Carolyn Saxby interview: Timeless textiles
Carolyn Saxby lives and works in St Ives, Cornwall and terms her textile art as a fusion of contemporary and country. She’s one of several textile artists using recycled materials in her work, although she has a very strong and unique style all of her own. Carolyn is constantly inspired by nature and works to incorporate traditional materials and techniques into her work, as well as found objects.
We’re thrilled that such a popular textile artist and one who is so passionate about her work has agreed to chat to us. In part one of this two-part feature, Carolyn tells us about her journey into textile art and the range of techniques and materials she uses.
What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
I’ve been knitting, sewing and collecting design information for most of my life. When I discovered textiles as an art all my passions collided into one new obsession of combining, somehow, all the techniques I’ve ever practiced and dabbled with over the years.
My textile work is very mixed media and a single piece of artwork may contain a great many different processes and many different materials which have been constructed in a variety of ways and then layered up.
What captured my imagination most about discovering textiles as an art form was the realisation that the art journey I didn’t even know I was on had taken me down a path that gave me the opportunity to create one off pieces that combined so many of the processes I enjoyed working with.
I enjoy heating, melting and bonding synthetic materials to create beautiful textures.
I love to paint and add colour to my work by dyeing my own fabrics and papers.
I make my own beads.
I love to knit, crochet, make felt and silk paper, weave, and I love to manipulate fabrics with folds for texture.
I will iron on metallic foils and add paints to fabrics and I adore hand sewing and free motion stitch with my sewing machine. I also like to use my own photography or copyright free vintage images in my work using a variety of transfer methods and also love batik, silk painting and experiments with wax. I am able to combine just about all of these things with stitch, recycled and found things as well as distinctive notions to create my work … I love that anything goes and I still enjoy experimenting with heat, paint, wax and stitch in my work. Discovering textiles as an art gave me this freedom and licence to take traditional techniques and mix them with contemporary ideas.
Experimenting with textile techniques
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work ?
My earliest influences were being taught to knit and sew by mother at a very early age (age 5). Both of my grandmothers and great grandmother had a hand in teaching me aspects of sewing and knitting and I enjoyed art and creative/homemaking subjects at school. I learned dressmaking at school and made a lot of my own clothes and knitted garments, later creating things for the home. My sewing teacher was responsible for the detail sometimes seen in my work. She observed that my work often lacked attention to detail on finishing so it’s something I strived to correct to the point that I now labour over things to get it right.
I’ve always been interested in homemaking and enjoyed sewing curtains, cushions, bedding and made small gifts for family and friends. From an early age, as early as 8 or 9 years old, I cut out and kept books of patterns and designs from magazines. These are my early sketchbooks. I studied (self taught at home) interior design collecting swatches, fabrics, threads, patterns and all the information I could get about art and artists that was available to me on a limited budget.
I consider myself to be pretty much self taught. I have always worked my way through experimenting with techniques found in books and magazines and stuff I stuck in my sketchbooks. Really, I consider my books are not so much sketchbooks but rather are gathering books. Everything gets glued in and a visit to an art exhibition may inspire a splash of colour with my paints or small stitched samples … a line of stitches or a textured fabric glued in.
I experimented with these mood books for a long time before I consider I became an artist … perhaps I was always an artist … are we not all artists just expressing our feelings in different ways in life?
In my artist statement enclosed I explain my background that led to my taking the route of textile art as my expression. It came about, as a result of many years of sewing and dressmaking, a love of interior design and the desire to teach myself many techniques. These collided and became an art form after realising that not everything has to have a physical purpose but can simply be an expression of beauty.
I like the “simple” … the ability to capture the most simple of emotions … such as the discovery of a most beautiful leaf hanging by a thread on a frost covered winter tree … or a perfect shell in a shimmering rock pool.
One of my most favourite quotes ever is by the artist Matisse about understanding nature and becoming it in order to make an expression through art.
Mood boards and sketch books
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I worked as a legal secretary for many years and then helped my husband in the building services industry and property development renovating and decorating several houses. After giving up work and moving to St. Ives in Cornwall in 2002 I was able to devote more time to my art studies. I joined a social beading group and became a member of the Beadworkers Guild and the Embroiderers Guild. I took classes and workshops which introduced me to new products and techniques and in 2005/2006 I studied textile art at AS/A2. I absolutely loved working on detailed projects, looking at a subject matter closely and focusing on fine details of colour, pattern and texture.
I enjoyed creating mood boards and developing my sketchbook work to include all aspects of art design. After passing my projects with straight A’s I started studying for my foundation degree in Art and Design at Cornwall College but for personal reasons I wasn’t able to continue. It was a difficult time for me and it took me a while to get over the disappointment. Instead, I threw myself into my home studies and continued to devour textile books and magazines having a go at everything. I’m very motivated and disciplined to work at home so this didn’t pose any problems for me. Where there is a will there is a way … it’s just a case of finding the right journey and reaching your personal goals in your own way.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques ?
My chosen medium is mixed media textiles inspired by my own photographs and things found in nature. I constantly record things I see by photographing them, drawing, painting, note making, gathering, collecting, pressing, etc. these develop into bulging sketchbooks which capture “moods” and where I notice colours that work well together or patterns and textures in nature. I like to express these “moods” or stories from my head through whimsy.
I stitch 3D hearts and 2D wall art and pictures that will take you to a seaside place, on a country walk up a lane or in a garden. By using softly hand dyed silks and cottons, heating and manipulating synthetic fabrics to create texture and adding surface embellishment by way of found objects, stitch and beads and incorporating vintage images and evocative words I create a little bit of make believe. This process brings me a lot of pleasure in the making and hopefully also brings pleasure to the recipient.
Timeless textile art
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I would describe my work as whimsical with attention to fine details. I take great care in the selection of fabrics to convey the right texture or tone of colour. I take a lot of time choosing the right embellishments and words to get my meaning across. I would describe my work as light hearted, occasionally witty, intended to bring happiness, a mix of traditional and contemporary materials and techniques which fit in the sphere of contemporary art as well as being timeless.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
Firstly, I love sourcing and gathering materials and threads and have a huge collection. Still, I sometimes find I haven’t got quite the right tone so I will dye my own fabrics to get the shade right.
Next, there are several techniques I use to manipulate my fabrics to create interesting textures. I use heat to melt, bond and distort different materials. I will have a go at melting anything once! Sometimes, I use a domestic iron, a heat gun, naked flame and sometimes a soldering iron. I’ve had a lot of experience practising with these techniques so I now have good control of my materials and usually know when something will melt or not etc. Some materials I regularly use for the heating process are synthetic fabrics such as chiffons, satins, fabric linings, tyvek, fibretex, geospun, plastic carrier bags, sweet wrappers, acetate, cereal bags, netting, and some fibres. I also love to use folded or scrunched fabrics.
The next stage is to select the right materials and to build up the layers using the folded or melted fabrics securing them with stitches … both visible and invisible. I favour French knots, fly stitches and running stitches but also use free motion stitch for this purpose.
The final stages are the selection of text (if I choose to use words that define my piece) and the fine details such as the selection and the placement of beads and more hand stitching.
In selecting my materials I also use pieces I have constructed myself such as my own hand made felt, embellished pieces, silk paper, knitting, crochet and bonded/trapped materials. I also love to experiment with transferring images to materials that can be stitched into. Vintage images and my own photographs can be transferred in so many interesting ways. I experiment with this in my sketchbooks.
You can find Carolyn online at the following sites:
- Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CAROLYNSAXBYTEXTILES
In part two of this in-depth interview Carolyn talks about what keeps her inspired and motivated.
What would you most like to find out about your favourite textile artist. Let us know by leaving a comment below.