Mandy Pattullo: From conception to creation
Mandy Pattullo lives in Newcastle upon Tyne but produces her work in a studio set in a rural location close to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. She originally trained as a surface pattern designer for interior textiles and this background of research into pattern and the decorative elements found in historic and ethnic textiles often creeps into her work.
Mandy eventually found herself teaching full time at a local art college and after several years of teaching experimental textiles, print and machine embroidery she left that all behind to return to her own practice. She wanted to reconnect with hand stitching and her love of traditional techniques and has now developed a textile collage style that allows her to create unique patchworks and appliqués often using fragments of north country quilts that she is able to source locally. It is important to her to always use pieces made by previous generations somewhere in her work and she tries to work with materials that are either given to her or bought second hand.
Mandy has exhibited nationally and teaches workshops from her studio and all over the UK and sometimes abroad. She balances the self-indulgence of stitching for a living with working part time for an Arts Project in a secure setting. She has been busy in the last year writing a book Textile Collage for Batsford and this will be published in September 2016.
In this interview, which is part of our From conception to creation series, Mandy guides us through her journey of creating ‘Pink Flowers’. We learn where she finds inspiration and how she gets started, and we discover how freestyling helps release her creative energy.
Name of piece: Pink Flowers
Year of piece: 2016
Size of piece: 20 x 18cm
Materials used: Vintage quilt fragment, cotton fabrics
Techniques used: Applique and stitch
Finding a new beauty
TextileArtist.org: How did the idea for the piece come about? What was your inspiration?
Mandy Pattullo: My textile collages are nearly always inspired by a particular piece of fabric that I want to draw attention to. I source very old and often disintegrating textiles which I cut up or unpick. My idea is always to force the viewer to re-examine fabrics that have become flawed through wear and tear, to find in them a new beauty. In this case, I had brought a rather ugly old quilt which was white on one side and had a flowery cotton fabric covering the other side.
When I am buying vintage quilts, which are a key part of my aesthetic, I don’t always take them at face value. I know from experience that very old and worn patchwork quilts can be hidden inside a newer patchwork. A thrifty woman would have taken a quilt from a previous generation, which would have been tired but with some warmth left in it, and made a new cover. When I am handling a quilt that I am thinking of purchasing I know this has happened because I can feel the weight of the original quilt inside and if there is a small tear or worn patch then you can often see a different colour fabric peeping through.
It is always an exciting moment when I get the quilt home and start to unpick the ugly top fabric to reveal strata of old hand quilted fabric hidden within. These pieces of unique and fragile old quilts showing the marks of another woman’s hand are nearly always my starting point, providing a special foundation on which to make my own marks. Sometimes I will leave a suggestion of the ‘new’ cover at the edge which helps to tell the story of the quilt.
A lifetime of research
What research did you do before you started to make?
It is rare for me to do specific research before I start a piece as I feel I have been researching all my life. I have bought books, collected postcards, cut out tear sheets, made scrapbooks, visited exhibitions and taken photos for the last 40 years and the collection and curation of this information have helped to inform my taste and style. I have a large notice board in my studio where I pin up images that inspire me.
I look at my books when I am eating my packed lunch and my scrap books are near my desk in the studio. I do not need to constantly refer to them or have them open when I am working because that visual stimulus has worked its way into my consciousness so when I start a project. I have looked at many examples of early American applique quilts and am familiar with recurrent motifs and styles, so when I come to do my own design I am influenced by the historic precedent while not copying it exactly.
Was there any other preparatory work?
For this piece, I decided that I did not feel very inspired by the colour scheme of the quilt fragment so I started this project by over-dyeing it. I do not use natural dyes or mix my own but unashamedly use Dylon. I like the surprise element of over dying coloured fabrics and if you dye a thick piece of the quilt, the inner wadding can be sometimes be revealed to be a paler shade through unpicking.
The serendipity of colours
What materials were used in the creation of the piece? How did you select them? Where did you source them?
My fabrics are not stored in colour order but are mixed up and tied in bundles. This allows for the serendipity of colours falling next to each other and suggesting new schemes. In this case, the cross stitch fragment fell on to the foundation piece and though not an obvious choice I went with my instinct knowing that I would be able to effectively blend it onto the background with stitching and appliqué.
I had a piece of ugly velvet ribbon but the back of the ribbon picked up the colour scheme and a small section of this was selected. These two pieces and a piece of the overdyed floral were selected to provide the background collage. The cross stitch fabric initially suggested continuing the roses theme though I rejected this at the making stage. The colour of the roses did influence the selection of the other fabrics and threads though and I picked up the colours in my choice of some small pieces of cotton fabrics which were lightweight and I knew would be easy to handle in the appliqué.
What equipment did you use in the creation of the piece and how was it used?
I do not use any specialized equipment. After years of teaching in an art college and enabling every sort of experimentation and development of embroidery and print technique, I am now happy to just hand stitch everything. This means I can sit at my desk with just my spools of ordinary sewing thread, my box of embroidery threads and hand stitch in a relaxed way with a constant stream of downloads on my iPad which enriches my imagination and stretches my knowledge of the world.
Keeping the work fresh
Take us through the creation of the piece stage by stage.
I first of all attached the cross stitch sample and the other two pieces to the background with a small stab stitch. I tend to collage onto a plain background as I think it provides another layer of surface interest. I choose a selection of fabrics which pick up the colours of the cross stitch roses. The fabrics need to be light weight cotton as I will be using them for fiddly appliqué.
I cut out lozenge shaped petals from a variety of pink fabrics and start to appliqué them onto the foundation fabric. I use a traditional finger turning technique which pushes the raw edge under with finger or needle as you go. The turned edge is secured with a small over stitch. I have no drawing but just start with a petal and make it up as I go along. I think this keeps the work fresh and is less stress for me as there is no pattern to follow.
I now select the fabric for the leaves. In this case, I am using a piece of green fabric which has been unpicked from one of my overdyed quilt pieces. Again I lay out and pin the shapes before sewing on, though I remain flexible throughout the process and the pieces may be added to or moved.
When the applique stage is finished I am ready to add embroidery. I nearly always used stranded embroidery thread and mostly take it down to two or three strands. The stitching is always influenced by what is going on in the rest of the piece so for the centres of the flowers I have used tiny cross stitches to echo the cross stitch of the roses.
Sometimes I am forced to mount and framework for exhibitions but really I prefer to just put my pieces straight on the wall. I make a decision as to whether to leave the edges raw or put on a border. In this case, I am leaving them raw as I like seeing the layers of the quilt exposed at the side of the piece. In view of this decision I just cover the back up with a bit of felt , attach a curtain ring and hang it up.
What journey has the piece been on since its creation?
I have made this piece for a solo exhibition I am having later in the year at The Customs House, South Shields ( opening 25th November). I will be showing old and new work but work featuring my use of old quilts will feature heavily. The exhibition has been designed to promote my book Textile Collage which will be published by Batsford in September 2016.
For more information visit: www.mandypattullo.co.uk
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