Homes: A Soft Touch
Looking to bring a little luxury to the everyday? Lisa Millard meets three talented textile designer-makers creating curl-up cushions, felted pictures and embroidered lampshades for the home
Anna Osborne, The Speculating Rook – Textiles for the Curious and Discerning
There is much to love about Anna Osborne’s embroidered cushions, lampshades and footstools. Her ability to capture the spirit of her subject – be it quizzical bird, adoring hound or leaping hare – in a flurry of freehand machine-embroidered stitches is just breathtaking. “I use an industrial sewing machine, a true work horse able to deal with the long hours and thick woollen blankets that often feature in my work,” says Anna, who lives near Ely. “Screen printing takes over the family kitchen and can result in quite a few takeaways for tea.”
Her creative skills are visible across The Speculating Rook’s range of sumptuous cushions embellished with vintage fabrics and light-touch-embroidered lampshades, but Anna’s passion for textiles did not emerge until later in life: “My stitching abilities are largely self-taught.At school, Home Economics and I were not a good fit: a year to make an apron from a calico rectangle with the corners folded over and I didn't manage to finish it. I worried a lot about what and where a selvedge might be and being told to unpick because the selvedge was in the wrong place.”
“Unfortunate education episodes aside, at heart I am a maker and aged 22 I saw a beautiful green cashmere coat in a shop window. This coat of my dreams was way beyond any means I had but undeterred I found a Vogue pattern, some green wool, a very patient textile student to work with and behold the garment was made. I then proudly wore my coat on the ferry across the Irish Sea and almost took off – there was so much fabric that in a high wind it was akin to wearing a spinnaker, but I loved it.”
Many years later, while visiting a sewing and knitting event, Anna watched Harriet Riddell (check her out at institchyou.co.uk) create portraits of people using stitches; it was a seminal moment. “Who knew you could draw with a sewing machine?”
Sustainability and storytelling shapes Anna’s creativity. “My first experiments with machine embroidery were using an old wool blanket knowing the wool would have enough strength to hold its shape and not distort too much. I was excited by the idea of such a well-used, commonplace utilitarian object taking on a new role. Worn textiles tell stories and physical signs of wear talk of experiences.”
Always on the hunt for textile treasure, Anna loves a good find: “Space at home is short so I have to be quite firm with myself when choosing textiles. There is a fairly strict 'not just to look at' rule which is regularly broken, an unshakeable 100 per cent wool rule is applied to all blankets, old linen is the softest, wool silk blend is luxury beyond compare and when it comes to 1950s barkcloth there are no rules. I then cut and piece different patterns and textures providing a ground on which to apply thread drawings.”
This year promises new prospects for The Speculating Rook, including an exhibition at gallery and shop CraftCo in Southwold, where Anna will show a series of heavily stitched wall pieces, and the Maltings Gallery, Snape, where she will be exhibiting alongsidelandscape artist Lyz Gardner. Until then Anna will be busy searching out textiles and creating new works. “I never stop looking! It's always exciting to see a blanket-stitched edge peeping out from the stack of household textiles at a jumble sale, second-hand shops, auctions, even the back of removal vans. Wonderful people now get in touch if they have something that could be useful – so many of the items I make feature fabric which I would never have found if it wasn't for the generosity of others.”
The Speculating Rook can be bought at the Eel Catchers Daughter, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CraftCo, Southwold and the Ashburn Gallery, Ashburton, Devon. See more at thespeculatingrook.co.uk and @thespeculatingrook
Beverley Neeves, Flossy Felts
When Beverley Neeves retired from teaching Art and Design, felting became her passion and not simply part of the day job.
Wet felting Merino wool and wool from native breeds including Shetland and Jacob, to create her signature fluffy sheep on a range of landscapes, Beverley – known as Flossy to her friends and the crafting community – deftly works flashes of colour and texture using Mulberry and Tussah silk, soybean fibre, bamboo fibre and seacell. “I don’t use any machinery – all my pictures are made by hand, using water soap and rolling to felt the fibres together,” says Beverley. “Then I use a barbed needle to add fine detail.”
As a small child she loved creating all sorts of thing. “I used whatever items my inspirational mother could find. She encouraged my creativity, especially when using fabric and a sewing machine. I developed an interest in textiles at an early age and remember spending time making soft toys and items incorporating embroidery and appliqué as well as knitting. I still have the set of Beatrix Potter characters I made as a teenager,” says Beverley who finds inspiration in the natural world. “Plants, animals, landscapes – I love being in the countryside and have been involved with animals for as long as I can remember. Colours too – dramatic skies, sunsets that I see driving home, moody rainy and stormy days on Skye (my favourite place), are all reflected in the backdrops of my wet felted pictures.” Her love of animals is captured in the soft felted creaures she makes which are just adorable.
Beverley enjoys the freedom to make something from wherever her imagination takes her. “Wet felting is a crazy process and I can never be absolutely certain how my finished wool paintings will turn out; every piece is unique and can never be reproduced. I love experimenting with the colour and texture that a variety of wool breeds and natural fibres offer.” Conservation is important to Beverley and it plays a part in her art. “I don’t like waste and I’m passionate about conservation, constantly trying to do my bit to save the planet. I always try to use natural materials sourced from fellow crafters. Some have their own flocks of sheep – I even brought two Hebridean fleeces back from Skye as the crofter was going to put them on the bonfire as they had no commercial value. I try to buy wool that has been hand dyed in small batches, again by fellow crafters which also ensures my items are unique.” The community crafting offers is another source of support and inspiration and Beverley enjoys the buzz of living in a creative household in a small village near Newmarket – her husband is a thatcher. “Our house is crammed with artwork made in different media from landscapes to quirky soft furnishings. I also have some of my own items at home – the ones I can’t bear to part with, including the first wet felted pictures I made. Each and every one has a piece of my heart and soul in it.”
Flossy Felts is part of the March Hare Collective and can be bought at the Handmade Shop and Gallery, Bury St Edmunds, the Makers' Shelf, Newmarket, and numerous craft fairs and exhibitions. See more at flossyfelts.weebly.com and @flossyfelts
Jane Horwood, Trash Chic
Jane Horwood has something of the polymath about her. A creative who can turn her talents to many things – her main job is designing websites, but she has worked in advertising, had her own clothing company, run a theatre, cooked in a bistro and been an interior designer – she describes her label Trash Chic as “my delightful hobby where I can lose myself in fabric and loveliness”.
“While I love my day job, I needed another creative outlet that took me away from my desk and computer. People frequently commented on the clothes I wore, which were often second hand, and I had a lot of unworn items in my wardrobe – as most of us do – so I thought I would try selling these along with items I’d found at car boots and charity shops,” says Jane, who lives in Haslingfield near Cambridge. “My first sale at a local fair went extremely well so the next weekend I was out hunting again. With an eye for the unusual, I accrued a vast stock that I took around fairs and festivals in Cambridgeshire, but when the source of good designer and vintage clothing started to dry up I needed to change direction slightly. I had accumulated a stack of vintage scarves so turned my attention to these.”
Jane’s silk cushions are just charming. Her eye for a punchy print makes for a bright and beautiful collection. Some cushions are made ready to buy, and a bespoke service invites customers to choose a scarf they love – her current collection features a floral chiffon Zandra Rhodes design, an Americana 1960s print of Mary Magdalene, Flamenco dancers, Parisian street scenes and Canadian songbirds among others – from which Jane will design and make the cushion. Some show different prints on each side and all are beautifully put together, piped and cotton lined.
Jane’s haberdashery skills were learned from her mother who was handy with a sewing machine. “She made a lot of my clothes when I was young so there was always a sewing machine in the house. We did have sewing classes in school but only seemed to make stuffed toys – never anything exciting. I think I learnt by trial and error. Sewing was driven by my desire to wear clothes that I simply couldn’t afford. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was a goth and it was important to create your own unique look.”
This sense of curating a style has never left Jane and she loves searching out scarves and objet trouvé for her Trash Chic online boutique. “I spend hours rummaging for scarves and other treasure. With the scarves I must be discerning as they need to be good quality with interesting designs. Designer scarves are great if I can get them cheap enough. I prefer silk but don’t rule out other fabrics.” Her best ever find was an Alexander McQueen scarf for 50p. – “I nearly collapsed with excitement” – and Jane enjoys reusing and repurposing items rather than buying new. “Sustainability has always been part of my modus operandi. When I was growing up my parents recycled and upcycled as a way of life. There wasn’t the money to keep purchasing new. We had to be inventive, so I guess that’s where it started for me. I have always been fanatical about upcycling, recycling and customising things.Second-hand items with a bit of character and a previous life attract me and Trash Chic totally embraces this.” Jane recently set up her Green Lady blog(thegreenladycambridge.home.blog/) and Facebook page (@thegreenladycambridge) where she considers a range of eco topics. Looking ahead Jane fancies finding a local shop to sell her cushions and chatting up interior designers who may like to buy a collection for their clients. There are also plans to host an Open Studio in the summer so she is busy adding to her stock. “I have a pile of scarves waiting in the wings to be made into cushions so there’s a lot of work ahead of me.”
See more at trashchic.co.uk
All images apart from portrait: Method Studios Photography
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