Meredith Woolnough’s exhibition, Foliate, will be on display at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery throughout August. Inspired by nature, Meredith’s intricate embroidery is her version of drawing with a sewing machine … it’s beautiful, delicate and unique …
Where did your interest in embroidery begin?
I’ve always been a “maker” of sorts … I studied fine arts when I left high school; I didn’t have the intention of becoming an artist, as I didn’t see this as a realistic career. I just always loved that world! I ended up majoring in textiles when I was at uni, which was actually a bit of an odd choice for me. I never had any real understanding of textiles as an art form prior to this … I’d actually planned to major in photography, but I didn’t understand the enrolment process and ended up going down a different path. It was almost an accident – but quite serendipitous!
I was drawn to textiles, and I learned many different kinds of techniques. I spent the three years of my degree trying everything, but not really mastering anything. I didn’t really find my niche! I did an Honours year after this, and it was during this year that I came across the embroidery process I still use today.
This particular type of embroidery … I see it as a form of drawing, but with a sewing machine. I thought this was very interesting and really exciting. To add to that, there’s a water soluble base fabric I draw on that I also came across during that year. I thought it was kind of a way of making almost three-dimensional drawings – it led to so many sculptural ideas!
When did you get your first sewing machine?
It was during that study period …I was using a uni machine, but when I left uni I knew I couldn’t take it with me. So I bought a second hand machine, which was an old ex-school machine – it’s older than me! It actually has “school sux” (spelled incorrectly) scratched into the side of it! I spent my entire Honours year working on that little old machine. It’s still around – I don’t tend to use it as much now, as I’ve upgraded to a bigger machine that’s smoother and faster, but that old machine is very precious to me. It’s done a lot of miles!
What’s your normal design process? Do you draw a design on this water soluble fabric you mentioned, and then sew over the design?
Yes, that tends to be how I work. There are some pieces that I’ll draw completely freehand – just with the machine. Drawing on a sewing machine is completely unlike drawing with any other form of medium, because you can’t step back and see how everything’s coming together. You’re really focused on the tiny piece you’re working on, where the needle meets the fabric. This is why if I’m working on something bigger, I usually draw the design first.
I do a lot of research – I actually have a background in natural history illustration as well, so drawing is a big part of my practice.
I physically move the fabric round underneath the needle … so, it’s like, instead of moving a pencil around on a page that’s standing still, it’s moving the page around a pencil that’s standing still. It takes some getting used to! It’s like learning to draw or write all over again. I often tell people who come to my workshops that they may be able to draw very well, but they’re now kind of drawing upside down … so items they produce on the machine may look very child-like at first, until they develop the motor skills they use. After ten years, I probably make it look a little easy!
Why do you use shadow boxes to present your work?
There are a few reasons for this. The first is a commercial decision – textile work is very unusual to many people, and they’re reluctant to invest in it as an artwork, because they’re not sure how to keep it clean, or how to hang it … So by framing textiles like a conventional artwork, they become much more saleable.
Another reason I use the box frames, is because I mount the pieces on pins, so they are floating about 1 cm off the backing board. This creates beautiful shadows, which become another interesting aspect of the work.
The inspiration behind mounting my pieces this way came about from insect specimens at the museum, which are pinned on board … Because my work are inspired by nature, this ties in with the ideas and themes I’ve been exploring.
You were the artist in residence at the Glasshouse during March this year, and much of the work in your upcoming exhibition, Foliate, was inspired by this visit. What did you most enjoy about the experience?
This was the first time I’d ever done a residency, and I was very grateful for the opportunity. It was a great opportunity to spend the whole time doing some work, without being distracted by all the other day to day things. The Glasshouse staff was such a supportive group to work with …
One big part of my practice is doing field work. I like to go out and find things in an area that will form the basis for my artwork – which stems again from my natural history illustration background.
On the first day of my residency, I went for a really big walk around the area and the coastline, and during that walk I collected a heap of Eucalyptus leaves, which had fallen on the ground.
I was drawn to those leaves because of their colouring – they had the most beautiful, subdued shades of colour. I worked from these leaf specimens during my residency – I spent the week trying to replicate their form and their colour with my embroidery.
Tell us about the workshops you offer …
I run workshops to teach people my embroidery techniques.
I have a two day sculptural embroidery and resin embedding workshop booked in for Port Macquarie on 28th – 29th October, at Patchwork in Port. Call 6583 3257 for bookings.
I’m really looking forward to it!
See Foliate at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery – 4th August – 10th September.
Exhibition Celebration and artist talk: 12th August, 11am. Bookings essential.