TALKING TEXTILES... with textile artist and author Anne Kelly

Talking Textiles with Anne Kelly

Anne Kelly is an award-winning textile artist and author whose work is often inspired by travel. We sat down with her to find out more about how she tells layered, patched, stitched and embroidered stories of home and away.

Anne Kelly Woman sewing machine fabric 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.

Poster sewing textile

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.

Textile fabric sewing netting stitch

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.

Sewing embroidery stitch travel Anne Kelly Travel Tags project 2018
Suitcases embroidery textile stitch Anne Kelly Suitcases

ECT: Your 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.

Sketch book embroidery stitch textile travel journal Anne Kelly Western Weeds Sketchbook and Devon Map, 2019

Textile Travels book Anne kelly

View our video on Anne sharing her design created as a tribute to the Canadian Folk Artist Maud Lewis:

We will be returning to Nantes for Pour l'Amour du Fil in 2023. Discover the programme here