Corinne Young: Garden of textile delights
Floral motifs have played a prominent role in embroidery design for centuries. Over 2,000 years ago, China’s textile artists stitched rich and colourful flowers and vines with silk thread.
These motifs also convey the unique historical meanings of flowers. Peonies represent love, honour, wealth and beauty. Red poppies stand for remembrance and consolation. Lilies represent purity and devotion.
UK artist Corinne Young is taking both history and symbolism to new levels with her own garden embroideries. And it’s all very exciting.
Corinne creates 3D works that can easily be mistaken for real plants, including the pots that hold them. Using both hand and machine stitch on a linen ‘paper’ she devised, Corinne creates plants that have incredible detail, colour and texture. Wire and other stiffeners further allow her to achieve remarkable dimensions in her work.
Much of the magic in Corinne’s work also rests with the fact that the bulk of her materials is plant based, from the flax she uses to create her backing material to her plant-dyed threads. And many of the plants she uses come from her own cottage garden. Imagine finding both inspiration and supplies in your own backyard.
Let’s step inside Corinne’s garden of textile art delights.
Passion Flower inspiration
Corinne Young: My current work was most inspired by my large 3D Passion Flower piece I made in 2009. It was the first time I’d worked in 3D, and it was very sculptural and detailed. I had made it for an exhibition, and at the time, I thought if it didn’t sell, I wouldn’t mind having to live with it. Of course, it sold on the first day of the show!
I have loved fabrics for as long as I can remember, as well as the textures and forms that can be achieved with embroidery. As a child, I was smitten with 17th-century stumpwork boxes I saw in stately homes I visited with my parents. I think that’s why I have always seen embroidery as a medium to be used for sculpture.
My mother was also influential, as she taught me about plants. We lived near Harlow Carr Gardens in Harrogate. I loved to visit those and other gardens with my mother, as well as help her grow delphiniums and roses in our own garden. I was never indoors if the weather was good enough to be outside.
As I got older, I loved the embroidered work of the art nouveau period, and Kaffe Fassett has always been a hero of mine. I was very fortunate to meet Kaffe a few years ago when I interviewed him for a magazine article. I love his use of colour, texture and historical inspiration.
When I look at plants, I imagine how I could make embroideries from them. Their forms, textures and colours are all such an inspiration. I have many favourites, including passion flowers, poppies, scabious and primulas.
Auriculas are a real favourite of mine because of their fascinating varieties, as well as their history and connection to textiles. The Huguenot people cultivated auriculas around the 16th century in what is now France and Belgium. They were weavers, as well as horticulturists. It is said when the Huguenots were persecuted in the 16th century’s religious wars, they left as refugees and took auriculas plants with them to transplant in their new settlements, especially England.
I also focused on plants during my degree, as again, they have always been synonymous with textiles. I featured embroidery, print, botanicals and interior design in my final third-year collection. Along the way, I also studied at The Royal Horticultural Society’s Library and Kew Gardens, which really inspired the feel of the work.
I always start with studying and researching botanical specimens, preferably from life. I often grow the plants I study from seed, and my garden overflows with plants of all types and varieties. I choose plants more for being interesting specimens than because they all look good together. But somehow, the results are lovely!
I am a prolific user of sketchbooks. My ‘best’ sketchbooks are quite precious and feature pictures gathered from various sources, along with tidy detailed sketches. I then have another working sketchbook I use daily for quick sketches, along with a box of samples. My old sketchbooks are usually the first thing I refer to when researching for a new piece of work.
I work in ‘organised chaos’ with everything arranged in cupboards and drawers. And my small bright cottage home studio has a door that opens into my courtyard garden, which I use as an extension of my workspace.
Stitching and sculpting
My ‘Pot Plants’ are inspired by named plant species which often have a short flowering season. I’m also inspired by ‘auricula theatres’ which are the traditional displays of potted plants in a cabinet setting.
As I work in 3D, I first make templates for the various parts of the plant. I then trace those templates onto a linen paper I developed and add paint and stitch. I use both hand and machine embroidery. Next, I cut out and sculpt the stitched pieces into the finished work using stiffening solutions and wiring. They are then housed in fabric covered ‘terracotta’ pots with embroidered velvet soil.
My other original works are inspired by gardens and meadows. They, too, are machine and hand embroidered onto a specially constructed piece of linen paper with natural edges. They are then mounted onto board ready to frame or display on a shelf as they are.
Finding the right base material was vital to my work, especially for my large wallpaper-sized statement pieces I made for my final degree collection. I wanted an organic feel, and after much research, I discovered a fascinating fibre paper-making method which gave me good results. I first used silk fibres, but then I discovered flax fibres in a nearby textile mill.
This defining moment meant my work could be both inspired by and actually made from plants. Even the embroidery threads I use are a plant derivative. Making my own background also means there is zero waste. I now use the linen paper as a background for my embroidery in most of my work.
Growing as an artist
I loved to knit and sew at primary school and started making clothes for my dolls and myself when I was around ten. I remember a 1970s-style ‘smocked’ top I made by hand of which I was very proud. But my sewing experiences at secondary school were rather disappointing. I already knew there was more to textiles than making an apron!
My father taught me a lot about textiles and how they are made, as he worked in the Lancashire cotton industry. And my aunt with whom I spent childhood summer holidays was a seamstress. I was fascinated by how she could effortlessly turn flat fabric into a beautiful item of clothing. She would make a quick sketch and then cut straight into the fabric with no pattern. It was like alchemy!
My early career was in fashion retail and interior design, with a short stint as a knitting wool shop owner. I then decided at age 40 (when my children were teenagers) to study for a degree in textile design at Bradford College.
After completing my degree, I set up as a textile artist. At a show with the Society of Designer Craftsmen, I acquired a commission to make 16 embroidered publicity panels for the Lord of the Rings stage show in Toronto and London. I then continued to work as a part-time artist making wall pieces for gallery exhibitions.
In 2013, I gave up my part-time job as a gallery manager to concentrate on my textiles full time – a decision I’ve never regretted. Around that same time, I started making embroidered pot plants, which have now become the most popular of my products.
I am continuing to build my business online and also sell directly through live events. I have an outlet in a beautiful shop called Bonadea in London that carries a selection of my embroidered Pot Plants. I also work to commission and love to work together with customers to make something especially unique for them.
- Turn your passion into stitch. Corinne’s passion for certain types of flowers fueled her creative process. How might something or someone dear to you come to life in stitch?
- Think about ways to create dimension in your textile art. How might you attach something or otherwise combine stitch and fabric to make your work more sculptural?
- Find ways to push traditional stitching techniques in new directions. Consider combining stitches in new ways or stitching with non-traditional threads or fabrics.
- If you’d like a live tour of Corinne’s studio and process, check out this video.
About the artist
UK artist Corinne Young creates embroidered botanically-inspired 3D artwork. She completed a degree in Textile Design at Bradford College (2003) and has exhibited widely in galleries and other arts events throughout the UK. Corinne has also undertaken several large commissions and residencies, and her work is in private collections all over the world.