TALKING TEXTILES... with textile artist and author Anne Kelly
In the second of our thread-themed interview series, we Zoomed with award-winning textile artist and author Anne Kelly to find out more about how she tells layered, patched, stitched and embroidered stories of home and away
Anne Kelly working in studio. Photo by Rob Sverignen
ECT: You are a textile artist – did you always know that textile would be your medium?
AK: No, I have always loved stitching and vintage textiles, but I grew up in Canada and textile degrees didn’t exist there so my first degree was in fine art, specifically photography and printmaking. After I came to the UK, where I did some more training at Goldsmiths in London, I spent a long time making and exhibiting mixed media pieces and the textile pieces grew out of that. I started making very small, very dense, embroideries of the plants I saw in my garden and surroundings and suddenly there was this jolt of connection. I knew that this was it.
ECT: What was the appeal?
AK: Textiles are so accessible. I love that. Everyone can empathize with textiles somehow because we’ve all sewn on a button or mended something. And they represent home and daily life. That’s become even more important during this past year when we’ve all been at home so much more.
ECT: You use a special technique to create your pieces…
AK: It’s a sort of netting stitch made on a Bernina machine and it came out of me wanting to work on a bigger scale than embroidery allowed. It enables me to combine layers in a way I never could if I was just stitching around them because there would be so many lumps and bumps. The work almost looks like tapestry from a distance because it’s so dense, but if you look closely you can see the layers.
ECT: All those layers are composed of mostly found textiles. Why is that?
AK: I am very much a low-tech, low-consumption artist. I’m not an eco-warrior, but I do believe in using what we’ve got because we’ve got so much. And there’s almost another life in textiles which suits the narrative element of my work. Someone else put it really well: they said I was ‘honouring’ these textiles and that is the way I see it. For me, the fading, marks, and stains of old textiles record another existence. That’s what makes them special.
ECT: Travel and place are big influences in your work
AK: Yes, travel has always been a central feature in my work, and I travelled extensively in the UK and abroad for my practice before the pandemic. But you don’t really need to go anywhere to be travelling, you can just go for a walk in the park - I’ve done a whole series of folding books based on park walks in various places I have lived. I collect textiles and ephemera like ticket stubs, labels and postcards from the places I visit, all of which I include in my work.
Anne Kelly Travel Tags project 2018
Anne Kelly Suitcases
ECT: Your latest book ‘Textile Travels' is all about that, capturing travel memories in stitch
AK: I have always kept journals and sketchbooks, which I treat like repositories or scrapbooks full of collaged snippets, memories and observations. The book is a bit like that. It aims to inspire people to get something extra from their travels by capturing, distilling and documenting particular moments in stitch. I also look at maps in textile art and explore the influence of different cultures in textile art.
Anne Kelly Western Weeds Sketchbook and Devon Map, 2019
ECT: You are set to be a featured artist at Pour l’Amour du Fil in Nantes this September – what do you love about textile festivals like this?
AK: The enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, that love for textile art comes through.
Textile Travels by Anne Kelly, published by Batsford Books, is out now. You can buy it on-line through Pavilionbooks.com
View our video on Anne sharing her design created as a tribute to the Canadian Folk Artist Maud Lewis: