Land Marks; Old Quarry (2017)
41 cm x 41 cm
Mixed fibre dry felt, old paper map, cotton threads
British artist Elisabeth Rutt predominantly uses hand embroidery for her pieces which centre around form and colour. Pattern is always present and by exploring the same theme in depth, her textile art is both comprehensive and varied. She is currently working on patterns within the landscape.
What is your background in textiles?
My Father was a professional artist and illustrator so I was very fortunate to see what being a creative meant as a way of life and had few illusions. The elderly lady who lived next door to us taught me to sew from a very early age, and I grew up drawing, painting and sewing every minute I could, doing each with equal importance and obsession. My other obsession was dance, and I attended ballet classes as many little girls do I but didn’t give up in teenage and after 16 I taught some of the younger children’s classes for my dance teacher and a pocket money wage!
After school and as many art and textile related exams the curriculum would allow I went on to complete a Bachelor of Humanities in Fine Art and Dance at Goldsmith College, University of London.
I was fortunate to find a degree that combined my two great loves of art and dance and this course introduced me to the world of Contemporary dance, particularly the techniques of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. I loved the freedom that these techniques offered in contrast to the classical traditions of ballet. During this study I continued to stitch as relaxation but also sneaking stitch into my fine art course work as often as I could!
While my sons were young I attended as many stitch and textile related workshops as I could at weekends and studied City and Guilds Embroidery, achieving distinction and highly commended in the medal of excellence scheme.
I also worked part time for an interior designer and this experience completely reinforced my love of pattern and fabric. It also taught me a lot about combining pattern, colour, and texture and using scale.
How do you describe your work?
I would describe myself as an artist working with textiles, as I think I approach my work from a fine art point of view… at least initially as I plan and design.
My work is predominantly hand stitched with occasional machine stitching.
The driving forces in my work are form, and colour, which I use to fulfill my obsession for making, what I hope, is good design.
Why do you prefer hand stitch over machine stitching?
I am not really sure why! It may be that I have been doing it since the age of about four and I feel completely in control of what I am doing. I am not really a fan of machines or technology and have to often make myself use them. I think I can usually gain a subtlety and originality with hand stitch more than I do with machine embroidery.
What is your home studio like?
I have a studio, although I am happier calling it my work room – probably because it is within our house, thanks to my very tolerant and lovely husband who jokingly calls himself a ‘Patron of the Arts’ for supporting me all that I do. As (I expect) with any artist’s studio it is often not large enough and I spill out into any other available space for larger projects.
How do you work?
I do use sketchbooks, which I often stitch directly into and I make plenty of samples before I start making what I hope will be the finished piece. I think it is essential that I learn from mistakes and prove the negatives as well as the positives by sampling.
I know it’s a hard question but how long does a piece take?
Anything from a month to a year.
Do you have any reoccurring themes in your work?
Pattern is always present in my work, and I will always have a theme that I may have been working with for several years. I make changes to what I do very slowly as I have to work my themes to death before I move on. Work for the past three years or so has been all about the patterns within landscape. I have looked at geology, signs of ancient earthworks and monuments left by man, town plans and different types of land use, ie farmland, moorland, chalk land etc. I enjoy stitching on paper and have used ordnance survey maps within my stitched work for this body of work.
Over the last 20 years or so I find myself using a motif of circles and rings in lots of my work.
How has your art evolved over the years?
I have learnt the importance of neutral colours within my work and I work very hard at getting colour right. I stick with a project for longer than I used to and I am less likely to make anything with a practical use than years ago.
Do you have any advice for aspiring textile artists?
LOOK, LOOK and LOOK again, whether that is the world around you, your subject or other artists’ work and read textile books don’t just look at the pictures! Although dated, the old books (1960’ and 70s in particular) have an enormous amount of technical and art school teaching as well as inspirational advice. I love modern textile books but they are often more about the photography than information on how to do what it is you want to do!
Is there anything you would like to add?
Textile and stitch skills are going to be lost if textile artists, alongside other textile professionals like yourself, do not do all that they can to keep traditional skills alive. Without skills in traditional techniques artists cannot move away and develop them for their own purposes to make original work. Unfortunately school education is so focused on achieving exams and filling the curriculum with anything but the creative subjects the world will be a poorer place if we do not educate artists and textile practitioners for the future.
Elisabeth Rutt Stitched Textiles