Meet the artist

An occasional series in which we highlight one of our members. Feel free to ask questions or comment at the bottom of the page.

Ceridwen Sooke

A photograph of Ceridwen Sooke

Since an early age I have loved craft, making soft toys, knitting and then learning to sew and making my own clothes.

My most important influence has been my mother. My most enduring memory is of her sitting at her old fashioned Singer sewing machine and making clothes for my sisters and me.

My mother was Dutch and had to go through the occupation of the Netherlands between 1940 and 1945 as a young woman in her twenties during the Second World War. She wrote about this experience and it is very moving to read. For me it shows how inventive and creative people like her were through necessity. I like to think that I may have inherited some of these qualities from her. Her stories certainly influenced me.

Machine embroidery structure and thread wrapped wire

“When the Germans invaded the Netherlands, our first thoughts were to lay in a stock of food. We did not think much about clothes but it soon became clear that clothes would disappear as well as food. First we got coupons, then items began to vanish. Fortunately, I had got a new (wonderful) winter coat in December ’39, so that lasted me right through the war. But we must not forget one thing: there was no nylon or courtelle or anything like that. So clothes did not last very long. That woollen coat was absolutely threadbare after five or six winters and so was everything else. My favourite dress sprang holes under the arms in ’44 where the sleeve rubbed against the bodice. One just had to make do and repair and be cunning.

“People cut up all sorts of things just to get a new blouse or skirt: tablecloths, an old, thin curtain, old forgotten clothes found in the attic. I made a summer dress out of a sort of duvet cover – very coarse cotton in a grey and white stripe and a silk embroidered stole of my mother’s became a new blouse.

“Shoes were very much more desperate. In ’44 I bought a pair of wooden soles. I cut up a suede beret and nailed strips to the soles with brass furniture tacks.

“Eventually, I began to dye things. Old sheets and clothing. I also unpicked knitted tops and put the wool into the dye vat. My best jacket was: the back of Pa’s dinner jacket and the front panels of my mother’s old fur coats; knitted sleeves – pink wool dyed dark grey!”

3D shapes made from silk fibres and machine embroidery

As a girl I drank in these stories and they became part of our family narrative. When I left university I found myself working in the textile industry running libraries of fabric swatches as a resource for designers in the clothing and fashion industry. Then I had children and when they were of school going age, I started to do a few courses, at first to do with sewing and patchwork quilting. I was all set to do a creative textile course at that time which sounded very exciting but it folded due to lack of numbers. I ended up doing an art foundation course which was followed by many years of drawing and painting in a studio in London. The lure of textiles never really left me and I began to be aware of the textile courses offered by City Lit in Holborn, London. After some perseverance due to the popularity of the course, I managed to enroll on the Textile day course at City Lit and have continued doing a number of courses there until recently when I joined the Advanced Textile course in 2018.

Airy structure made with stiffened threads, felt and machine embroidery 

This gave me the chance and space to explore many different ways of using textiles as another medium for making art. I was drawn towards making 3D work. As I had spent a long time learning and practicing drawing and painting, I could not see the point of replicating this type of work using textiles as another medium instead of paint and paper. Without thinking about it, I must have been influenced in my thought processes by the dressmaking I had done. Clothes, after all, are 3D structures.

I am drawn to airy structures which may look fragile but are inherently strong. I enjoy using machine embroidery on soluble fabric which, once the soluble material is washed away, leaves a small amount of sticky residue; the remaining embroidery can then be manipulated into shapes by placing them over forms to dry. I also enjoy using silk fibres which can be laid down and glued to make a material. Again, this can be formed into 3D shapes before the glue dries in order to preserve the form. I like creating a palette of materials without any preconceived plan which I can then manipulate into other pieces of work. I have always loved collage and have prepared many papers by painting them up entirely freehand making marks and choosing colours instinctively. I see it as a loosening up exercise which breaks down the fear of the blank sheet/canvas/ initial idea. The pleasure for me is then to start to refine down what I have and then to make choices that I can use for whatever piece of work I have in mind.

I am becoming more interested in the use of threads. It seems to me that using thread is another way of making marks. I can use them to create structures and also to embellish pieces.

Freehand threads embroidered to create a dense structure over a piece of silk paper made from silk fibres

Then there is colour. Colour for me rewards the pleasure centres in my brain. I am not very monochromatic but can see the intense beauty in that sort of palette as well.

I am beginning to think about making larger pieces of work and am very interested in exploring the use of paper, strengthening it, painting it, moulding it and building with it.

I have come back to my drawing and painting experiences. This is what I find exciting. For me, Art Textiles are not just about using cloth. There are such a lot of possibilities in mixed media art which I find exciting.

Hand painted papers used to make a collage

I have no idea what my next piece work will look like. I don’t really want to know as that might hamper me and put me in a rigid box of expectation. I like to take an idea, however small and start to experiment. One thing will most certainly lead to another as our tutors told us at City Lit!

Follow me on Instagram:

@ceridwensookecrazyaboutcolour

Yvonne Watts

I have loved textile related crafts since I was a child. The women in my family were constantly making all things sewn, knitted or crocheted. I feel very lucky to have had that example to follow because my own textile journey has brought me so much pleasure.

Whilst I have always been creative, I didn’t really start to develop my textile practice until I went to City Lit towards the end of my teaching career. Although I love all kinds of stitch, I now work mainly with dye and print. My inspiration comes from nature, and plants, in particular. I try to draw or photograph foliage wherever I see it. I then use these images to create an imagined composition for printing onto silk with polychromatic dye. I use Proceon dyes which when mixed together can be incredibly mercurial. This presents many challenges and often results in failure but when it succeeds it is a very exciting process.

Working with young children for many years has also been a source of inspiration as I’m fascinated by the way they draw and paint. I have recently worked with fabric and paper to create a series of 3D pieces which I think have some origin in the imaginative style so characterist of children’s artwork.

Vessels made from fabric and paper

I really enjoy being part of a textile group and it has certainly made me challenge myself to create my best work yet!

Follow me on Instagram: @yvonnewatts9155

Gill Swanson

An image of Gill Swanson working at her sewing machine

Over time I’ve explored many artistic media including all types of paints and a wide range of drawing materials. Pushing the boundaries further to create more 3D forms, I’ve even experimented with pottery and jewellery making. I’ve always found myself seeking to develop my work further and wanting to experiment and move in new directions and create different images and structures.

As a teenager, I enjoyed doing botanical paintings which were very detailed and precise. To achieve the beautiful colours of the flowers I used watercolour, which is such a delicate medium. As time went by, I became more attracted to abstract art and forms. I loved the idea of working in a less restrictive way by using different media and techniques and concentrating on pattern and shape.

I discovered textile art around five years ago, which seemed to be a perfect fusion of everything creative I had ever done. As a child I worked with stitch and sewing, from making toys to designing clothes for my dolls. In my 20s I made a lot of clothes and, at times, when pondering what to wear out in the evening, I would make something for my evening out during that day. I also have a keen interest in fashion. There is a connection between fashion and textiles which fascinates me. Fashion generally reflects what is going on in the world too. As we live through this pandemic it’s been interesting to see how very muted and sombre many of the on trend clothing colours are at the moment.

My journey in creating textile art began by attending a series of short textile art courses. These courses opened up so many possibilities for me by combining my love of art and design and working with fabric. They gave me the opportunity to learn so many new techniques and methods. I’ve always enjoyed being part of a group exploring and sharing new ideas and the creative interaction with others. Joining the two year Advanced Textiles course at The City Lit in 2018 gave me the inspiration and structure to explore my ideas even further, whilst continuing to experiment with different techniques.

Influenced by nature in all its forms, my textile pieces have an organic style. By combining vibrant colours and textures and using a variety of techniques and processes, I seek to create artwork that reflects the powerful colours of flowers, plants and their fruits. It’s sometimes hard to believe that the colours of some flowers are natural as their colours are just so radiant! I have always been fascinated by the curative qualities of plants as well and I studied herbalism some time ago.

I adore vibrant colours and find I need to work with colour combinations during the daylight hours. Once the daylight fades I then move on to other techniques such as embellishing and machine stitching. I’ve never been much of an embroiderer and only use a few simple stitches in my work to add some detail and variation. I think this may be because I’m an impatient person and just can’t wait to see a result! I use a wide range of materials and techniques which include free motion stitching, embellishing and nuno felting. To enhance my work I often use metallic materials, textile foil or beads. Much of my work has been created by machine stitching on to dissolvable fabric to create a new fabric. I then develop these pieces further by combining them with embellished pieces to create richly coloured and textured artwork. I often include upcycled cloth in my work and have a particular fondness for silk. I enjoy working in an intuitive way randomly putting pieces together then, possibly layering them or cutting them up then switching the shapes and forms around. When I’m happy with the colours and textures I then decide whether to add some beads, stitch or perhaps a flower or two. As my directions change, new ideas unfold along the way. I don’t have a studio and work in different areas in my home depending on what I want to create.

Looking ahead, I’m currently working on some different ideas.  Firstly, I’ve been exploring felting techniques which, although very unpredictable, I’m able to create some truly unique pieces. I’ve included some images of my recent felt work which are very much “work in progress”. Recently I’ve also been inspired by the beauty of the autumn leaves and have experimented with ways of stitching in to them which is definitely quite challenging as they are so fragile! Finally, reflecting on my childhood interest in making clothes for my dolls, I’ve been inspired to develop a series of miniature hats and have included an image of one of them, placed next to a cotton reel to show how small it is.

Free machine stitching, dissolvable fabric – 9cms x 9cms

For most of my life I have worked in the financial services sector, in the City of London. Working creatively in my spare time is a very enjoyable and refreshing contrast to this formal and regulated environment. For me, creating textile art in a free and unplanned way and going with the ebbs and flows is so very different to the structured and organised way I work when I’m in the office.

You can see more of my recent work on this website in the Exhibitions sections, or follow me on Instagram @gill.swanson

Kathryn Hollingsworth

Sorry about the mask! Kathryn Hollingsworth beside her entry Raw, at Festival of Quilts 2021

I would classify myself as a Jack-of-all-trades (and master of none), always finding a new craft to learn, and of course the essential shiny new equipment and exciting materials to add to my stash of ‘stuff’. 

Over the years I’ve done workshops in sculpture, painting and life drawing, ceramics, stained glass, shibori, kantha, jewellery making, basket making and most recently textiles.  

In my thirties, after a foundation course at Chelsea – where my tutor told me that I was a designer not an artist – I went on to complete a BA in three-dimensional design at Middlesex University.   The subject matter was very interesting but unfortunately the course was not, so, disillusioned, I went back to my career in public relations and carried on attending workshops in my spare time.

A weekend taster course with well known basket-maker Mary Butcher got me hooked and I spent the next four years studying for City and Guilds Parts 1 and 2 in basket making.  More recently I completed an inspirational two-year Advanced Textiles course at City Lit, where this exhibiting group textiles2020 was formed.

Currently I’m interested in the potential crossover between the two disciplines, basketry and textiles, especially creating 3D forms in fabric.

Basket making is a fascinating craft using a huge range of materials, from those worked after being soaked: willow weaving, rush, bark and cane, to dry or ‘stringy stuff’ – natural fibres, grasses and palm, wire, string, paper, and recycled materials. 

Many basketry techniques involve warps and wefts, plus plaiting, roping, while other methods, like coiling, use stitch; then there is knotting, looping and netting. You can see the potential!

Trying to understand my way of working and what inspires me has been a challenge, but here goes:  mine is a response to materials and the process or technique; lots of experimentation and playing until something interesting emerges that captures my imagination.   Thinking is not really part of the process, but research in museums and archives is.  Some of my earlier baskets were inspired by research into traditional eel traps used in rivers in the UK, and others by looking at the collection of African beer sieves in the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Texture, especially hairy, tufted, or with loose ends is a recurring theme, possibly connected to my collection of brushes, which combine beautiful with useful.

Baskets and vessels appeal to me because their structure provides parameters to work with, even if they are not functional forms: a top and bottom, inside and outside, self-supporting, a recognisable ‘thing’. 

Here are a few examples of 3D work past and present that I’ve selected to show connections between work. 

You can see more of my recent work on this website in the Exhibitions sections, or follow me on Instagram @hollingworth.kathryn

Out of Africa 15 cm, linen and mixed threads, a contribution to ‘Stitch Your Story’ installation by Mr X Stitch in Blackburn Cathedral, part of the British Textile Biennial, 2021

Karina Haake

Karina with Childwood at the Espacio Gallery

I am a multidisciplinary artist based in London and Madrid. My work is influenced by theatre, dream, surrealism, cultural myth and fairytale, always guided by a profound passion for colour and light, whilst also reflecting a love of visualising and interpreting text.

I grew up in a very European environment, brought up bilingually, like so many Londoners. Much of my childhood was spent travelling between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. My Swedish grandmother was a Stockholm furrier and my Maltese grandmother made lace. I loved the contrasting cultures, languages, climates and colours.

Studying English, Drama and Art at A level, it was difficult to decide between art school – theatre design, or acting and directing. I chose the latter but always loved working with designers.

I started my career in the theatre after graduating with a BA in Performing Arts and co-founding Tell Tale Theatre, specialising in Commedia dell’ Arte, puppetry, circus and theatre-in-education, touring the UK and France. Following my degree, I also trained to teach English as Foreign Language. My mother, a teacher and linguist, had taught me Swedish and instilled in me a love of languages. This led to translating, adapting and directing Scandinavian drama – Strindberg and Ibsen in particular. Whilst bringing up my family in Wales, I continued my career in EFL, in teaching, consultancy and life story, which eventually led to working abroad in Spain, Italy, India and South America.

Years later, and having brought up my two sons – now a musician and a journalist, I studied Life Story at post graduate level, and so began work on my mother’s life story, and it was then that I felt the need to return to the visual. My mother had recently and very sadly died. We had been very close and I kept finding her influencing and appearing in my work.

Once back in London, I studied Contemporary Collage at City Lit, and much enjoyed the exploration and juxtaposition of imagery, scale, style and content. During that time, I met the totally inspiring Louise Baldwin. On visiting the departmental exhibition, I was amazed by the variety and range of textile art. And it wasn’t long before I enrolled on her courses, constituting my first year of textile studies. I then went on to do Foundation Textiles at Morley College and following that, I was delighted to be accepted onto the Advanced Textiles course at City Lit.

This gave me a wonderful and very challenging opportunity to explore a huge range of techniques, and a chance to work more conceptually. It was then that I began to examine personal influences from my upbringing; the geographical differences, the light, the midnight sun of northern Sweden, the fairy tales, trolls, the snow and candle light, the infinite and myriad blues of Malta, the heat, sea and sky and the iconography of the dark and ancient churches. My early Nordic influences were Tove Jansson, Astrid Lindgren and John Bauer, followed by the female surrealists – particularly Hannah Höch, and much later, the daemons of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. I began to see characters and stories in my abstract pieces, which were to become the foundation for the Aurora Borealis series.

At the beginning of the course and before the pandemic, I continued my work abroad, between course dates, spending huge amounts of time on trains and in hotel rooms. Free embroidery was the perfect and most practical solution to making work on the road, sometimes even extending to dying fabric in the hotel bath! Once back in the studio, I used an embellisher fusing fabrics, silks and metallic threads, an almost magical process, to explore colour and texture. As with making felt, I love the relative unpredictability of the technique. I work intuitively, almost in an abstract way, guided by colour, texture and light.

Aurora Borealis: velvet/ silk/ metallic thread. 23 x 46cm

Lucia Krona

Lucia – the Child: B&W tinted photograph

Embarking on the Advanced Textiles course at The City Lit, I searched for an image or concept that could capture the essence of my Scandinavian and Mediterranean background – two very distinct cultures. I rediscovered a photograph taken by my mother of me as a young child, dressed up as Santa Lucia, a 3rd Century Italian saint, celebrated in Sweden on the winter solstice. She symbolises light and hope, even in the darkest of times. It was also an emotional response to the political changes of the last few years.

Using photography, collage and digital printing, I have played with colour and mark-making to find characters emerging in a somewhat pareidolic way.

Lucia Krona: digital print on fabric; 21 x 29 cm

Childwood / Förtrollad explores the influence of myth, dream and fairytale on my upbringing in London. Childwood is the enchanted wood of childhood, with its trolls, demons and magic. My background in theatre has inspired my deep love of the black box and black light theatre. I have used hand and machine embroidery to fuse velvets and silks to juxtapose colour, light and darkness, and with an embellisher I found a way to push light through to the surface.

Childwood I; wool/felt/metalic thread/velvet; 33 x 98 cm
Childwood II; wool/felt/metalic thread/organza; 55 x 75 cm
Childwood III, detail

Childwood, Aurora Borealis and the Lucia Krona series were exhibited at the Textiles 2020 group show at The Espacio Gallery, London, in December 2020.

Publications

I love to collaborate and working with text is always an exciting process. I have been fortunate enough to be commissioned for book illustrations by the publishers, Nueva Utopia and Ediciones Arcos, Madrid.

In the future I would also love to write and illustrate children’s books.

La Biblia Roja. Pablo de Rokha y Roberto Bolaño – Un Cuadro Chileno Bifronte. 2018. Author: Mario Boero Vargas

The Travellers Case

The Traveller’s Case
Floating cases: hand/machine embroidery; silk/wool/paper. Each case 8 x 5 x 4cm

Most recently, I have been developing this series of tiny suitcases. It started during lockdown when I couldn’t travel or escape. Somewhat obsessed with the concept and practicalities of luggage, I found a way to distill the experience by making the tiniest suitcase; something so tiny it could never be useful, but it could contain a memory, or a moment.

These tiny cases float weightlessly, frozen in time. Full of holes, they contain within them the memories and moments of their journeys; tickets, maps, letters, people half remembered, places half forgotten. Captured in time until they can venture out to journey again. This work is dedicated to my mother who taught me how to travel, from a very early age.

‘To call up the past in the form of an image, we must be able to withdraw ourselves from the action of the moment, we must have the will to dream… But… the past is fugitive, ever on the point of escaping…’ 
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (1896)

The Traveller’s Case was exhibited @210 Window Gallery, Brixton, in April/May 2021.

You can see more of Karina’s work, hand and machine embroidery, prints, illustrations and videos, and enquire about commissions,on her website: www.karinahaake.com or follow her on Instagram: @karinahaake

Veronica Thornton

Veronica with “Five Coastal Strips” at Espacio Gallery, December 2020

My mother was a batik artist producing large landscapes and portraits on canvas leaving a memory of the smell of melting wax. She kept detailed sketch books and encouraged her three daughters to do the same. For my first degree I studied art and education at Goldsmiths College; my paintings at that time were primarily of landscapes. Subsequently I took an M.A. at the Royal College of Art in the department of graphic design where the work involved mapping and aerial photography.  Following a career in art education, teaching in both schools and sixth form colleges, I finally found the time to explore my own ideas. I have always been interested in local and family history, the stories of a specific place, and maps. Aspects of some or all of these still permeate my work.

The Spanish Sewing Room, 100 x 100cm

I first visited my Spanish friend’s old apartment in Madrid in the 1980s and found a time capsule from when the family had taken residence in the 1940s. Here were grand rooms with chandeliers, family portraits of relatives in Cuba and a photo of my friend’s father with Franco. The back of the apartment faced south and here were the servants’ quarters, kitchens, cupboards and a sewing room. It was the sewing room that captured my attention: there was a palpable sense of history in the faded velvets, sinister black hats with feathers and hand made linen shirts. In the drawer of a heavy wooden wardrobe was an unopened parcel containing a jacket sent back by the army in 1937 after my friend’s father was injured in the Spanish Civil War.  When my friend sold the apartment in 2010 I acquired some of these items and brought them back to the UK.

Long cummerbund, 180 x 25cm
Cummerbund detail

Joining the Advanced Textiles course at The City Lit, London, in 2018, gave me the structure to explore my ideas with more focus. For the first year my work concerned “The Spanish Sewing Room”. The textile pieces explored aspects of the Spanish Civil war and fascism. I screen printed a 1937 map of Madrid, the exact location of the old apartment, then embellished fragments of fabric to suggest areas under attack. The finished fabric piece resembled a vague outline of the map of Spain. A companion piece made use of a cummerbund found in the sewing room with collaged badges, ribbons, and various scraps attached. The colour palette for this work echoed the Spanish flag of red, black and yellow and Goya’s black paintings in the nearby Prado lurked in the back of my mind.

My interest in aerial photography and maps inspired my work on coastal erosion for the second year of the course. Visiting Happisburgh, Winterton and Waxham you realise the dramatic effects of erosion on these coastal communities. Houses and roads have fallen into the sea and the sea defences put in place at Happisburgh in the 1980s have now worn away. This brings uncertainty to the whole area.

Five coastal strips, 180 x 110cm

For the erosion work I dyed various thin fabrics such as scrim and muslin then made coastal strips using an embellisher with some hand stitching. I also used scraps of frayed silk to suggest the insistence of the sea pushing at the land. The colours used were pale blues and greys, more muted and subtle echoing the sea and land.  I created five thin fabric strips which were hung to be read from left to right, each strip becoming more fragile than the last. This was the centre piece of my work displayed at the Espacio Gallery, East London, in December 2020.

Chinese slipper, 32 x 18cm
Chinese slipper collage, 15 x 15cm

I enjoy working with old fabrics, fragment of clothes, and maps. In my current work I am revisiting aspects of the Spanish sewing room, investigating the structures of Chinese slippers and making smaller abstract compositions.  All this is building up to a body of work to be shown at Cambridge Open studios in July 2021.

  • You can see more of Veronica’s work at: www.veronicathornton.com
    instagram  – veronicathornton99
    or contact her at veronica.thornton@virgin.net

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