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Anne Kelly is a popular textile artist and tutor whose work is exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions, including private collections in the Vatican Collection in Rome and at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto. Her new book, Textile Nature, looks at the natural world as an incredible source of inspiration when beginning to think about textile art. Here, Anne shares with us a little more about her career and work. 

What’s your favourite aspect of working with other people on textile projects?
The best thing about working with other people, whether it be artists, curators or students, is the exchange of ideas. It’s always helpful to get feedback and new thoughts (positive and negative) about your work. It challenges you and makes you take the ‘next step’. It can also be a reflective moment where you can share your views and discuss you work, trying to see it from another point of view. I always learn something and really value these exchanges.

When you find a new piece of vintage fabric you like, what are the thought processes that go through your mind?
Whenever I find or am given a new piece of vintage fabric I get very excited! I love to think about its history, about the many hands that have touched it and what it has been used for. Old fabric often has a lovely patina, which is difficult to recreate with newer fabric. I particularly love finding old needlework samples, and these are often the basis of new pieces. I feel that I am living with these pieces, using them and passing them on to new owners – incredibly rewarding…

What other textile work – past and present – inspire you?
I’m afraid this could be a very long list! I’ll try to narrow it down a bit… I am very inspired by native, and folk textiles. Recently I visited the All Russian Museum of Folk and Decorative Art in Moscow. They have an amazing collection of Russian folk textiles, embroidered and printed, which I’ve been working with in a new series of work. I love the quilt collection at the American Museum in Bath – so inspiring and mainly all hand done. Two contemporary practitioners (amongst many) whose work I admire are Anna Torma and Tilleke Schwarz. Both in their unique way convey a quirky, eccentric and personal view of their surroundings and emotions. They are also fantastic hand stitchers. I like Caren Garfen’s subversive domestic textiles – they are funny and make you think.

What artists inspire you?
As I’m a fan of ‘outsider’ art, I really enjoyed seeing The Museum of Everything when it was in London – it is touring now. They had some wonderful pieces by Peter Blake – I love his collections of objects. Recently I saw a great exhibition by Jockum Nordström 
’All I Have Learned and Forgotten Again’ with fantastic drawings and constructions.  The Paul Klee exhibition currently at Tate Modern is inspiring and powerful. I like the scale of his work. Louise Bourgeois is an artist I admire for the fluency with which she crossed over from sculpture to textiles and the fact that she kept working until a ripe old age!

When teaching, what is the most difficult aspect of designing textile in your experience?
Teaching is about being able to communicate ideas effectively. I have been teaching for many years so I generally know what works and how to get ideas across, but I don’t like to take that for granted. It is important to keep up to date with current techniques and be ‘one step ahead’ (at least!) of your students. I find the most difficult part of the process is starting off – once the work is underway it usually goes very well. However, I always tell my students to be open to ‘happy accidents’ as often you can learn as much from them as you can from a successful piece. It is important to listen to your students and respond to their needs.

What is the best thing about teaching textiles to very young children?
I love teaching very young children, as they are incredibly receptive and enthusiastic. They have no inhibitions when it comes to using colour and will ‘dive right in’! They generally have a good attention span (quite underestimated) and can concentrate for quite a long period of time. They are also remarkably dexterous and enjoy stitching when shown how. I remember stitching over drawings of peoples’ faces with a very young group once and they produced some amazing work!

What did you learn working with a sculptor (Louise Giblin)?
It was great working with Louise. The exchange was refreshing as she has a totally different way of working from me, and it was good to observe at first hand. Her drawings are sketchy and as you would expect have a very three-dimensional effect to them. It was a challenge interpreting her work in cloth, and as she uses metallic finishes and materials, I tried to incorporate them into my work as well. We were both very pleased with the results, which were exhibited at the Mall Galleries in London.

Anne Kelly is the author of Textile Nature (Batsford, £22.50)



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.

MarkmakingTextileArtHelen Parrott is the author of Mark-making in Textile Art (Batsford, £19.99)