Art in Action: a tour of the Textiles marquee

Textiles and good times

Having said that my next post would be about the textiles at Art in Action, you may have been wondering if you’d imagined that or if you’d missed it. Big apologies! I planned to write it before I went on holiday, then was swamped with urgent work. Then I thought I’d finish it as soon as I returned, only to catch a bad throat infection. This stopped me from sleeping when I should have been sleeping and left me too exhausted to do anything when I should be awake. Well, I think these things happen to make us appreciate the good times.

So let me continue writing about Art in Action – definitely one of the good times!

Machine-stitching portraits

I have to admit I did spend a long time in the Textiles marquee admiring the work and talking to some of the artists. Mr BK found me there which usually means he thinks I’ve been there too long! The first thing he said was “have you seen the woman machine stitching portraits? She’s amazing!”

The artist was Harriet Riddell, a performance artist who uses free-style machine embroidery to create observational drawings in stitch. For this type of machine embroidery you lower the feed-dogs and control the stitch length by how fast you move the fabric. There’s no need to turn the fabric, just move it backwards and forwards, side to side. Now, I’ve done a little of this. I know that if I’m going to be successful I have to keep my design simple and sketch it out before I start. So how does that make her a performance artist? Well she stitches portraits of people as they sit in front of her. No drawing – just straight on the fabric. And with people watching!

Here is Harriet working on a double portrait.

Harriet Riddell demonstrating free-style machine embroidery


And here is part of a piece that was on display.

Free-style machine embroidery by Harriet Riddell

I love the sketch-like quality with just a little colour; it really adds character to the people.

From sketching to painting

One of the joys of learning about textiles is the variety of techniques within each discipline. Embroidery may be one colour or many, counted thread or free-style, cover the fabric or leave areas uncovered. So many possibilities!
Amanda Wright was demonstrating free-style hand embroidery in which the fabric is entirely covered with stitches. She works without a frame using fine machine knit yarns. The yarn, being wool, gives her work a soft quality which works very well with her subjects – usually birds and fish. Amanda’s work has a painterly quality which I love! You can see Amanda working on a large piece here and just catch a glimpse of some finished work behind her.  See more of Amanda’s work on her website and at Goat Street Gallery in St Davids.

Amanda Wright at Art in Action

Tapestry is not needlepoint or embroidery

Fiona Rutherford makes colourful tapestries. Tapestry is a textiles term that is often misused; many people refer to needlepoint (all over canvas embroidery) as tapestry. And of course, there is the famous Bayeux Tapestry which is neither tapestry or needlepoint, but a large-scale embroidered cloth. Fiona was demonstrating how tapestry is woven on a loom. This involves stretching the warp yarn over an upright frame and weaving the weft yarn under and over. A diagram, known as a cartoon, is placed behind the frame. This acts as a guide for the placement of the different colours.

Tapestry by Fiona Rutherford

You might be thinking that tapestry is the same as weaving. There are two main differences.

  • In a finished tapestry the warp threads are totally hidden, whereas in a woven cloth the warp and weft may form part of the design.
  • When weaving the weft yarn passes from one side to the other of the cloth; in tapestry a weft yarn may pass from one side to the other or it may pass backwards and forwards over a small area to create a block of colour, or over fewer and fewer threads to create a diagonal.
Fiona Rutherford demonstrating weaving


Fiona uses a joyfully fresh colour palette in linen and cotton. Her designs are abstract or semi-abstract giving a contemporary appearance. Take a look at Fiona’s website to see the variety of her work.

Can you guess what this is?

Antique knitting machine


I was excited when I saw this; it’s a beautiful knitting machine, made between 1910–1930, and it works perfectly. I learnt to machine knit on a similar, although slightly newer machine and love the look and feel of using them. They were made to last! And, I was also excited because it was the first time that I’ve seen knitting of any sort demonstrated at Art in Action (maybe it was demonstrated when I couldn’t visit). This lovely machine is owned by Portia Gillies who uses it to produce beautiful fabrics which she makes into bags. You can see some of them, behind her, in the next photo.

Portia Gilles and her knitting machine

Portia’s knit fabrics are in fine yarns using beautiful colours and stitches. These fabrics are slow to produce since many experimental samples must be made and hand manipulation (moving stitches from one needle to another) is often required between each row. The skills and techniques are just as varied as with hand-knit; it is great to see someone demonstrating the wonderful possibilities of machine knitting.

Other textiles

I wanted to take more photographs, but it was such a hot day that I felt as if I was melting in the Textile marquee. So, I’ll point you in the direction of some of the other textiles artist’s websites:

  • Allison Rodger – bespoke bridal, evening and special occasion wear with a vintage style;
  • Bobbie Kociejowski – beautiful hand-woven and hand-dyed silk, linen and fine wool shawls and scarves;
  • Bridget Bailey – the most amazing millinery and textile jewellery, such as a rose with thorns made from straw;
  • Lindsay Taylor – stunning three-dimensional machine embroidery;
  • Margo Selby – striking colour and geometric jacquard loom upholstery fabrics;
  • Rosi Robinson – painterly style batik textile art;
  • Sarah Burgess – collages made using monoprint, stitching and found objects.

These artists illustrate how contemporary textiles artists use traditional techniques to create modern textile pieces. It was a joy to meet them and see them at work! I left inspired to experiment with new ideas in hand and machine knit.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Tess blondel

    I didn’t visit Art in action last year, but what a wonderful collection you’ve made, I would especially like to get in touch with Portia Gilles again, we once worked together Thanks, Tess

  2. Being Knitterly

    Hi Tess! What a coincidence! I’m sure there will be contact details on Portia’s website (link above).