Heidi Ingram: Kitchen window stitching
Like most mothers, Heidi Ingram’s life often wasn’t her own. Getting kids where they needed to be, managing the home and working as a writer didn’t leave much room for personal interests.
But at one point, her mum gave her an embroidery kit during an especially busy time. Heidi managed to find some time to start stitching, and she immediately enjoyed the tactile elements and how it made her slow down and relax. She was hooked.
Heidi continued stitching cross stitch and freestyle embroidery designs, but she eventually became frustrated. She wanted to create art with more personal meaning and expression. But how?
One day, Heidi looked out of her kitchen window and decided to stitch what she saw. Through her eyes, the sketch was simplistic, but the tiny, embroidered vignette was enough to encourage her to continue.
She grabbed her camera and ventured out to snap photos of the surrounding scenic coastline and rural landscapes of East Lothian, Scotland. Those photos were then translated into vivid and textural stitched landscapes.
Not only were friends and family enamoured with Heidi’s new work, but she also received an invitation to exhibit at a local art show in 2018. Her confidence as a textile artist soared.
That same year, she landed a new writing gig for TextileArtist.org, and she hasn’t looked back since. Heidi’s artistic and professional worlds had perfectly collided, and she’s now offering you a glimpse into both beloved ventures.
Blending art with a career
Heidi Ingram: I am largely self taught. Books and websites were my first port of call for learning new skills. When visiting the local library with my children, I’d sneak off to search the arts section and find books on embroidery and textile techniques.
I decided to teach myself. I had already completed a degree in Botany and PhD in Plant Science from the University of Nottingham. I wasn’t up for taking on a full-time textiles course, and learning at my own pace was the perfect solution to maintain my work and family life.
When I started writing for TextileArtist.org in 2018, I discovered a huge variety of exciting contemporary works being made by textile artists around the world. And in 2019, I worked my way through Sue Stone’s ‘Exploring Texture and Pattern’ online course.
I spent more time experimenting, sampling and sketching out ideas. I also helped produce stitched samples and edited the course materials for Sue’s ‘Stitch Your Story’ online course which introduced me to mixed media and playing with composition.
These courses, along with the Stitch Club workshops, give me a regular injection of new skills and ideas to explore and bring into my work.
For the love of texture
I adore the intimate and tactile nature of handmade textile work, especially its attractive textures. For me, a successful textile work is one that makes me want to reach out and touch it (even if I can’t).
My work is slow and has a meditative exploration of colour and texture. It’s my way of quietly expressing the world around me. I try to be mindful and enjoy the process rather than rushing toward the outcome.
I mainly create highly textured stitched landscapes based on locations that provoke an emotional response – places that literally make me stop in my tracks. It can be an expansive view or a detail found on a local walk.
I’m also a keen gardener and plant lover, so just as in my garden, I enjoy building up layers, combinations and creating different microclimates in my art. As a result, my work is often quite abstract using vivid colours to express a powerful response to a place.
Layer by layer
I take lots of photographs when I am out and about which I use for research and reference. There’s a great quality of light here in East Lothian with lots of wide-open sky. The colours of nature appear vibrant and strong.
I’m not a consistent sketchbook user, but I always do some research, sketch out shapes and make notes. This is very important when working on landscapes to work out the overall balance of the composition.
Again, it’s all about the layers, textures and interactions of colour and shape.
I embrace the unpredictable results of painting directly onto my background fabric. Silk paints flow through the fabric and are great for blending. Sometimes, I’ll sprinkle salt onto the wet areas. This attracts the paint and adds variation to the intensity of colour. I rinse the background fabric and iron it to set the colour.
Acrylic paint is good for making stronger marks, but it can make the material harder to stitch through. I also use Derwent Inktense pencils to add colour details.
In terms of fabric, I try to buy eco-friendly textiles, or I use what I already have at home. Sometimes I’ll piece sections of linen together to make them big enough to fit over a frame.
Scraps of fabric for collaging come from the small collection of textiles I’ve gathered over the years. I don’t hoard old clothing but I’ll sometimes use old garments made of natural fabrics.
Let the stitching begin
I next start embroidering to add top layer detail and bind everything together. I prefer to use stranded embroidery threads because of their versatility. I can select a thickness of thread to give the quality of line I am seeking, or mix threads of different colours.
If I want a fine line, I use sewing machine thread. And for thicker lines I choose linen thread, or crewel wool for a softer line.
I mostly use back stitch and stem stitch, with French knots, bullion knots and fly stitch dotted in. I’ve recently been playing with drizzle stitches which stand upright.
I’ve also been experimenting with movement by adding wiring and shaping. My abstract piece Undersea evolved through mark making and intuitive stitch. Surface stitches raise off the fabric, becoming mysterious algal shapes.
There is a glimpse of a horizon and land masses emerge from the depths of the ocean. The undulations and crinkles of the fabric add to the movement, as does the structure of the piece which I shaped into a wave.
Stitching for peace of mind
Embroidery helped to keep me going during a tough few years when I was suffering from fibroid-related health issues, depression and insomnia. It continues to give me a sense of balance and always lifts my moods.
I try to sew little and often, every day if possible. I work from home in our family ‘art room’ which I share with my daughter who draws and paints.
Part of the joy with embroidery is not rushing. I want to focus on the process and not just the results. It can be a battle to give myself permission to switch off from other tasks. But when I’m stitching, I feel totally immersed and zoned out of everything else that is going on around me.
And when pieces are not quite working out, I pile them on top of a chest of drawers to let them brew and be picked up later. I embrace this as part of my process, as it generates new directions. The key is to go back and check on them in the future. Often, new ideas come to mind, and I can finish the work with fresh eyes.
Working with TextileArtist.org
I’ve been writing articles for several years. In 2020, my responsibilities grew to include producing Stitch Club workshop materials. I work closely with Charlotte, our content manager, and Luke, our video and image editor.
I’m thrilled to use both my technical editing skills and my knowledge of textile techniques. My goal is to produce clear, accurate and high-quality information to support Stitch Club members’ explorations of textile art.
I produce each workshop’s workbook and other written materials, and I organise the Inspiration eBook showcasing each artist’s work. I also review artists’ video submissions and the edited versions to ensure each workshop is professional and easy to follow.
Some workshops are quite complex with many different ideas to explore, so I carefully study each artist’s videos and written content to devise a workbook structure that makes sense.
I always consider workshops from a maker’s perspective. I want the instructions to be clear, usable, and feature a good balance of text and visual instruction.
I also often practice a stitch or knot technique to make sure the written instructions are straightforward. And sometimes I’ll ask for extra videos from artists to explain a process further or give a deeper understanding of their artwork.
Many members seek to combine ideas and techniques across the workshops, so I also want to ensure the workbooks provide a useful resource to return to for future projects.
Playing along with Stitch Club
I treat Stitch Club as an opportunity for continual development of my skills. There are workshops I’ve not had time to try, but I’m still inspired and learn new processes by working on their production.
I’m also always on the lookout for exciting new tutors, so when able, I check into the Stitch Club members’ area. It’s a friendly online community, full of fabulous creations, and it’s always inspiring to see the variety of responses to each workshop.
I’m particularly drawn to workshops that include paint and stitch, including those by Gwen Hedley, Monique Day-Wilde and Emily Notman. I love the spontaneity of mixed media approaches, and these workshops have helped me become more bold and open to experimentation.
I enjoyed Jennifer Collier’s introduction to needle lace stitch and Brooks Harris Stevens’ use of stitches piled on top of each other. I’ve included both of those texture-boosting ideas in my recent work.
Lastly, I’ve gained the confidence to tackle some portraits and figure work through Sue Stone and Joette Maue’s workshops, mostly as personal projects. I’m particularly fond of the piece I made of my daughter working on her school art portfolio during lockdown. That work is now framed and in pride of place in our shared art room.
- Artist’s block? Take a look out of your window. Or better yet, take a walk outside. Look for colour, line and textures that could inspire your next stitched work.
- In addition to layering fabrics, think about layering your threads: why not mix and blend them to create interesting colours and textures.
- Even the smallest bit of time spent stitching can inform your artistic journey. Don’t let yourself believe you don’t have time. Even 5 to 10 minutes is worthwhile.
Heidi Ingram is based near Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, and she is a technical editor, writer and content curator for TextileArtist.org. Heidi is a member of the Society for Embroidered Work. Her work was selected for their exhibitions in Rome (2021) and London (2019). Two of her artworks were selected as finalist entries for the National Needlecraft Awards (Knitting and Stitching Show, London, 2019).
Heidi’s favourite subject for stitching is landscapes. What inspires you about the way she creates a sense of place? Let us know below.