Mandy Pattullo: From conception to creation
Mandy Pattullo is a textile artist based in rural Northumberland. She sources local vintage quilts, embroidery and other fabrics, collaging them together into exciting new pieces, each telling their own story.
Some of these rescued materials are disintegrated, worn or mended with hand stitching. She unpicks and reconstructs them and then adds to their interest by embellishing, making new surface textures with embroidery stitches. Her collages become stand-alone pieces, are applied to garments or collected into a book structure. Mandy’s aim is to preserve discarded textiles by converting them into beautiful new patchworks incorporating their history, told through the visible signs of wear and tear.
Mandy spent many years teaching in an art college and in the last ten years she has focussed on her creative practice. Her work is based on references to historical textiles and traditional techniques. She explores the importance of local folk traditions and sewing generated in domestic settings. Today she teaches many workshops both nationally and internationally and is a member of The Textile Study Group.
In this interview discover how Mandy Pattullo creates her ‘scrap’ books for her own use, almost as a self-indulgence. She uses collage and embroidery to build layers of texture and colour on fabric background pages, using waste fabric fragments. She creates her stitched books to remind her of previous projects and inspire new ones. Her technique inspires us all to make the most of every last scrap of fabric and avoid waste, building a more sustainable practice.
Name of piece: Wallet Book
Year of piece: 2019
Techniques and materials used: Applique, hand embroidery, pamphlet stitch, Materials – Leather wallet, vintage materials, stranded embroidery thread
Size of piece: 23cm x 16cm
A book-lover’s dream
TextileArtist.org: How did the idea for the piece come about? What was your inspiration?
Mandy Pattullo: I am an avid reader and I live in a house filled with books. Even with my busy life I manage to read a novel every week and have non-fiction and short stories on the go all the time too. I was brought up in a household where books and reading for entertainment and knowledge were valued. I am ashamed to say that sometimes we used read through meal times and secretly I would like to do that even now!
I love how novels conjure up a little world which you are plunged into. Stories are not all about the narrative drive but about allowing the reader to use their imagination and conjure up colour, texture and context around the characters.
The time-worn textiles I collect also have their own stories and life. When I mix them up a kind of magic occurs. I see my colour stories and collages like the collage of different elements that a writer brings to the page using words.
This link between vintage fabrics and their stories led to me making fabric books. They are not about the words but still ‘speak’ to the viewer. They tell a story about a project I might have been working on. In fact, they are usually made at the end of a project using tiny left-over scraps.
My inspiration started with seeing the Bronte Juvenilia, children’s tiny little books, at Haworth parsonage. I really coveted them and recognised their preciousness and want people to feel the same way about mine. The Bronte Juvenilia are unique one-off productions. I like the idea of this; the fact they are irreproducible.
I also love Louise Bourgeois’ textile books and those big ledgers that you sometimes see at Antique Textile Fairs that are full of little samples of fabrics.
I have a large collection of artists’ books from all over the world and they have influenced the physical ways that I have put fabric books together over the years. My books might be bound Japanese-style or with a simple pamphlet stitch. They might take the form of a scroll or a concertina. Or echo the rag or quilted books made for babies.
The feel of the book in your hand is very important, which is why I started using old leather wallets as book covers. There was a sense of them having been used many times in a past life and possibly held in a pocket close to the heart.
A box of delights
Was there any other preparatory work?
I don’t do any research for a book project like this. They grow out of other projects that I have on the go.
They are instinctive and self-indulgent pieces!
The books are made as a sideline to another project I am working on. Sometimes I have collected so many scraps left from other projects that I just have to use them! Because of this, my preparation simply involves sorting through my scraps and partially-worked pieces to decide what to incorporate.
What materials were used in the creation of the piece? How did you select them? Where did you source them?
The materials are what it is all about!
I have been collecting antique and vintage fabrics for years from charity shops, vintage and antique fairs and from markets in France. I don’t buy any materials online as this seems too easy somehow. I love the thrill of finding the real thing myself.
My studio is located in a complex open to the public all the time, so people often bring me little bits of fabric that they think I can use.
I especially like to use pieces of old quilt. These can be fragments of patchwork or pieces of whole cloth quilt that I have unpicked. I end up with a pile of thin layers with the shadows of the original stitch prickings on the surface.
I often use the back of the fabric piece rather than the front. I also use a lot of pieces of old embroidery, precious items mostly sourced from The Textile Society’s fairs or charity shops.
Living in the North East I can find vintage quilts quite easily. If you can’t find source material then try an eBay or Etsy search to find sellers who sell small pieces at reasonable prices.
What equipment did you use in the creation of the piece and how was it used?
These rag books are very low-tech. All I need is a pair of scissors, pins, a needle and threads and a pile of old fabrics. If I can’t find a wallet then I improvise and make a fabric cover or use a piece of blanket or quilt.
Collages of colour
Take us through the creation of the piece stage by stage
First I cut double-page spreads to a size which will fit inside the perimeter of the case. I tend to cut more than I need. For this book, I used three different pieces of quilt. Other alternatives could be a wool blanket or any other firm fabric. Once folded, three double-page spreads will create twelve ‘pages’. With a thinner foundation fabric, I could increase this to four folded pages.
I want the book to be enticing so a bit of bulkiness is acceptable, but I have actually got to be able to fold the pages!
Next, I start to delve into the fabrics. I sort them and lay out little colour compositions on to the top of the pages.
The pages are going to be interleaved so I need to bear this in mind. Two of the foundation pieces might have four ideas for collage and then the other foundation will be the middle page spread. These piles may not be what I will use in the end. They just get me started. Some elements will be added or taken away from these initial colour stories.
Then I start to cut, pin and organise. As I do this I play with interleaving the three quilt foundations so that I can see how things fall next to each other. Deciding on the composition is purely instinctive, but as a general guideline, I try to leave an open area on each page where I can add embroidery stitches and I often choose one very interesting piece of embroidery or fabric fragment to be the central focus of the piece.
I turn over the pages and do the same on the reverse side, pinning elements in that seem to speak to each other.
I concentrate on getting a good first and last page and a strong middle page spread, as that is where the book will fall open naturally. It might take me a whole day of pinning and rearranging to get the elements right. Then I leave it and come back the next day to re-evaluate with a fresh eye.
When everything is right then I cut some of the inner pages down a little in size so that the folded pages line up nicely. Then I start stitching all the elements on.
My aim is to sink the stitches into the blanket or quilt so they cannot be seen on the next page. I use a little overcast stitch which goes over the edge of the fragment I am attaching or sometimes a tiny stab stitch just inside the edge.
When everything is attached I add some embroidery stitches. These are fairly minimal but they do add further surface interest.
I am often led by the fabrics, so if there is a stripe it might suggest lines of running stitch. If there is a ditsy print I might use a scatter stitch like seed stitch, fern stitch or French knots. I look for the spaces in between which look a bit empty and need that extra bit of mark-making for interest.
The final task is to sew the book together.
This is done through the middle of the double page spread. I use pamphlet stitch but you could just do a running stitch up the middle. I use a bulldog clip to keep the pages together while I am sewing. If I use pamphlet stitch then I leave the ends hanging from the middle to allow further scope for embellishment with beads and buttons or even an old lace bobbin attached to these hanging threads.
What journey has the piece been on since its creation?
This piece will not go on any journeys as it is too precious to me. However, I often put out a display of my rag books for visitors to see at my Open Studio events. I also take my collection of books to workshops. It inspires others to use those tiny little precious scraps in a creative way.
For more information visit www.mandypattullo.co.uk
Do you save left-over scraps from your projects and use them in a creative and constructive way? Let us know your ideas for re-purposing waste fabric by leaving a comment below