Interview with Claire Heathcote, Embroiderer

Clare Heathcote creates striking yet delicate embroidery portraits.She graduated from the BA Textles Course at Goldsmiths College in 2000 where her degree show portrayed prominent members of the art world worked in thread.

Felt Foliage 2006 © Claire Heathcote
Felt Foliage 2006 © Claire Heathcote
Beck © Claire Heathcote
Beck © Claire Heathcote
Untitled © Claire Heathcote
Untitled © Claire Heathcote

Did you undertake formal training in college or within the industry, or did you find your ways into embroidery via a different route?

I attended a textile degree at Goldsmiths College, graduating in 2000, which encouraged me to think about and approach the work I did with a sense of experimentation. I began to do stitched work as a response to being interested in the process of drawing and mark making. My early work mixed pencil drawn and stitched marks and investigated the value attributed them by the viewer.

How would you describe your work and your position within the world of embroidery?

I am a textile designer as well as artist so I feel that my work is progressing along two different paths at the same time, of course, with each practice informing the other. My artwork tends to be portrait based and  is continually evolving in scale, the way I use thread, the techniques I incorporate in to the work etc   I think the work has a calm, thoughtful quality, with a feeling that my subjects are caught mid motion, and I think that the use of thread tends to lend the work this transitory effect that perhaps a line drawing or a painting might not possess to such an extent. I also feel that the use of textile allows the viewer to relate to and get more involved with the subject of the work more fully. I find with making larger pieces as I do now that the process is becoming more instinctive and that I really feel that the work has a definite character and presence  that some of my smaller pieces of work didn’t have. My design work  is quite illustrative in style , sometimes using free machining techniques and also, at the moment, a lot of digital embroidery. There is a lot of playfulness in the work and it really experiments with colour , sense of style and also the use that different stitch effects can lend the work.

I never really think about whether I hold any position in the embroidery world. I feel that it’s quite restrictive to start to think of where my work might hold a position in a certain world. At the moment I’m focussing a lot on using stitch as it seems to fit my way of working or the kind of work I want to make. I can see in the future that I might equally want to focus on some other media , and even at the moment other elements are moving increasingly in to my work such as screen printing and laser cut fabrics.

What type of material do you prefer to use?

I think that using really thick substantial fabrics has been great. You can really get into creating the  work in a much more exiting and dynamic way I feel. The fabric has a body and weight to it that allows you to work without worrying that you’re being too heavy handed in your approach. Also, I’ve been experimenting recently with electroluminescent wires and panels which has been great fun and something that I’d like to investigate using in my work more.

What would you like to make that you haven't so far?

There are a lot of things that I can think of that I’d like the time to make!

Something that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is to make a really big stitched piece totally in situ. I picture myself in a really big dramatic landscape trying to draw it and reacting straight to the environment that’s all around me, and then I wonder what it would look like and whether it would be representational or whether it would be more abstract, I think that the latter would be what I would hope for.

What inspires and influences the designs you create for your work?

Again, so many things, and I feel that I pick up inspiration every day from  because I always feel that I’m on the look out! Recently I brought some amazing books on Japanese rimpa painting which have really excited me. I don’t think I’d ever seen work that I felt such an excitement towards and affinity for . I loved the sense of colour and placement and stylisation within it .

I think that so many more people are getting involved  with textiles these days. Bars and clubs have their own craft nights…there’s loads of stitch and bitch groups in existence including one that travels the circle line on the underground!  I think that this is a very interesting phenomena and who knows whether it’s just a quick phase or something more long lasting. But it’s great that lots of people are having a go and also interesting for the places that it’s happening. I can imagine it generates some very exciting work . Also, I’m interested in the way textiles is being increasingly used in graphic design these days, by , for example Lizzie Finn amongst many. I just think all these things are making people enthusiastic and very imaginative about their use of textiles and what it can be.

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