Helen Parrott is a contemporary quiltmaker and visual artist who is widely known for her landscape-based art and intricate hand-stitched wall hangings. Her book, Mark-making in Textile Art, focuses on the act of mark-making as the fundamental starting point in design when working with fabric. We sat down with Helen to find out a little more about her work.
What is the starting point for your designs of mark-making?
I work with landscapes, often drawing on real places near my home in the English Peak District and sometimes using my inner landscapes of thoughts and feelings.
I take many photographs when I’m out and about in cities and the countryside and I make small quick sketches. These sketches are often the starting point for my ideas, although sometimes I pick up the fabrics and a threaded needle and the design just comes to me.
What textile work, past and present, inspire you?
I have been deeply inspired by north country wholecloth quilts since I first saw them, it was a ‘love at first sight’ moment in the late 1980s. I also love Amish quilts, kantha work, sashiko and blackwork embroidery. Most recently I have been inspired by the work shown at the Cloth and Memory 2 exhibition at Salts Mill, Saltaire in Bradford (UK).
What artists inspire you?
This is such a long list! I will start with those I first discovered and carry on to my more recent discoveries: Agnes Martin, E. W. Nay, Peter Lanyon, Bridget Riley, Sue Lawty, John Virtue, Joan Eardley, Eva Hesse, Paul Nash, Thomas Bewick, Rachel Whiteread, Albert Irvin, El Anatsui, contemporary artists who continue to develop their work and grow creatively. The last exhibition I saw and enjoyed also inspires me for me while afterwards.
Where is your favourite place to be while stitching? And why?
On my sofa at home, with my feet up, in the warm, watching the weather roll past. The view is of our garden and the changing seasons, the birds and the sky. The subtle changes of colour and light always inspire me.
What would be the most useful tip for students who want to improve their design on textile work?
Try expressing what you are trying to do in words, either as a list of single words, as a sentence or as a longer piece of writing. This change to thinking in words, rather than visually, can help clarify what you are seeking to express and enable you to progress. There is a section in the book on working with words with some examples.
If you were on a desert island with access to just one needlecraft technique, what would it be?
Running stitch: deceptively simple to do, endlessly fascinating and seductive.
Maybe some kind person would let me have a range of needles, fabrics and threads on my desert island so that I can carry on making stitched textiles.
Helen Parrott is the author of Mark-making in Textile Art (Batsford, £19.99)