On High Alert
15 x 29 cms
Assorted fabric and Madeira rayon threads on calico
Textile art is often described as painting with thread and British artist Rachel Wright is the epitome of this. Her beautiful machine embroidery often depicts nature and the combination of her attention to detail and artistic flair makes her work incredibly life like while elevating the subject into vivid and compelling images.
What is your background in textiles?
I grew up with an artist father who paints in oil and gouache and does beautiful wood engravings. He has had a huge influence on me, teaching me how to observe and draw and encouraging visits to exhibitions and galleries. Somehow some of his talent came through in the genes and so I was artistically inclined from quite a young age, but my love of fabrics and sewing probably came from my Nain (Welsh for Gran) who always had some project on the go and was happy to let me observe or even have a go myself.
Eventually I was encouraged by a school teacher to study embroidery at university so I took an art foundation course after A levels and then went to university to study Fashion and Textiles specialising in embroidery. At the end of my degree course I felt as though I’d only just started to find my direction so I went straight into an MA course to allow myself the chance to develop ideas further.
Is your work all types of embroidery or just machine embroidery?
Over the years I’ve done both. At college and in the early years afterwards my work was exclusively hand stitched. It’s a method I love and would still like to do more of. However, it’s not quick and I needed to produce more work so I began to experiment with the machine and since then I have rarely gone back to hand stitching.
Where are you based and where do you work?
I work from a small box room at home in a small Buckinghamshire village. I’m surrounded by baskets full of fabrics and scraps, inspirational objects and beautiful threads. Everything I need is close at hand….most importantly of all my trusty Bernina which is still going strong after 30 years.
How do you describe your work?
I describe it as textile art and machine embroidery but there are many different descriptions these days which seem to fit the bill too. Other people call it free motion embroidery. I’ve also had it described as quilt art and thread painting but these are descriptions I’ve never felt really comfortable with. My technique is basically my way of painting like my Dad does except I’m using fabrics as my palette, the needle as my brush and the threads as my mark making.
How do you work?
I usually begin with a pencil sketch straight onto the background material which is always cotton calico. From there I just start to cut and lay down little pieces of fabric, choosing carefully the appropriate pieces and once I’m happy I begin to stitch, sewing down the fabric scraps. I don’t use bonding or pins or any kind of glue or stabiliser.
I build up slowly and gradually working in small areas at a time until the piece starts to come together.
How long does a larger piece take from start to finish?
A larger piece can take anything from 2-5 weeks depending on its complexity. I work in short stints, an hour or two at most before taking a short break so that my neck and shoulders don’t seize up.
How has your work developed over the years?
The change from hand to machine work is probably the most significant but my subject matter has changed a lot too. I remember being asked once to take part in an exhibition of wildlife art and I said there was no way I could because I never used animals as subject matter. Not long after that I did my first owl and now birds and animals often feature in my work. I still love to do landscapes and seascapes and my favourite thing of all to depict is the sky.
Where do you find inspiration?
My favourite place for inspiration is definitely Norfolk. I love the huge skies and the North Norfolk coastline. The sea is a huge pull for me and anything sea related like boats, lighthouses etc can often pop up in my work. I have lots of photos taken on holidays there which I intend to use one day!
What is your proudest career moment so far?
There isn’t one particular moment. I get a huge thrill every time I go to an exhibition and see red spots on my work. It still amazes me that people want to pay money for something that I’ve made and that feeling when work sells just never gets old.
What advice can you give to aspiring textile artists?
I would say that it’s not an easy choice to try to make a living from textile art but if you are passionate and dedicated it is very rewarding and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I would be a textile artist anyway regardless of whether I could sell my art because it’s who I am. I think that being true to yourself is important too. I spent way too much time when I was at college trying to be something else and always failing and feeling disappointed. The moment I started to be me was the moment things started to go in the right direction.