Lesley Wood: Stitching for joy

Lesley Wood: Stitching for joy

Inheriting her mother’s cross stitch threads wasn’t just the beginning of a new career for former art teacher Lesley Wood, but, in a few short years of developing her creative textile skills, it led to a number of textile art prizes with recognition and high praise from Hand & Lock, Madeira Threads and The Embroiderers’ Guild.

Since retiring from teaching, Lesley has built upon the skills from her fine art painting degree and she now works with embroidery and mixed media. Her layered and figurative textile pieces often represent women or birds and reveal her intuitive understanding of line, tone, form, colour and texture. Joining The Embroiderers Guild not only helped to develop her skill with textiles but gained her many supportive friends along the way.

Working from her spare bedroom, and using mainly vintage and reclaimed fabrics, ephemera and hand stitch, Lesley unites the historic with the contemporary. The new narratives she creates are sure to set you pondering.

Lesley Wood, Done & Dusted (Domestic Series), 2021. 35cm x 35 cm (13½" x 13½"). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Vintage table napkin, pieces of hand dyed (with tea, rust and ink) fabrics including domestic yellow duster, lace, metal leaves, paint, wool, embroidery threads.
Lesley Wood, Done & Dusted (Domestic Series), 2021. 35cm x 35 cm (13½” x 13½”). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Vintage table napkin, pieces of hand dyed (with tea, rust and ink) fabrics including domestic yellow duster, lace, metal leaves, paint, wool, embroidery threads.

From painting to embroidery

Lesley Wood: I’m a textile mixed media artist from Durham in the North East of England. I was initially a painter, having gained a Fine Art degree from Loughborough College of Art and Design, which I followed by pursuing a teaching career in secondary schools in the UK. Following my retirement from teaching, I’m now fully engaged in my creative practice. 

I spent a great deal of my childhood drawing and painting. My family viewed sewing more as a practical activity rather than something purely creative. They did encourage me to study at art college and this in turn has given me the confidence to paint with fabric and thread. Teaching art and design in schools also contributed to my artistic development. It was when I inherited my mother’s cross stitch threads that I decided to put them to use with a view to creating mixed media art including stitch and hand embroidery. As an art teacher, I’d enjoyed working in mixed media to create my own artwork, so it seemed natural to include fabric and threads.

Lesley Wood, Furnished With Memories, 2019. 46cm x 36cm (18" x 14"). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Vintage tray cloth, sheer fabrics, scraps of assorted fabrics, paint, embroidery threads, family photo transfer prints.
Lesley Wood, Furnished With Memories, 2019. 46cm x 36cm (18″ x 14″). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Vintage tray cloth, sheer fabrics, scraps of assorted fabrics, paint, embroidery threads, family photo transfer prints.
Lesley Wood, Furnished with Memories (detail), 2019. 46cm x 36cm (18" x 14"). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Vintage tray cloth, sheer fabrics, scraps of assorted fabrics, paint, embroidery threads.
Lesley Wood, Furnished with Memories (detail), 2019. 46cm x 36cm (18″ x 14″). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Vintage tray cloth, sheer fabrics, scraps of assorted fabrics, paint, embroidery threads.

Gaining textile skills

When I started, I’d not had any formal training in textiles. My degree was in fine art painting and needlework classes at school were very basic, so I’m mostly self taught. Initially, my stitches were thick and clumsy, and the finished work was far from flat. I quickly realised that I needed to acquire some basic skills. 

Joining the local branch of The Embroiderers’ Guild was the solution. I was amazed by the inspiration, opportunities and support that the members offered me. They generously shared their knowledge, and I attended a number of workshops to build up my skills. I’m still learning. I remain very grateful to these lovely, very talented ladies for helping to get my stitching career underway.

Lesley Wood, Digital Shadows of Self, (Hand & Lock Textile Open Art 1st Prize), 2021. 58cm x 48cm (23" x 19"). Hand embroidered collage. Cotton and sheer fabrics, embroidery thread, photo transfer prints, computer keyboard parts.
Lesley Wood, Digital Shadows of Self (Hand & Lock Textile Open Art 1st Prize), 2021. 58cm x 48cm (23″ x 19″). Hand embroidered collage. Cotton and sheer fabrics, embroidery thread, photo transfer prints, computer keyboard parts.

That was in 2016, and since then I’ve exhibited in numerous group and juried exhibitions. My work has been selected for open and juried exhibitions across the UK and received awards, including first prize for the Hand & Lock Textile Open Art Prize 2021, and the Madeira Threads UK 2023 competition in the hand embroidery category. 

I exhibited in The Royal Society for Marine Artists’ open exhibition in the London Mall Galleries in 2022. One of my artworks was awarded The Margaret Nicholson Award for Composition by The Embroiderers’ Guild. In 2023, I had my first small solo exhibition, in the North East, and I was delighted to be featured in the March/April edition of Embroidery Magazine. I so enjoy working with fabric and thread, and these achievements are all much appreciated bonuses on top of actually doing the work.

Being a member of the Society for Embroidered Work, I strongly believe stitched art is art, and hope through my work I can show textiles to be a fine art.

Lesley Wood working in her home studio in Durham, UK.
Lesley Wood working in her home studio in Durham, UK.

Memory and narrative

I would describe my mixed media fabric collages as mostly narrative and figurative. I’m interested and inspired by the origins of domestic everyday textiles. 

Along with my mother’s threads, I also inherited a lot of old family photos and table linen, and it was with these items that I started my mixed media work. I still rarely buy new fabrics and threads. I love the shapes, craftsmanship and feel of these old fabrics, and their stains and marks of previous makers and owners spark my imagination. 

I imagine the events these materials have witnessed and the memories they hold. They’re capable of evoking memories and connecting on an emotional level. I find a lot of these treasures in charity shops and have been gifted a number from friends and family.

Linen is great, but I have included more unusual materials, like plastic tablecloths, in my stash.

I create new narratives from the biography of these fabrics. Objects with a history such as old photos and ephemera are also sources of inspiration.

By reclaiming fabrics, ephemera and hand stitching, I merge the historic with the contemporary and create new narratives from the biography of the cloth.

Birds and words

One of my first embroidery projects, Magpie Works, was inspired by the traditional magpie rhyme ‘One for Sorrow’ and the myths about this bird. Since then my work has had a mostly figurative or bird theme. I hope to bring these two themes together by experimenting with phrases or idioms that associate human nature with bird appearance and behaviour, like ‘proud as a peacock’ or ‘hen-pecked’.

I have completed a piece called Homing Instinct, which features a homing pigeon on a piece of domestic (home) table linen. My latest work in progress recalls the phrase ‘eats like a gannet’. I am stitching the seabird on table linen, playing with the idea of table manners. There are many phrases and idioms linking humans with birds, so I have a wealth of source material for future inspiration.

Lesley Wood, Time To Smell The Roses (detail), 2022. Overall size approximately 60cm x 40cm (23½" x 15½"). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Vintage tray cloth, embroidery threads, scraps of metallic fabric, net, plastic table cloth, foil, sequins, Wensleydale wool tops.
Lesley Wood, Time To Smell The Roses (detail), 2022. Overall size approximately 60cm x 40cm (23½” x 15½”). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Vintage tray cloth, embroidery threads, scraps of metallic fabric, net, plastic table cloth, foil, sequins, Wensleydale wool tops.
Lesley Wood, Hinny Rose, 2021. 35cm x 35cm (13½" x 13½"). Hand embroidery. Tea and rust stained floral fabric, embroidery threads.
Lesley Wood, Hinny Rose, 2021. 35cm x 35cm (13½” x 13½”). Hand embroidery. Tea and rust stained floral fabric, embroidery threads.
Lesley Wood, Northern Narratives, 2021. 35cm x 25cm (13½" x 10"). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Transfer printed text on cotton fabrics, ink stained cotton and tea bag fabric, paint, plastic tablecloth roses, embroidery threads.
Lesley Wood, Northern Narratives, 2021. 35cm x 25cm (13½” x 10″). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Transfer printed text on cotton fabrics, ink stained cotton and tea bag fabric, paint, plastic tablecloth roses, embroidery threads.
Lesley Wood, Celtic Skin, 2021. 40cm (15½") diameter. Hand embroidery. Celtic knot design printed cotton fabric, paint, embroidery thread.
Lesley Wood, Celtic Skin, 2021. 40cm (15½”) diameter. Hand embroidery. Celtic knot design printed cotton fabric, paint, embroidery thread.

Inspirational females

The female form, with the addition or emergence of patterns on the body, has been my most recent inspiration. I have an ongoing project called Fictional Females.

The Fictional Females series is part of a challenge from a local textile group I belong to called Northern Threads. Throughout 2023 we created monthly quilt journals on the theme of ‘Words’. I decided I wanted to include a figurative element, so chose to feature women created from words – thus fictional females. 

For each monthly piece, I featured a different book character by a different author, with no repetition of either character or author. Each month I created a small hand embroidered fabric collage, around 15cm x 20cm (6″ x 8″), with images inspired by or associated with the narrative or character. 

I selected fabrics that I thought appropriate, for example, tartan for Lady Macbeth, or vintage floral for Elizabeth Bennett. All the pieces have some words included to meet the brief. The text is usually a quote from the book and I avoid naming the character directly. The viewer has the fun of trying to guess the character’s identity. It’s usually pretty easy. Once the 12 pieces are complete, I intend to construct a book with each piece becoming a page.

Importance of drawing

My studies in fine art made me aware of the importance of drawing, whatever my chosen medium. People feature a lot in my work and that’s a result of a strong interest in figurative art and years of attending life drawing sessions. I’ve discovered I’m able to transfer my drawing skills to textile art, with the help and support of other artists I’ve met online, at group meetings and workshops.

Lesley Wood, Kittiwake Flotsam, 2022. 47cm x 36cm (18½" x 14"). Hand embroidered mixed media collage. Linen, momigami paper, hand dyed lace, embroidery threads, fragments of assorted fabrics and threads, wire, metal objects, wood, shell.
Lesley Wood, Kittiwake Flotsam, 2022. 47cm x 36cm (18½” x 14″). Hand embroidered mixed media collage. Linen, momigami paper, hand dyed lace, embroidery threads, fragments of assorted fabrics and threads, wire, metal objects, wood, shell.
Lesley Wood, Magpie Rhyme Series, 2019. All seven mounted on A3 boards 30cm × 42cm (11½" × 16½"). Hand embroidered appliquéd collages. Hand dyed vintage table linen, embroidery thread, scraps of assorted fabrics, beads, chains and a mini frame.
Lesley Wood, Magpie Rhyme Series, 2019. All seven mounted on A3 boards 30cm × 42cm (11½” × 16½”). Hand embroidered appliquéd collages. Hand dyed vintage table linen, embroidery thread, scraps of assorted fabrics, beads, chains and a mini frame.
Lesley Wood, 7 For A Secret Never To Be Told (Magpie Rhyme Series), 2019. 26cm (10") diameter on A3 mount board. Hand embroidered appliquéd collage. Hand dyed vintage table cloth, embroidery thread, scraps of assorted fabrics.
Lesley Wood, 7 For A Secret Never To Be Told (Magpie Rhyme Series), 2019. 26cm (10″) diameter on A3 mount board. Hand embroidered appliquéd collage. Hand dyed vintage table cloth, embroidery thread, scraps of assorted fabrics.
Lesley Wood, Stash Joy (winner of The Embroiderers’ Guild Margaret Nicholson Award for Composition), 2023. 30cm x 30cm (12" x 12"). Hand embroidered mixed media collage. Hand dyed brocade, scraps of assorted fabrics, ribbons, trims, beads, sequins, buttons, press studs, safety pins, wire, embroidery threads.
Lesley Wood, Stash Joy (winner of The Embroiderers’ Guild Margaret Nicholson Award for Composition), 2023. 30cm x 30cm (12″ x 12″). Hand embroidered mixed media collage. Hand dyed brocade, scraps of assorted fabrics, ribbons, trims, beads, sequins, buttons, press studs, safety pins, wire, embroidery threads.

Begin with a word

I often start my planning with a word or phrase, maybe a rhyme or story, then do some research and create a mind map. The words conjure up masses of images – often too many, and I have to pare them down to make a composition work. This is when the initial idea often changes or develops. For instance, I did a series of work from the word ‘domestic’. I became interested in its many meanings (such as a disturbance in the home, a cleaner, or a tamed creature). 

I don’t usually highlight social issues in my work, although some pieces could be interpreted as having a domestic narrative. For instance, Furnished with Memories could be commenting on the loneliness of the housebound elderly. I much prefer to keep my work more open to interpretation by the viewer.

I draw, sketch, make more notes, gather images, take photos and gather fabrics and ephemera. I do use sketchbooks but they are often messy, filled with mostly notes and experiments. I might decide to dye, paint, stain some of these before starting to put the fabric collage together. I audition the materials and take a lot of time arranging and rearranging the materials into a pleasing composition.

As well as using some fusible web, I pin and tack the pieces in place. It’s at this stage the process can become more intuitive and the original plan fades.

Finally, I add further stitching, embroidery and embellishments to complete the work. I work at home in a studio which is really a spare bedroom. It’s not big but a water basin and laminate flooring makes it a workable space.

Bringing joy

A memorable highlight in my career was the first time I sold a piece of textile art. When a stranger buys one’s work it’s always immensely pleasing. Winning the Hand & Lock Open Textile Art Award in 2021 felt wonderful. 

My winning piece was a self portrait with photographic images of my family and ancestors, so it was a very personal response to the brief. I was honoured to see it hung alongside the work of so many other amazing artists at Bankside Gallery in London. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to have work accepted into some fabulous exhibitions and have won a number of other awards. 

Once I have an idea I really enjoy seeing it materialise and emerge from the fabrics and threads. I get the most satisfaction from making original work, rather than following someone else’s idea or design.

Teaching art for so many years absorbed my creativity. Now that I’ve retired, I have the head space and freedom necessary to follow my own personal creative path, and that is pure joy.

But, truly, the most joy I get is in the making.

Lesley Wood, Blues Singer (Winner of the Madeira Threads Competition – Mostly Hand Embroidery Category), 2023. 35cm x 45 cm (14" x 17½"). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Cyanotype fabrics, Madeira embroidery and metallic threads, ribbons, pipe cleaners, sequins.
Lesley Wood, Blues Singer (Winner of the Madeira Threads Competition – Mostly Hand Embroidery Category), 2023. 35cm x 45 cm (14″ x 17½”). Hand embroidered fabric collage. Cyanotype fabrics, Madeira embroidery and metallic threads, ribbons, pipe cleaners, sequins.

Key takeaways

While Lesley has achieved many awards, it’s clear she creates textile art purely for the joy of making. Let’s take a look at how you can share in her experiences and find your own joy.

  • Lesley choses a word or phrase, researches this and then pieces together ideas. Consider what sparks your interest and investigate this further.
  • Try taking some fabrics and threads, put all expectations to one side, and simply stitch. As happened for Lesley, when you relax, your intuition will tell you where to go.
  • Do you have photos and ephemera that you could add into your textile art? If not, you can acquire them from flea markets, antique shops or online.
  • Vintage and reclaimed fabrics are some of Lesley’s favourite materials. Ask if family or friends have any they can donate, or look in local shops, markets or online.

Lesley Wood is a textile mixed media artist from Durham. She completed a Fine Art degree at Loughborough College of Art & Design and an Art Teacher’s Certificate at Leeds Polytechnic. 

Lesley is a member of The Embroiderers’ Guild, The Society For Embroidered Work and Northern Threads textile group. Her work has been selected for many open and juried exhibitions across the UK and received a number of awards, including first prize for the Hand & Lock Textile Open Art Prize 2021 and the Madeira Threads UK 2023 competition.

Artist website: lesleywoodtextileart.wordpress.com

Instagram: @l.wood100

If you enjoyed seeing Lesley’s detailed figurative embroidery, take a look at Catherine Hicks or the intricately embroidered portraits of Nneka Jones

Has Lesley’s work whetted your appetite for embroidery and mixed media art? If so, please share on social media – just click on the buttons below.

Thursday 23rd, May 2024 / 13:58

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2 comments on “Lesley Wood: Stitching for joy”

  1. Cheryl Cracknell says:

    Lesley’s work is really inspirational- many thanks for including her in your newsletter.

  2. Annie Bruce says:

    Lesley Wood’s textile art is wonderful. I love the way she uses stitch and works from simple ideas to complete her projects. The art works lift the spirits. Just by looking closely at them I get a sense of joy. She is so accomplished. I love the explanations she gives of the thoughts behind her work.

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NEWSLETTER FOR TEXTILE & FIBER ARTISTS

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And discover how to create breathtaking art with textiles and stitch.

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