Elisabeth Rutt: Stitched Textiles
Suffolk-based artist Elisabeth Rutt creates stitched textiles with an emphasis on form, colour and excellence of design. She trained as a painter and dancer at Goldsmiths, University of London and has tutored textile groups, mentored master classes and curated a Christmas Craft exhibition in Smiths Row.
In our interview with Elisabeth we discuss her working practice, how she began developing her artistic nature from an early age and her use of plastic and paint in the creation of her work.
A natural progression
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Elisabeth Rutt: I came to use textiles in my artwork as a natural progression from sewing since childhood. If I wasn’t sewing I was drawing and painting, always happy to amuse myself. I started making rag dolls when I was about four with shoe box cots, things grew from there!
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My father was a professional artist and allowed me access to all his art materials in his studio. I was oil painting at an easel by six and still have the first paintbrushes he bought me. My mother used to make dresses for my sister and me and the elderly lady next door taught me to embroider, knit, crochet etc so I was surrounded by making processes. There really was no escape.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
Following A levels, I went to Goldsmiths, University of London to complete a degree in Art and Dance, as my other great passion was dance. My dance teacher was keen I train as a ballet teacher while my art teachers were convinced art college was the right place to go. My degree allowed me to put off making a decision between the two.
Since University I have completed City and Guilds embroidery and as many workshop opportunities as I could, whilst working first in commercial management for Marks and Spencer and then in retail training for Royal Worcester Spode. I had a break in my career to have children and went back to work to be Gallery Manager at Smiths Row in Bury St Edmunds.
Now my sons are grown up I am able to concentrate full time on my art work. I am lucky enough to have always had a work space and have kept working, despite the day job. I am now freelance and have time to focus completely on my artistic practice which is wonderful.
A fine art approach
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I use hand stitch to make largely wall hung pieces. My ground materials are rarely conventional woven fabrics; I have spent years working with plastic and paint which I have melted and stitched into. Sometimes while making this series of work I wasn’t sure if I was making a painting or textile.
I have trouble with the question of ‘where does my work fit in contemporary art?’ as I am very much a maker but I think with a fine art approach. I think I am an artist who has chosen to use a craft discipline to make my work. I think my place should be decided by my audience.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
My process starts with a lot of thinking which moves into research, sketching and sampling. I enjoy sketching directly with needle and thread either onto a piece of stretched fabric or onto paper. This helps with the problem of moving from sketches in a traditional art media to textiles. My work is not about transferring a worked up design on to fabric.
I work at home in a small studio that is always bursting at the seams. This room has been essential in allowing me to continue working as much as I have whilst bringing up my sons. I could leave work where it was, close the door and return to it when I next had time.
A life of their own
Do you use a sketchbook?
I use sketchbooks which develop a life of their own. I prefer small to medium size books as I stitch directly into them.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
When I was about six I made an appliqué picture of a balloon seller onto a piece of hessian fabric. It was the first thing I had stitched that was not a mat or a doll or some other functional item. I have very fond memories of making it and the discovery of choosing and combining fabrics from a rag bag. I expect my mother still has this piece tucked away but I haven’t seen it for very many years.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
To focus on developing your own work that will set you apart and give you a recognisable ‘style’. Ask less ‘How has she/he done that?’ asking instead ‘Why and what has she/he done in that piece of work’? I would advise looking and soaking up design in many other disciplines. Good design is the core of successful work whether it is furniture, architecture or jewellery.
I would recommend finding a group of peer artists to bounce ideas off of and critique each other’s work. Such a group is a great support and you will learn from each other.
Layers of work
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
I would recommend anything written by Kathleen Whyte or Constance Howard. Both were writing in the 1960s and while the images are obviously dated the text is still completely relevant. My copies of their books are all second hand bookshop purchases and they are well work searching out. My favourite recent publications are ‘Hand Stitch Perspectives‘ and ‘Machine Stitch Perspectives‘ both by Alice Kettle and Jane McKeating.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
I do look at websites, particularly at Gallery websites to see a variety of work. I read art and crafts magazines as I like to hold a paper page and smell the ink!
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I have a stitch unpicker that got too near to my iron years ago. The handle melted and it is now a much more ergonomic shape and is easier to hold and use. I am not afraid to unpick work and waste thread, it is the same process as over painting and covering up earlier layers of work in a painting.
An emphasis on design
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I tutor workshops on an occasional basis by invitation. These will all have an emphasis on design for textile techniques. Do get in touch via e mail as I like to discuss the group a workshop is for and tailor make the content and level.
For more information please visit: elisabethrutt.com
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Quilt wall art artist