have worked into the textiles for this body of work I have drawn on techniques and design developments that explore the mark making possibilities in the subject and it has been important to retain the freedom of the marks achieved on paper, interpreting them on fabric and in stitch while exploring the fragility of fabric as a metaphor for the fragility of that way of life, the heritage of the crofts.

Boundary watercolour drawing

Artists Interview

During this time of self-isolation and social distancing, the desire to  share and connect through our creativity is arguably more important than before. It may help to maintain a calmer state of being amidst the ongoing uncertainty. Please enjoy our  conversation with Bobby Britnell  and stay safe.

Bobby Britnell

Are the ideas or themes for this project on going or are they new?
My ideas and themes for this new project for the Textile Study Group have been on-going and reflect my interest and desire to learn more about bark cloth from Southern Uganda. This fascination has been with me since first travelling to Uganda in 2011. After a couple of trips over there my husband and I, with the support of our two sons and a group of 5 trustees set up a charity to support a community towards a more sustainable future. As well as working intensely with the community of Kisaabwa, our visits over to Uganda had me looking at their crafts, and the process of making bark cloth, really capture my imagination in a big way. We used to go there twice a year and after each trip I would bring back bags full of bark cloth, either to sell or for my own work. Sadly we no longer go and my supply is diminishing!!!

The possibilities with the bark cloth are endless and as well as treating it like most other fabrics, with dyeing, printing and surface embellishment, it can also serve as a canvas for applying paint allowing the natural colour of the cloth to show through. I am exploring some of these ideas along with both hand and machine stitch, although compared to more conventional materials it requires a different approach to stitch and using raffia as traditionally used in Uganda is one such approach. I am always exploring new ways of working with the bark cloth and it certainly presents some new and exciting challenges, but for me the emphasis is always on drawing and design and how this can be incorporated onto or into the cloth.

There will be an article in ‘Embroidery’ magazine, coming out in March 2020, for anyone interested in learning more about this unusual material.

Bobby Britnell


Artists Interview

We hope you have enjoyed our recent artists interviews, we are now on week five with Ruth Issett.

Ruth Issett

Are the ideas or themes for this project on going or are they new ?
The ideas that are used in my chapter are a small part of an on going conversation that I am having with myself about the quality of colour that I make and how I use it. Individual colours on their own or in their raw state, maybe as dyes, have distinct characteristics. For instance, differences in yellows are very visible as they quickly migrate towards light greens or a deeper yellowy orange. When selecting a blue palette, there are countless distinct blues to choose from such as turquoise, cobalt, indigo or ultramarine. The application of a wet colour is visually different to the dry colour but as your eye becomes trained, your memory recalls the variations in the different hue. Changes in surface will give further variations, using different papers, various media and type of application.  Once the ingredients, papers and fabrics are coloured, further visual challenges present themselves. The actual quality of these materials whether robust, delicate, transparent or opaque is important and become an important part of careful selection. The combining of differing surfaces as well as proportion and process add even more challenges. So there is plenty to keep exploring, it is enthralling and invigorating.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
The sampling is the undoubtedly the most absorbing aspect of working with textiles and colour. As I tend to create my colour by using a variety of dyeing, painting and printing techniques, where fibres and weaves play an important aspect of the final colour and surface. I am fascinated by exploring specific areas of colour either with dye or with printed colour. I make collections of fabrics by dyeing and printing, selecting fabrics for their specific qualities and acceptance of the dye. I select colour combinations carefully, studying the strength of each colour and the proportional mixtures.  I also spend time painting small trials of colour mixtures on papers, to understand the character of each colour and how they combine together. I explore and evaluate how the colour responds to the different surfaces, fibres and weaves. All these explorations become the ingredients for various series of work, where combinations are explored, proportions altered, and surfaces worked in different manners. The use of constructional methods, either by layering fabrics or the addition of surface stitch is a completely different activity.  Compared with the use of liquid colour, where processes tend to demand an element of speed, combining and arranging surfaces is a much slower and a more contemplative process. Specific combinations are selected, different fabric surfaces from rough coarse linen layered with fine silk organza or soft muted chiffon or crisp cotton organdie, create mouth watering colour sensations. Observing the differing strengths of these particular coloured fabrics is an important ingredient, but once laid in position, the edges, the density and surface become important as well.  To see how the light will change it, how it will alter once placed next to contrasting colour, or when surrounded by that colour is yet another consideration. This research and sampling is endless, exciting and very enriching.

Studio with a view

Artists Interview

This week we are in conversation with Sarah Burgess.

Sarah Burgess

For my work as part of the Insights project I wanted to continue to investigate the theme of rising sea levels that I began to work with for the Textile Study Group DIS/rupt exhibition. But this time I felt I needed to investigate what is happening due to the climate crisis in the UK; so last year I travelled out to the Norfolk coast several times to walk, draw and talk to people. One of the places I visited was Hemsby where it is very clear to see how the land is slipping into the sea. Increasing storm surges have meant the loss of homes, walking on the beach the remains of lives lived in those houses are obvious; broken pots, rusty metal reinforcement and cascades of plaster litter the sandy cliffs and concrete and tarmac paths are broken off.

I live about as far from the sea as it is possible to get but even in the middle of the UK we are not immune to flood and the effects of torrential storms.

Back in the studio I try to immerse myself in what I have found and also to research what’s happening elsewhere so that my ideas are not limited to one aspect of sea level rise. This is a worldwide issue. I like to use a large sketchbook so that I can draw, collect news clippings and add trials and tests so that I can try and move my ideas on. I also like to write – just notes and questions at this stage. I think I am trying to ask myself both objective and also crazy questions to provoke myself and stimulate further thoughts and ideas. Once I start working with mono-print on fabric or paper it becomes easier to be spontaneous and less in control which has become, for me, part of working with the climate crisis as a theme. We are not in control. Print enables me to have something to react to – with stitch or further layers of print – or scissors. It stops me becoming too precise and measured which can sometimes kill the life in a piece of work. Adding liquid dye has become very exciting and watching the take up of dye across different fibres is fascinating.

Sarah in her studio

Artists Interview

Just a reminder that each week we will feature a different TSG member, so if you haven’t seen our first two interviews, scroll down to read Siân Martin and Mandy Pattullo’s response. This week our conversation is  with Penny Burnfield  

Penny Burnfield 

Sometimes it is good to change direction.  The Insights Project has made me  review my work and has led to new ideas.

Recently my art work has had its origin in outside sources: for example, an exhibition in a museum of clothing, the title of a proposed show, or a curator’s brief.  I have enjoyed this approach, it has challenged me and has broadened my artistic practice.  But I wondered how my work might evolve if the title, brief or venue was entirely my personal choice.

My twin passions are art and gardening.  I have the good fortune to live in the Hampshire countryside – 50 years ago I moved, with my husband, into a small cottage with an acre attached.  The house was nearly derelict, and the land was a jungle of weeds and household rubbish. Gradually it has developed into a garden and now it is open to the public with the National Gardens Scheme.  It is a very long-term work-in-progress.

My very first piece of embroidery designed by myself, was a picture of my garden, but that was 40 years ago. Since then I have avoided using the garden as source material, although it is a popular subject for textile artists.  Perhaps that very popularity was the cause of my anxiety – how could I find my own voice?

It takes me time to see a way forward.  I gather ideas in a note book, a sort of brainstorming – this takes the place of a sketchbook. Slowly my thoughts coalesce. I spent time in the garden, absorbing the ‘spirit of the place’, and made a collection of things I found there, both natural and man-made.  These, together countless old samples and scraps, have developed into a series of collages and assemblages, which give me further inspiration.

There is a saying that the way to make better art is to keep making art – I just needed to ‘just go for it’.  I wanted to capture the feelings and emotions evoked by the garden – and the way to find my voice was to see what emerged.

My starting point was to look at what was already in my studio, and see what I could do with it.  I had a bag full of silk organza, space-dyed in shades of green and brown, which I had used as a background for an installation in a Biology Museum.  I also had a large cardboard box full of green yarns and a collection of brightly coloured silk threads

I experimented with overlapping the pieces of organza and stitching them together.  They looked beautiful with light shining through.  I found that the stitching needed to be minimal and long strips of fabric with an irregular lower edge worked well.  I’m attempting to capture the tranquility of the morning light, but it will need something more – just a little bright colour to set again the green?

And in the past I have enjoyed making free-form tapestry weaving. I have used the box of yarn to make a small square using a wide variety of embroidery and knitting yarns.  There is a gap left in the weaving – for something more exuberant to spill out perhaps?  I am working on how to do this  – making samples – whilst continuing to collect ideas in my notebook and to make collages.

This is an exciting change of direction for me.  Bringing my two passions together will hopefully enrich both.  I am looking forward to seeing what develops.

Collage using handmade papers with onion skins and Phormium tenax root

Artists Interview

Continuing with our exciting interviews, this week we have the pleasure to speak to Siân Martin.

Siân Martin.

As a visual artist was it a challenge to write about your practice ?
This was such a challenging topic, to write about how I develop a project. I’ve always thought my stages of making were in a neat linear, logical progression. I smile as I now acknowledge that it is more of a criss-cross jumble of a network of connections that occasionally make glorious and unexpected connections. I suppose this is the joy I find in the creative making process.

During  this project have you looked at a new way of working ?
My project for ‘Insights’  is a new one for me, although I’ve always enjoyed doing textile-like processes with non textile materials. In this instance I was keen to use discarded plastics to make textile pieces that hint at and question the polluting effect of plastics dumped in the sea and along our coastlines. This is a huge topic, so I started by limiting the focus, initially looking at redundant plastic drinks bottles.

A bottle shape is one that connects benignly as a carrier of water, but also one that has come to symbolise the curse of plastic pollution. Initially, I found plastic an unfriendly material – uncompliant and hard – not the usual qualities of handling textiles, which appeal to feelings of warmth and softness. I associate the plastic bottle with ugliness due to a dislike of the damage that discarded plastics are doing to our planet. I discovered other qualities as I worked with this material.

Work in Progress



2020 – Launching our exciting new project

Insights is a reflection on creative practice in textile art. Through the exhibition and accompanying publication, which is launching at the Festival of Quilts, the Textile Study Group share their varied approaches to artistic practice: where ideas come from; how we develop and make work; where we work.  All approaches are relevant, and our differences are celebrated. 

Insights is curated by June Hill and the accompanying publication is edited by June Hill and Dr Melanie Miller, with additional essay contributions from Jane McKeating, Polly Binns, Kay Greenlees, Claire Barber and Lois Blackburn.

The Textile Study Group members’ work is varied in the themes addressed and techniques employed. Methods of work include hand stitch, machine stitch, quilting, constructed textiles, pieced textiles, lace-making, mixed-media, sketchbooks and drawing, print, dye, in both two and three dimensions. The Insights exhibition includes work in progress and elements of process, as well as ‘finished’ work.

Book launch & exhibition:
Festival of Quilts, NEC, Birmingham 30 July – 2 August 2020

Mercer Gallery, Harrogate, North Yorkshire  7 September – 18 October 2020
Tweeddale Museum & Gallery, Peebles, Scotland 14 November 2020 – 6 February 2021
Please check precise dates and opening times with the venues.

Artists Interview :   

Over the course of the next six months we will  post a series of short artists interviews.  Each week showcasing a different member of the group, giving you a sneak peek into their creative process .  The first member to be interviewed is  Mandy Pattullo.

Mandy Pattullo

What is your favourite part of the creative process?

My favourite part of the process is towards the end when I have made all the colour decisions, chosen the palette of fabrics I am mixing up, laid out compositions many times, evaluated, and then finally sewn it together. It is not enough for me however to just have a collage and the favourite part comes when I make my mark on the surface through stitching. I use the stitching to blur boundaries and either like it to be formalised into a pattern ( like cross stitch) or to think of it as a scattering of stitches across the surface. The scattering doesn’t have to be just seeding but can sometimes be French knots, cross stitches, fern stitches, bullion knots. At this stage I might start stitching and then unpick several times until the shape of the stitch and the colour of the thread is right and then it is plain sailing. I usually have a scrap of linen to hand and even though I know all the basic stitches I practice first as it is very important to understand the difference the size of a stitch can make and whether it looks better clustered, overlapped or scattered.The intention with the stitching is to draw the viewer in to look at the textures and marks on the whole collage. It is my favourite part too as it is slow and mechanical and my mind can empty of the project and I can listen to podcasts. Over the last five years my whole process has been heightened by accessibility to streaming, listening back and podcasts. I have felt that I have become a better educated person as I sew!

As a visual artist was it a challenge to write about your practice ?

I do not find it a challenge to write about my practice as it is aways a good opportunity to  to formulate the ideas behind what I do.I have experience of writing having published Textile Collage ( Batsford) in 2016,  and have a new book Textiles Transformed coming out in September 2020. I try to write every day about what I want to achieve, inspirational words for the mood of a piece and things and people I want to research. In producing a body of work I never start with a concept or idea but the cloth itself and how I can respond to it in mixing it with other cloth, sometimes from other cultures or eras.I call this textile collage but really I am continuing the patchwork tradition and writing about this alerts the reader to the way my work is made within a historical context. By patching on to and stitching into in a sense I am just decorating, and I have come to terms with this  realising it comes from my training as a Surface Pattern designer for Interiors. Through writing I can remind the viewer that this is my design background and  and why I am not content with an undecorated surface.  For centuries women have made clothing and domestic textiles  more beautiful through stitching on to and sensitively patching and I am just continuing that tradition.In the writing I want to express my love for old textiles and the stories they tell and to connect with the viewer and their own family sewing histories. I love to tell others about my processes and inspiration and writing I think encourages others to have a go.

Embroidering over the textile collage, new patchworks on to old french grain sacks.