Stitch by glorious stitch…

Ian Berry artistOne of the features I’ve most enjoyed writing recently is Oh Sew Beautiful for Simply Sewing issue 34 (in shops and available to buy online now). It gave me the chance to interview five exceptional artists who use threads and fabric as their medium.

Harriet Riddell, Ian Berry , Jessica So Ren Tang, Nigel Cheney and Michelle Kingdom each create worlds of light, shade, texture and dreams using their textiles of choice.

India, Living Root Bridge stitch by Harriet Riddell

India, Living Root Bridge stitched by Harriet Riddell

Harriet captures the scenes and faces she encounters on her travels using a peddle-powered sewing machine. “I like to work from life and use my surroundings as a colour reference,” she says. “I love the tactile nature of textiles. I love textures and how strong the use of line can be when in thread.”

Detail by Ian Berry

Detail by Ian Berry

The gorgeous painterly quality of Ian’s artwork is achieved through hours of painstaking effort. “They take a long time to create, layering up the denim pieces and also finding the perfect shade,” he says. “When I open up the pocket, underneath you’ve got such a strong indigo, with a gradient to where the pocket opens. I see the fade in the cat’s whiskers, the amazing contrasts around the belt and a hem, and all of this allows me to use the denim like paint.

Blue Willow Plate detail stitched by Jessica So Ren Tang

Blue Willow Plate detail stitched by Jessica So Ren Tang

Jessica fell in love “with the softness and tactile nature of embroidery. I could create 3D objects and illustrative thread paintings with textile and fabric. It offered the potential to create something new and different.”

Nigel Cheney dog portraits photo by Sylvain_Deleu

Dogs by Nigel Cheney, photo by Sylvain Deleu

Nigel is passionate about fabrics. “There’s something about the quality of colour when it’s in a soft material that can’t be beaten,” he says. “The way that linen will have a faded grandeur and silk a bloom and depth of shimmering colour is so seductive. The tactility of different fibres, their textures and physical properties never fail to make my heart sing.”

Using threads was instinctual for Michelle. “While it’s inherently beautiful, there’s also something primitive, awkward and fragile about it, which strikes me as both compelling and honest,” she says. “Undeniably tactile in nature, embroidery touches not only the seamstress in me, but connects me to the memory of so many women with stories buried in thread that came before me.”

Life Will Divide Us by Michelle Kingdom

Life Will Divide Us by Michelle Kingdom

Michelle’s preferred technique is to use thread loosely as a drawing tool. “More and more I move away from traditional stitch technique and prefer to play with thread in intuitive ways to recreate the medium. I tackle one new piece at a time and continue to plough ahead on new ideas. The medium seems the best way for me to express my private thoughts, and its results still surprise me after all these years.”

Read the full issue in Simply Sewing issue 34.

Brilliant hues with Zandra Rhodes

ZandraRhodes cr CoatsEarly this year I interviewed the inimitable Zandra Rhodes for Simply Sewing magazine, and it was an absolute pleasure. The piece has been published in issue 3 of the mag.

I began the feature with the paragraphs:

It’s 1973, 6am in the Red Centre of Australia. In the desert chill a young woman sits sketching Uluru, the sandstone monolith then better known as Ayers Rock. Her hair is bright green, but within a few years it will be shocking pink, and will remain that colour well into her seventies.

“I sat there very early in the morning in the freezing cold light and waited for the sunrise,” says designer Zandra Rhodes, now aged 75. “Then I drew the way the shadows laced over that rock.”

Zandra Rhodes Ayers Rock sketches from 1973

Zandra Rhodes’ Ayers Rock sketches from 1973

Decades later those early sketches have become a series of fabric designs for Coats, which was the reason the interview took place, but it was fabulous to delve into a mind with so much creative energy, to gain an insight into her celeb clientele, but, even more fun, chat about her trademark meandering wiggles.

Zandra Rhodes Lace Mountain

Zandra Rhodes’ Lace Mountain fabrics cr Coats

“All my things have wiggly lines!” she exclaims, seeming amused by this. “When I fill in a background it’s far more likely to have wiggly lines than be plain.” She hesitates then adds: “Wiggles are friendly. Prints have the power to make you happy. They supply extra depth to what you’re thinking about. You put the thing on and the print supplies a jolly face for the day.”

There’s an awful lot more to this interview – and lots more images too. Find the full piece in Simply Sewing issue 3, available from