Aran Illingworth: Embracing Indian heritage

Aran Illingworth: Embracing Indian heritage

Aran Illingworth’s work focuses on story-telling. Her figurative textile art often depicts women and their social situation, particularly those living in poverty in India in the 21st century. Seeing embroidery and textile decoration as traditionally an activity associated with women, Aran seeks to honour females of the world in her work.

What appealed to us was the beauty of her appliqué panels, which is is in their simplicity; they present a situation and allow the viewer to respond. Here Aran talks to us about her background and the techniques she uses to achieve her unique style.

Aran Illingworth - Madonna and Child III

Aran Illingworth – Madonna and Child III

A visual narrative

I have always been fascinated both with textiles and with creating realistic images, and in my art I set out to combine these two sources of inspiration by using fabric instead of paint to create a portrait. In designing the textile portrait, the key is to understand the interplay of light and shade in the image, and know how to translate this into portraits consisting of appliqué panels, which are created in layered, stitched fabric and with recycled fabrics used for the clothing and backgrounds.

My work is a visual narrative, which is intended to convey a certain emotion and which focusses on subjects carrying a specific message and meaning.  So, these are stories worked mainly in reclaimed cloth and stitch, and supplemented occasionally by other elements such as digitally printed backgrounds or metal objects. I use the traditional hand skills of stitching and embroidery, but in a contemporary way which seeks to transcend the traditional boundaries of textile craftwork in terms both of the range of materials used and of the emotional impact on the viewer.

Aran Illingworth - Madonna and Child II

Aran Illingworth – Madonna and Child II

A hybrid of techniques

My subjects are taken from photographic portraits, which are either images given to me by a professional photographer, or images I have personally photographed.  My technical approach to creating a portrait is to cover the face and exposed body parts with stitching in order to provide a level of detail, and therefore of expression, which cannot be achieved by using applique panels alone.

Before I start stitching, choosing the colour of the thread and blending the thread with the fabric which I previously appliquéd, is the key to the success of the finished piece.  Once I choose the photo on which I am going to work, I use a computer to posterize the image. The posterized photo creates a defined set of blocks with distinct colour values, and I use these blocks in order to put the basic image together. I then work through several different stages, including appliqué and hand embroidery.  The colourful fabrics which I use are collected from a variety of sources, resulting in a colourful combination of vintage, recycled and new cotton to give the effect intended.

Aran Illingworth - Madonna and Child detail

Aran Illingworth – Madonna and Child detail

Heartbreak and hope through textiles

A recurring theme in my work has been women and children and their social situation – particularly on predicaments associated with poverty.  Those pieces focused on poverty are intended to serve as an appeal on the subjects’ behalf and also as an indictment of social conditions in the 21st century.  A good example of this is one of my initial pieces, entitled Madonna and Child.  The subject is 19 year old Indian mother who has lost two children to pneumonia and lives on the streets, begging to support her malnourished son.

Aran Illingworth - Madonna and Child

Aran Illingworth – Madonna and Child

The story which this picture tells is one of heartbreak.  But the picture itself speaks also to hope, to the strength of the human spirit before adversity.

But not all of my work is concerned with poverty – or indeed with women either.  An example showing a lighter, more optimistic side of my work is ‘The Windows of The Soul’, which shows a young girl sitting in front of a ceramic frieze in the Philippines.

Aran Ilingworth - Windows of the soul

Aran Ilingworth – Windows of the soul

Evoking an emotional response

The creative side of my work aims to produce images which evoke in the viewer a clear emotional response – whether that is a compassionate response to the poor and a heightened awareness of their predicament, or lighter emotions in relation to less politically charged subjects such as family portraits

I am inspired by, and preoccupied with, Asia – its colourful splendour as well as its sometimes savage social predicaments.  I am motivated by my empathy with the personal journey of the disadvantaged women and children who are my subjects, and by the intention to draw attention to the dire social conditions which persist in Asia even now.  I take inspiration, also, from the colour and vibrancy of the Indian subjects of my work, as these convey a sense of hope – for betterment and meaning even in the face of adversity.

Whether dealing with Asian subjects or not, my work is always permeated by the sense of form and colour which I have inherited from my Indian background.  My work is always somehow inseparable from my background and culture.  I have consciously taken embroidery and decoration of textiles – historically speaking, an undervalued set of activities typically performed by women in India and elsewhere – and tried to use them in an artistic way.  In doing so, I am seeking to express my sense of connection with, and to honour, undervalued women India and elsewhere, whether they are living now or lived in the past.  In general, I aim to promote creativity and excellence in the use of textiles in applied art, whether technically, in terms of the emotional expressiveness of my work, or in the connections and connotations of my Indian heritage which my work encapsulates.

Aran Illingworth - Domestic Goddess

Aran Illingworth – Domestic Goddess

Find out more about Aran Illingworth by visiting

If you’ve enjoyed this article let us know by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday 08th, February 2023 / 04:21

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe



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One comment on “Aran Illingworth: Embracing Indian heritage”

  1. gerri calpin says:

    I am new to this website and am finding such inspiration from the featured artists. Looking to be a frequent follower.

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