Gordano Textile Artists: Natural Selection

Gordano Textile Artists: Natural Selection

Gordano Textile Artists, from the Bristol area of the UK, is a group of 13 who have been meeting and exhibiting for 22 years.

They first formed after the founder members had completed a four-year course in City and Guilds Creative Embroidery and wanted to remain together to meet and exhibit their work. They were soon joined by others with similar qualifications and latterly have included a weaver.

From an early tentative exhibition on a windy harbourside, their work is now seen everywhere in galleries in the West Country, and next year in a stately home. They attribute their success largely to the approach they have adopted towards both their individual work and the integrity of the group as a whole.

An artistic contribution

Their aim has always been to work to the highest standard while at the same time stretch themselves and push boundaries. The diversity of work within the group enriches each member since knowledge and skills are shared, with support always on hand if required at both an artistic and a personal level, a philosophy which helps to cement and strengthen the group.

Discussion of each person’s work takes place at their monthly meetings, normally held in each other’s homes, at which attendance is expected together with an artistic contribution. They find these sessions stimulating and useful since one of the group’s strengths is that when advice or constructive criticism is offered, it is accepted without offence, in a positive way.

They would love to see more groups like theirs meet in this way around the world, keeping the great artistic textile tradition/movement alive and going forward.

In this article, each of the 13 Gordano Textile Artists has selected a piece and we learn about the materials and process used to create their work. With photographs to accompany, we discover a diverse range of methods and styles and how being part of a group brings out individual strengths.

Marilyn Burton, Weaver

Marilyn Burton, Field of Flowers

Marilyn Burton, Field of Flowers

Field of Flowers

The inspiration for this piece was wild flower meadows. The starting point was a specific threading of the weave structure, deflected double weave; this gives a flower-like appearance when woven with a wool yarn that felts and a cotton yarn that doesn’t.

Marilyn wished to create a hanging with different colour areas, so the cotton warp was made and dyed in sections using procion dyes and the wool was a dark grey to help accentuate the depth of colour.

The final piece after felting in the washing machine is less than half the original on the loom, the photograph shows loom state and after washing.

Debby Bird

Debby Bird, Cranes

Debby Bird, Cranes

Gang of Four

Debby loves the grungy industrial aesthetic of Bristol’s M Shed and its historic cranes.

She painted her cotton with a base colour wash of dilute silk paint and built up layers of acrylic fabric paint to evoke the industrial textures and graffiti of the harbourside. She also used Inktense pencils fixed with clear fabric medium to add detail.

When she was happy with the image she used a thin firm felt like wadding and used stitch to give the texture and line of the cranes and edges of the architecture. She used a mixture of free motion and normal machine stitching.

Debby Bird, Cranes (detail)

Debby Bird, Cranes (detail)

Patricia Brownen

Patricia Brownen, Necklace

Patricia Brownen, Necklace


Patricia Brownen creates fabric neckpieces, brooches and necklaces.

She takes her inspiration from nature and interprets her subject on silk by painting, stitching and then embellishing her pieces with semi-precious and glass beads.

Carol Clark

Carol Clark, Rudbeckia

Carol Clark, Rudbeckia


This piece was inspired by the Rudbeckia that Carol’s husband grows from seed every year, providing the garden with a mass of yellowy blooms from late summer through to autumn.

To create her textile pieces she draws on all the techniques she has learned over the years from stitch groups, classes and workshops and chooses those that suit the project.

In this piece she has used a background of coffee stained calico (from Annette Emms, Medieval Book Wraps, Embroiderers’ Guild workshop), appliquéd cotton fabric flower petals and leaves that she dyed herself (from Annette Kennedy, Painted Pictorial Quilts, Craftsy online class), overlapping blocks of coloured fabric behind the flowers (from Jae Maries, Giving Your Work That Extra Edge, Embroiderers’ Guild workshop).

She used machine stitching to secure and embellish the background pieces and hand stitching to secure and embellish the petals (button hole and chain stitch), leaves (stem stitch) and twisted yarn stems (couched). The seeding stitch around the bottom represents the many seeds that are planted each spring.

Sue Haysom

Sue Haysom, Cockerel

Sue Haysom, Cockerel


Sue loves cockerels. They are magnificent birds and the variation in their plumage makes them an ideal subject for her embellisher.

She likes to use strips of old silk ties which her machine transforms into a soft silk felt with a feather-like texture and delicately muted colours.

Liz Hewitt

Liz Hewitt, Woodland Walks

Liz Hewitt, Woodland Walks

Woodland Walks

Liz is an experimental embroiderer/quilter & mixed media artist. Working with natural, and worn but loved old fabrics, she uses eco-friendly printing and dyeing methods with found objects, natural or manmade, to create quilts and embroidered cloths that record the rural, urban and coastal environments that she visits, documenting a moment in time.

She is inspired by nature within the landscape especially the majesty of trees. The relationship between trees and humanity has led her to research the Celtic mythology of trees, which has at its core the belief that man must live in harmony with nature. Her work draws on this belief and focuses on how trees can soothe, inspire and sustain us, both physically and spiritually.

Her current work is using eco-printing with windfall leaves collected from the Nature in Art Museum, Gloucestershire, and eco-friendly natural dyeing techniques to colour silk/wool fabrics and paper, each piece revealing the beauty of real leaves and the dyes bound within plants. The cloths will then be made into a heavily stitched quilted wall hanging documenting the plant life of their garden.

Deryll Hibbitt

Derail Hibbitt, Somerset Coast Path

Derail Hibbitt, Somerset Coast Path

Somerset Coast Path

This piece was inspired by a lovely, lonely and much-loved stretch of coast path on one of the many holidays and walks Deryll has had, mainly in English National Parks.

She started by laying down small pieces of fine fabrics in many colours. The next step was to machine heavily over these fabrics to blend it all together, again using many different colours. As the piece depicts a path with horizontal lines there is also vertical stitching to suggest the edges of a field and the edge of a shingle beach. This stitching is again heavy using many different threads. She then added tree and bush shapes made on water soluble fabric. When this was dissolved away she was left with fine shapes to hand stitch over the whole piece.

Sometimes she chooses a landscape with a recognisable horizon, and creates this using torn, thick watercolour paper, painting the edge with several colours of Markal stick and brushing the colours over the edge using her fingers – messy but effective!

Kirsten Hill-Nixon

Kirsten Hill-Nixon, Robin

Kirsten Hill-Nixon, Robin

Robin, Wren and Goldfinches

Kirsten has been needle-felting for the past 18 years. The technique involves stabbing wool fibres with barbed needles to compact and sculpt the fibres into sturdy forms.

Kirsten Hill-Nixon, Wren 2

Kirsten Hill-Nixon, Wren 2

She started identifying more and more birds on her daily dog walk, such fleeting little visual treats, so she has been working on a series of realistic life-size sculpted birds, dyeing her own wools for shading. She finds them a pleasure to make and satisfying to hold in the hand and is now working on 2D bird portraits for exhibition and teaching.

Kirsten Hill-Nixon, Goldfinches

Kirsten Hill-Nixon, Goldfinches

Jenn Hutchins

Jenn Hutchins, Fossils

Jenn Hutchins, Fossils


A visit to Bristol museum resulted in a study of ammonites.

As is her usual practice, Jenn explored a variety of media and word associations to get ideas flowing: in this case, print, wire and paper casts, and evocative words like ‘unique’, ‘layers’, ‘concealed’.

Jenn Hutchins, Fossils designing

Jenn Hutchins, Fossils designing

Jenn chose to hand stitch many variations of spirals on small neutral pieces of silk, and also to crochet some in wire. A hanging was the chosen solution for her piece.

The individual pieces were arranged on long strips of silk attached to a perspex rod and allowed to move and float freely.

After some feedback from the group, she printed some ammonite shapes on the strips and couched a thread to link the individual pieces. The wire pieces hang loosely to add weight and another dimension.

Jenn Hutchins, CU Fossils

Jenn Hutchins, CU Fossils

Finally, after many months, she was satisfied and the hanging was ready for public exhibition.

Jane O’Leary

Jane O'Leary, Persian birds 1

Jane O’Leary, Persian birds 1

Persian Birds

Jane’s current work is inspired by a 10th-century Persian bowl in the Nature in Art Museum, Gloucestershire, which is decorated with stylised animals and birds. The creatures circle around the centre in a semi-random fashion, facing in different directions, and the spaces in between are filled with shapes and symbols.

Jane chose to concentrate on four birds that are full of personality and use them as repeated motifs with small variations each time they appear.

The birds are stitched onto upholstery fabric with a computerized embroidery machine using mainly thick wool/acrylic thread for the bodies, and rayon for contrast on the eyes. Ceramics from this period sometimes included a blessing hidden in the design, so Jane has echoed this by scattering the letters of the word ‘peace’ across the background.

There are also larger individual portraits of each bird, and on these, the background is covered by a Greek key pattern, which reflects Jane’s continuing interest in interlaced patterns.

Jane O'Leary, Persian birds 2

Jane O’Leary, Persian birds 2

Sally Sparks

Sally Sparks, Ibex 1

Sally Sparks, Ibex 1

Ibex 1 & 2

It is always rather daunting embarking on a new project as there are so many questions that need to be answered.  What techniques to use?  How will it finally be displayed? How do you start? In fact, often the best pieces are not planned and just evolve.

Sally Sparks, Ibex 2

Sally Sparks, Ibex 2

For GTA’s exhibition at Nature in Art, Gloucestershire, in November 2017 Sally has taken a 10th century Persian Dish from their collection as her inspiration as she was intrigued by the rather primitive drawings of the birds and animals.

Sally Sparks, Bird 1

Sally Sparks, Bird 1

After doing some research into that period, she sketched all the images from the plate which seemed to give them some kind of identity.

After making samples in various fabrics, she finally used coffee-dyed calico torn into strips and laid down overlapping, drawing the images freehand, and finally, machine embroidering them in a limited palette to give the aged effect.

Sally Sparks, Bird 2

Sally Sparks, Bird 2

Ira Wood

Ira Wood, Triptych

Ira Wood, Triptych


Sometimes as textile artists, we do a piece of work which is out of our comfort zone. This triptych is exactly that. Normally Ira is a machine embroiderer and works on painted synthetic fabrics, but these three pieces are all stitched by hand into heavy duty watercolour paper.

Stitching into paper which hasn’t been pasted onto a fabric backing is a tricky thing to do and obviously, cannot be machined because the paper would serrate. Her design has been inspired by winter trees and the textured quality of tree bark.

She loves trees, more so in the winter because they have that extra design quality of bare tree trunks and branches. The stitches include back stitch, french knots and couching using mostly poorly spun sheeps’ wool.

Viv Young

Viv Young, Irises

Viv Young, Irises


Flowers and plants have always been favourite subjects in Viv’s textile art, but a piece of work never happens spontaneously. It may take many months of collecting images, photos, careful observation and drawing of her chosen subject before she arrives at a design. She finds making a collage of painted papers helpful in this, as it allows her to shift the elements around to get a balanced composition.

Viv Young, Irises paper collage

Viv Young, Irises paper collage

The next stage is to paint or dye a fabric background, and then build up the design by applying small pieces of fabric of various types and textures. After these are stitched down by machine, she adds further layers, and finally some more texture by hand-stitching with different thicknesses of thread.

While the work is in progress, Viv will often view the work in a mirror, in different lights, or hang it on the wall for periods of time in order to assess what it needs.

Natural Selection, the exhibition for which this article accompanies runs 7th-19th November 2017 at the Nature in Art Gallery and Museum.

For more information visit: www.gordanotextileartists.co.uk

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Saturday 28th, March 2020 / 22:01

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3 comments on “Gordano Textile Artists: Natural Selection”

  1. Jessie Schut says:

    I loved looking at all these pieces of art. It is fascinating to me to see that people with such varied skills and interests can work together to support and critique each other.

  2. Rosario Luciano says:


  3. Babs Keen says:

    I have just visited your exhibition in Nature in Art and really loved your diverse work, I wondered where you actually meet as I have been looking for a textile group in travelling distance to where I live.

    I am a quilter and live near Ross on Wye.

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