Heather Collins: Landscapes and seascapes
Award-winning Heather Collins is a textile artist inspired by landscapes and seascapes, especially those of her native Sussex. We came across her work when we were researching our article about textile artists who find inspiration in the natural world. She creates large textile sculptures which she embellishes with traditional hand embroidery. These pieces are formed from smaller works, which vary in size, and often begin from a small fragment of distressed fabric or a single thread.
Here she tells us about her process and why she often cuts up finished pieces if she feels they will better serve as part of a larger sculptural work.
Reflecting the diversity of nature through textiles
What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
The texture and movement you can create by joining different fabric together, which reflect the extraordinary diversity of nature itself.
What or who were your early influences
My Mother was an amazing tailor/dressmaker recycling suits and dresses for me. Sadly I didn’t inherit her technical skills but a creative seed was sewn; at school I hated needlework. I now realise that it wasn’t the medium I didn’t like, but the way it was taught, which was seriously lacking in creativity.
What was your route to becoming an Artist?
I revisited embroidery at the age of 35 by way of a one-day strip patchwork workshop, being so intimidated by my sewing machine I chose to work by hand. This course was followed by a 1 year part-time Art A level course. Having been told at 15 by a teacher I could not draw (I still find it difficult with a pencil or pen), I experimented with different ways of mark making, using collage, wire and papier mache to create 3D pieces. I had by then conquered my fear of the sewing machine and began using the needle as my pen and the fabric and threads as my paint.
The conch shell was part of my final work for my A level; I obtained the highest marks in Lewes College that year. This piece was the starting point of my journey with embroidery.
Being a member of the Brighton Branch of the Embroiderers Guild opened up new horizons. I was inspired by Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn, and enrolled on Part 1 City and Guilds Creative Embroidery course at East Berkshire College, driving from East Sussex one day a week. Due to a disability with my left hand/neck I could not continue, but with the knowledge I had acquired I went on to develop my own style creating one-off pieces inspired by the countryside and seashore near where I live.
Working in short bursts
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
Machine embroidery is my main medium, and using a knee lift, tilt table and chair with armrests helps me to rest my left side. Without these I would not be able to create and achieve my ambitions in stitch. I also work in short bursts, resting in between, sometimes for days depending on the pain threshold.
I use free machine embroidery, mainly straight stitch or zigzag, taking a few threads at a time. I intensely machine them together incorporating snippets of wool and fabric to create a new piece of cloth. I’m not too precious about my work, often cutting it up and reworking it, using a heat gun or soldering iron to distress the work to achieve the desired effect, and embellishing with hand stitch as required.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I do not use a sketchbook due to lack of hand power but record elements of interest with my camera, using these images as my inspiration along with found objects. I revisit the sites of specific interest many times.
What environment do you like to work in?
I work at home with my two dogs usually in peace, as the sewing machine drowns out any radio programmes I might choose to listen to.
A journey with embroidery
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
In 2006 Miniart textilcomo selected my work ‘Winter Bramble’ to win the ‘La Tessitura’ Mantero prize, from a selection of textile artists worldwide. The piece was free machine stitch over fine florist wire, embellished with hand stitch and beads.
Prior to this in 2005 I had been selected to exhibit in Jardins Reduits exhibited in the Musee Jean Lucat, France, the piece ‘Compost Heap’ used free machine embroidery and hand stitch incorporating wire and beads. The exhibition toured Switzerland and Quebec. On its return to France, the Musee purchased it for their permanent collection.
I have since been selected for other exhibitions in France and Italy.
Since 2006 I have had my work selected for the summer show of The Rye Society of Artists.
The works I have created over the years all hold special memories for one reason or another. The journey I have had with embroidery has been amazing, especially the friends I’ve made and the places I have visited.
Where can readers see your work?
For more information visit www.heathercollins.co.uk
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