Anne Kelly: New book celebrates ‘travel’ stitching
Award-winning textile artist Anne Kelly has penned another gorgeous book that fans—new and old—will be excited to add to their stitching libraries. Working again with Batsford Press, Textile Travels offers readers an in-depth look into Anne’s philosophy and techniques related to ‘travel stitching.’ The book is packed with rich imagery, detailed instruction and inspiration galore!
Anne begins the book by discussing the iconography of maps in textile art, as well as how to incorporate actual maps into textile work. She then explores the influence of different global cultures on textile art. Ranging from India to Peru to Scotland to Scandinavia, the book explains how to harness traditional techniques, fabrics, motifs and colours for use in readers’ own work.
The chapter ‘Stopping Places’ captures the moments in time on a journey that can be distilled, remembered and documented to create stitched postcards, sketchbooks and other pieces.
The final chapter ‘Space and the Imagination’ explores the possibilities of space travel as a source of inspiration. It covers ‘inner space’ too, with artists mapping their own emotional journeys.
The book features a wealth of practical tricks and techniques complemented by exquisite photography of both Anne’s and other leading textile artists’ works. It will inspire all textile artists, embroiderers and makers to use past travels to influence new work.
Anne is an award-winning Canadian-born, UK-based artist, author and tutor. Her multilayered and densely stitched textiles have been described as ‘small worlds.’ Trained in Canada and at Goldsmiths College in London, she creates wall hangings and objects using a mixture of mixed media collage and hand and machine embroidery. Her teaching and gallery work takes her around the UK and abroad.
The journey informs the art
TextileArtist.org: How does travel inspire your work as a textile artist?
Travel has been a central feature of my work, and I explored it to a lesser degree in my previous books Textile Nature (Batsford, 2016) and Textile Folk Art (Batsford, 2018).
Up until the current global pandemic, I was traveling extensively in the UK and abroad for my practice. In early 2020, I led a group of textile enthusiasts to Gujurat, India, and taught a stitch retreat in Vermont, USA. And just before the lockdown, I had been teaching in Devon and Cornwall.
The interactions and observations I made when working inspired my work, and I collected textiles and ephemera whilst traveling. ‘Ephemera’ covers a wide range of items, like ticket stubs, labels, postcards and other paper remnants from traveling. Anything can be used as part of the process as long as it is not too thick. It needs to be treated (coated or waxed with PVA or acrylic wax) before it can be used.
I am an immigrant from Canada to my chosen country of the UK and have always had family and friends abroad, which gives travel a different emphasis and importance. Now that my ‘travel sphere’ is much smaller, I appreciate local walks and day trips out. Travel doesn’t have to be far away to be meaningful. The pandemic brought this truth home to me in an immediate way, but I have always known that small daily observations can have a powerful influence on one’s artistic practice.
Which places have provided the richest source of inspiration and why?
This is a really complex question, because I am always inspired by different places.
The most vivid and recent memories are from two wonderful trips: one to Gujurat, India, in February, 2020, and one to Vermont, USA, in early March 2020.
Gujurat was amazing. The artisans of the Kutch produce some of the most intricate and varied types of embroidery in India. The colours, motifs and narratives will stay with me always.
I grew up in Canada, just over the border from Vermont, and used to visit there. Returning in the early spring was very sentimental, and I loved revisiting the area, scouring junk shops and seeing the architecture which inspired a new series of work entitled ‘New England Houses.’
Can you tell us the story behind a particular piece that was inspired by a journey?
The centrepiece for my 2021 exhibition at Ruthin Craft Centre was a paper and textile covered boat entitled ‘Unfinished Journey.’
I found a handmade wooden skeleton of a canoe on a ‘freecycle’ Internet page that had been made by schoolchildren as part of a woodworking project. It had been hanging in their mother’s garage for many years.
It was over 13 feet long and had to be cut into sections to work on. It was unfinished—and my journey is unfinished—so, I felt the title was apt.
The pieces covering it were made from laminated paper and textile and then sewn together. I used a combination of donated items and everyday objects which had been drawn, coloured and hand stitched on cloth by myself. The pieces of fabric were also unfinished embroidery paper transfers and fabric embroidery samplers donated by a student.
I liked the idea of combining old and new, found and made, paper and textile which were blended together using my glue lamination process and stitch.
The completed collaged panels were then tacked and glued onto the canoe frame.
The final piece represents my journey to and around the UK and is a fitting memorial to the making of the boat itself.
Expanding upon the art of ‘travel’ stitch
Has the lack of travel during the Pandemic affected your practice and how?
It has, but I have been very fortunate during the pandemic to have been kept really busy. A few of my workshops were cancelled early on, but most, if not all, have been rebooked for the future.
I miss my travels in the UK and have kept in touch with students here and abroad through online workshops. I have also really appreciated participating in various charity exhibitions and raising funds for local causes through selling my work.
It has focused some of my studio time into creating and documenting smaller pieces, as well as working on some larger ones like the ‘Quarantine Quilt.’ I am also preparing work and documentation for my solo exhibition at Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales next spring and summer.
Tell us a bit about the process of writing the book?
The book came about as an extension of a chapter in my previous book called Textile Folk Art. I felt that travel was a critical part of my practice and that I needed to address it through my writing and research.
So many textile artists use travel as inspiration, and it was a pleasure to find and ask them to contribute to the book. Through my choice of invited artists’ work, I wanted to show how different approaches to recording travel could be seen. For example, for mapping projects, I liked the contrast between Portuguese artist Vanessa Barrago’s tapestries and the map books of UK artist Amanda House.
I had exhibited with some of these artists at the Knitting and Stitching Shows, including Debbie Lyddon in 2016 and Nigel Cheney in 2018. And I saw other artists’ work in exhibitions like Nilima Sheikh at the Art Institute of Chicago. Generally, I have a very positive response to requests for contributors to my books, and I think a diverse choice of work makes it more interesting and inspiring for the reader.
I had made a series of works that related to the travel theme, and those pieces were photographed for the book professionally. These works were made before I knew I was going to use them in the book and related to other projects I was involved in over the past few years.
I wrote the book in sections, and often whilst I was traveling! The book has five chapters devoted to differing themes and regions, with an extra chapter on resources, media and techniques one can use to develop studies whilst traveling. I also included a chapter on local travels, so it does really have something for everyone.
The inclusion of ‘trigger’ or thematic words and a chapter on materials were new additions for me. I wanted to spark the imaginations of readers when researching or being inspired by specific themes. Words are also very evocative of place. I also included a chapter on using materials for traveling, as I felt it complemented the workshops in the book.
The layout and composition took quite a long time to engineer, but it is always rewarding as I started to see the book come together. The visual style and format of my books are important to me. I want them to be able to be ‘dipped into’ over time versus just being ‘how to’ books. The feedback I have received from readers is that they like being able to discover new ‘titbits’ as they work their way through the book.
You recently taught a workshop for members of the TextileArtist.org Stitch Club based around travel. Were there any responses that surprised you?
I really loved teaching the ‘Mapping Your Journey’ workshop for the Stitch Club. It was not an easy technique to share online, but it was very rewarding, as members adapted it to suit the materials they had at hand.
It was also great to see the variety of subjects and regions participants chose for their work. We saw everything from an Egyptian holiday to a memory of a haberdashery that reminded one of the makers of her family.
I was very impressed by the ways in which students interpreted and experimented with stitch. And I was heartened to hear many were inspired to try further pieces. I look forward to seeing images of future works posted in the group.
What will readers discover and how can the book inspire their textile practice?
Textile Travels features workshops showing readers how they can capture their travels—past and present—in stitch. It also explores the influence of different cultures from around the world on textile art and how to use some of those techniques, fabrics, motifs and colours in their own work.
I’ve showcased resources from past travels, research and home trips to show how each can be adapted to a reader’s practice.
My three solo books are all ‘standalone’ thematically, but they also inform and lead on from each other. The emphasis in each is thematic, rather than technical, and I see them as ‘inspiration books.’
My philosophy in teaching and writing is that materials should be affordable and easy to access. I am aware not all of my students have big budgets, and indeed, often using what they have can be more rewarding than buying lots of new things.
The workshops in the book are all simple and easy to follow for readers of all ages, abilities and experience. I hope that it encourages them to make ‘time to go and explore…’
Get your own copy of Textile Travels here or find out more on Batsfords website
Anne Kelly celebrates travel in stitch. How have your travels informed your textile art? Let us know below.