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.

Swirling seas and skies

Reeds All About It by Rachel

Reeds All About It by Rachel

Textile artist Rachel Wright recreates the world with a rich palette of threads, building up scenes that shine with beauty. She grew up surrounded by her father’s paintings, etchings and engravings, so felt that entering that world was a natural step, even if she did choose an entirely different medium as her paintbox.

“By the time I was in sixth form I was already looking for a university course in textile design,” she says.

Rachel was determined to bring her drawing skills together with her textile work, despite the fact that the college she attended really didn’t regard being able to draw an asset – “in fact, I’d go as far as to say they almost tried to beat it out of you!”

Happily, since leaving college, she’s had the chance to explore the possibilities offered by melding her talent for portraying the natural world with her fabric prowess. “They lend themselves to the fluid restless motion that I try to portray in my skies and seas.”

Any Port in a Storm by Rachel Wright

Any Port in a Storm by Rachel Wright

The vivid swirling shapes captured in her work conjure up a sense of energy and movement reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. In Any Port in a Storm, above, there’s a palpable sense of peril and the drama of being at the mercy of a wild sea. To create a piece like this, Rachel selects the fabrics with care, and then machine sews them into the shapes that reflect the image in her mind.

Floating City Detail 02 by Rachel Wright

Floating City Detail 02 by Rachel Wright

“My first love was hand stitching but it was taking me far too long to complete each piece and once out in the real world I needed to start earning some money from my work,” she says. “My grandma had bought me my first sewing machine – it’s 30 years old now and still the one I still use everyday!”

Selling her work offers an emotional benefit too. “It’s such an enormous pleasure to know that people are prepared to part with their hard earned cash, to own something that I have made,” she says. “I love walking into and exhibition and seeing those little red dots on my work. It’s the best feeling!”

Her earliest pieces were beautifully abstract embroidery works, which provided her with the training to create the vivid landscapes and seascapes she’s now known for.

“I learnt a lot about using colour and composition, all of which stood me in good stead for the landscape pieces – using using fabrics, with all their wonderful colours, textures and patterns as my palette and threads as my paintbrush, adding in the details.”

Starting a brand new picture is the hardest thing, she admits. “I call it ‘Blank canvas syndrome’. Sometimes even the housework can suddenly seem like an attractive proposition when I should be starting a new piece. I really don’t like the beginning but inevitably, once I dive in and get going it’s usually only a matter of an hour or so before I’m hooked again.”

Almost Home by Rachel Wright

Almost Home by Rachel Wright

Rachel likes to work from photographs taken on walks or family holidays. “When I start to plan a piece, I will often sketch directly onto the calico before starting to work in the fabrics, “ she says. “I always like to have an image or several images to work from. I may not translate them literally but I think it’s important to know how something actually looks before you can start to play around with it.”

She adds: “My kids often get asked to draw things at school but are not given any reference to look at. It makes me mad because my dad always taught me to spend twice as long looking at the thing I was trying to draw, as I did actually making marks on the paper. Seeing what is really there is at least half the battle. It’s in noticing the small things that something becomes lifelike and realistic.”

That said, she has a passion for letting her creativity have free reign at times too. “I certainly like to allow my imagination in on the act. This is probably most evident in my foaming, swirling seas or my dynamic, dramatic skies.”

Find more of Rachel’s embroidered artwork at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Woolly wonder

Shaun the sheep detail1 cr Vicky HarrisonLiving in Bristol, one of the great joys is seeing artwork crop up across the city. The most recent to arrive is a flock of 70 Shaun the Sheep sculptures decorated by a wide range of artists, designer and celebs, including Bagpuss creator Peter Firmin, cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, Cath Kidston and Zandra Rhodes.

One that’s caught my eye already (and ended up in a few of the mags I write for) is textile artist Vicky Harrison’s splendid crocheted Woolly Wonderland. “I put in the bid, then found out on 15th September 2014 that I had won the commission to make him,” Vicky explains. “I didn’t make a plan, I just started making him – developing the design as I went along.”

ShaunInTheCity2 cr Stephen Lewis

Woolly Wonderland by Vicky Harrison @copy; Stephen Lewis

Woolly Wonderland is a masterpiece of colour and yarn, with embroidering layered on top of crochet, and hundred of curlicues to make the tail alone. Brilliant details abound, from the bee balanced on one ear (is this why he looks so worried?), to the jaunty monochrome leggings Shaun sports. What a stylish ram he is!

Vicky Harrison and Shaun cr Stephen Lewis

Vicky Harrison and Shaun © Stephen Lewis

You can see Vicky Harrison’s ‘Woolly Wonderland’ sculpture at St Nicholas Market in Bristol as part of the Shaun in the City trail until 31 August 2015. For more about the sculptures, which will be auctioned off to raise funds for Bristol Children’s Hospital charity The Grand Appeal, go to Find out more about what Vicky’s up to at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Threads of memory with Susi Bancroft

A Route Through cr Susi BancroftI discovered Susi Bancroft’s distinct blend of sketch and sew at the RWA’s exhibition Drawn (on until 7th June 2015). The energy in her ‘Handwashing in Hospital’ triptych intrigued me enough to contact her to find out more about her artistic endeavours.

Handwashing in Hospital cr susi bancroft

Handwashing in Hospital © Susi Bancroft

The textile artist told me that one of her earliest memories is of her mother knitting – “the clicking sound of the needles, watching a piece grow: a doll’s vest, a cardigan; the sound of the fire in the grate whilst she worked and I watched.”

It sounds deliciously domestic, and fuelled Susi’s own interest in craft. “I still have a doll’s coverlet I embroidered when six or seven years old.”

In particular, Susi relishes the thought of continuing her family traditions of “making by hand, through generations. That inspires me.”

Heart Hands cr Susi Bancroft

Heart Hands © Susi Bancroft

One such piece is an embroidered tablecloth, begun by her maternal grandmother “including stitching all the forget-me-not flowers” and added to both by her mother and herself. “I will pass it to the children in my extended family to continue,” she says. “The idea is that the viewer can’t tell whose stitches they are looking at.”

It’s a poignant idea, and one that captured Susi’s attention strongly enough to make her develop her skills further through “a mix of practical hours of stitching and drawing.” She has a background in both academic research and practical skills work such as a City and Guilds Diploma, and has worked in education and research as well as being a practising artist.

Creating art using fabric and threads feeds Susi’s urge to express herself. “I can reveal what I want to, connect and relate, and also reserve something,” she says, “I love the tactile quality, as well as colour, texture, the movement, rhythm and repetition.”

cr Susi Bancroft

She refers me to the artist statement on her blog, where she explains eloquently, “I treasure the sense of touch – the dialogue between fingertip and brain and its power to subtly release and evoke connections, memories, narratives. Art making for me is about the play between theories in my head, drawing, fabric and thread, and thinking through my hands.”

The connections she mentions are a driving force, as she seeks to link past and present aspects of her family both with metaphorical and literal threads.

“I also work with deep issues – death, bereavement, pain – and an essential part of my work is the conversations I have about these matters whilst sharing the work,” she says. “I integrate meditation and breathing techniques whilst working too – that’s an area that fascinates me.”

One particular artwork for an exhibition with the group she belongs to, Brunel Broderers, was inspired by Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester. “As a child I thought it was one hundred and twenty buttonholes in the story, and it was still a surprise – as well as a relief – to find it to be ‘one and twenty’ when I decided to handstitch the buttonholes for this exhibition!” she exclaims. “I wanted to highlight tailoring skills – a buttonhole is hardly ever examined by the wearer, but so skilled in the making. I also wanted to highlight issues around fast fashion and working conditions. My Suited exhibition piece was a sketchbook of samples of my attempts at tailored buttonholes and a series of projected images of these attempts and struggles…”

No More Twist cr Susi Bancroft

No More Twist © Susi Bancroft

The name of the piece, No More Twist, comes from the detail in the story that one buttonhole remains unfinished by the mice until the tailor’s cat reveals the ‘twist’ (presumably thread) that he has naughtily hidden, an apt line to marry Susi’s textile art to the tale!

She says: “Stories inspire me, yes, particularly children’s literature and illustration.”

Find more of Susi’s work at her boostitch blog and on the Brunel Broderers website. Their next Exhibition is at Nature in Art near Gloucester in August 2015.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Malka Dubrawsky’s vivid geometrics

Windows cr Malka DubrawskyNot all artists work with paint and canvas, and yet when we consider ‘art’ those are the materials the majority of us think of. I love art in the broader, more inclusive sense, one that involves expression in all kinds of materials, from ink to fabric.

I encountered Malka Dubrawsky through a snippet on the news pages of a patchwork magazine I wrote for recently. Her use of colour and bold shapes immediately caught my attention.

Malka has been working with and making textiles for the past 20 or so years, but she started out with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art with a focus on printmaking.

“I’m not so sure I wanted to be an artist as much as I wanted to be a maker,” she says. “I have always loved making things, drawings, collages, knitted and sewn items, and photographs.”

These passions led her towards textiles after she finished her formal art education. “I felt like a lot of my drawings reminded me of quilts – I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was drawn to re-imagine them in fabric,” Malka explains. “From there I wanted to create the kind of fabric I felt inspired to work with and so I learned how to pattern and dye fabric, specifically cotton, in various ways.”

Fresh Quilting coverThis artistic vision combined with a practical nature has led to Malka having her work included in prestitious shows, as well as finding her way towards making more functional fabrics, designing for Moda Fabrics, teaching and lecturing, and, writing the books Color Your Cloth: A Quilter’s Guide to Dyeing and Patterning Fabric and Fresh Quilting: Fearless Color, Design, and Inspiration.

When I ask Malka if she can remember the first piece of art she made that she was proud of, she gives a fervent yes. “Not only can I remember it, I still own it!” she exclaims. “I was in middle school, about 13 years old, and taking the first art class in my life. I actually only signed up for the class to get out of taking Physical Education, but I got lucky and had an amazing teacher, Kay Stapleton. What does that say about a teacher and a class that 30 years later I still remember her name?

“Anyway, we were learning how to work with tempera paints and making nature-inspired paintings. I still have that painting. It is framed and hanging in my house. It may be my most treasured possession.”

Typically pragmatic about her work, Malka says she rarely waits for inspiraton. “If I only worked or thought about working when I’m inspired, I wouldn’t be getting very much done,” she points out. “If I’m feeling sluggish I start doing something mundane in my studio, ironing a piece of fabric or pattern dye cloth in a familiar way, and I find that the inspiration or desire to create and explore often follows.”

Looking at Malka’s creations, it’s no surprise that colours have an impact on her work. “I love seeing two intense colours sitting side-by-side in a garden or in a city street and thinking, ‘wow those would look great pieced together in a quilt.’”

Malka is also influenced by textiles from other cultures, including “African Kente and Kuba cloths, East Indian embroideries, and Kilim rugs. I definitely have a soft spot for the textiles of the Bauhaus movement, works by German-American textile artist Anni Albers and Jewish-French artist Sonia Delauney. But I can be deeply moved by patterning in nature or architecture as well.”

Malka has been design and creating hand dyed and patterned fabrics for her Etsy store, stitchindye, for several years, and now designs commercial lines for Moda Fabrics in a similar way.

Variety of fabrics cr Malka Dubrawsky

“My initial interest in designing fabrics came with a sense, 20 years ago, that I couldn’t find the kind of intensely coloured but graphic fabrics I was looking to work with,” she says.

Malka recently filmed a video class that she’ll be offering as part of The Sewing Party, on 8 November, while gearing up for the release of her newest line for Moda Fabrics, Poems from Pebbles (great name – I can’t wait to see it!). “That will premier at the International Quilt Market in Houston, Texas, in late October. I’m also prepping to teach an online Improvisational Piecing class for CreativeLive in early October and steadily working through designing yet another line of fabrics, L.O.V.E., to premier in the Spring of 2015.” Busy, creative times ahead, then!

Twinkle King cr Malka Dubrawsky

“I think that every time you explore a process or an idea it helps you grow as an artist, even if, and maybe especially if, that idea doesn’t succeed,” Malka says. “Making art is a process, an ongoing search. If you’re learning, you’re growing.”

Find Malka at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)