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  • Writer's pictureBarMade Bags

Influences and inspiration for branching out

As I review 2022, a year in which bag-making (as well as blog-writing) has taken a back seat, I am considering a change in direction. Let me explain the influences and inspiration that have prompted this.

Back in August, I won a giveaway competition, run by the lovely Helen of Helen Moyes Designs, for two tickets to The Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham. Unfortunately none of my keen local sewing friends was available to come with me so I took my husband along, even though he expected to be bored by the whole encounter! However, amongst the displays there was a section by the textile artist Danny Amazonas and we were both blown away by his work: enormous scenes and images built up from thousands of tiny individual pieces of fabric appliqued to create the whole. The piece that particularly caught our attention was this one entitled "Rainy Night", which we kept returning to in order to take another more detailed look.

Afterwards, I read up about his method and wondered whether I could have a go at doing something similar. It seemed to me like a great way to use up some of the small pieces of fabric that I have in my stash, as well as exploring a new technique and developing a different range of skills.

When I retired almost ten years ago and started bag making, I was influenced by the need to be as sustainable as possible, hence the use of upcycled fabrics for my bags, and was inspired by the offcuts of batik fabrics from my sister to incorporate patchwork or appliqued designs into each of my creations. Making unique and beautiful bags that were both practical and ecofriendly was the basis of BarMadeBags.

But in 2022, sales have been slow and some of the buzz I used to get from making these bags has faded, so it seemed like a good time to try something new. Maybe, I thought, I'd incorporate the textile art panel into a bag and, with that in mind, I decided to make the panel about A4 in size.

I also decided to use nature as the theme for the "artwork" so looked through photos that I'd taken over the years in order to get some inspiration. This one, taken in the autumn looking through beech trees in a wood near Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire, jumped out at me as a possible composition.

With this as my starting point, I looked at the different areas of the image thinking about it as a series of layers and applying some of my knowledge of watercolour painting to help in this. While living in Stocksbridge, I had been part of an art group where I had picked up lots of advice on painting, both with watercolours and acrylics, under the guidance of art tutor, Joanne Jenkins. One of the aspects of this that I applied to my textile art was to choose muted bluish purple shades for the distant hills and to introduce bolder shades as working through the middle distance to the foreground.

From my bag-making, I have accumulated a collection of batik cotton offcuts which have always been inspirational to me. Batiks can vary from having very precise patterns to no pattern other than bands of gradually changing colours, and these factors influenced my choice of fabrics to use for each section.

As I cut out and arranged the pieces, I drew upon recently learnt skills acquired from helping with the Well Dressing in the village of Holymoorside near Chesterfield where I now live. In this discipline, flower petals and pieces of foliage and bark are embedded into a clay bed to create an image or series of images. Each piece overlapped the previous one and the direction in which the individual pieces were arranged affected the appearance of the whole. Below is one of the displays along with a detail from it.

Just as with the Well Dressing, patience was required as I slowly assembled the pieces of my fabric collage, but unlike the Well Dressing, which was a group venture, I was doing my textile picture on my own. The thrill of seeing the image develop with each carefully chosen and placed piece of fabric, maintained my interest and enthusiasm in the project. I gradually completed the background, adding stitching in variegated threads to secure the pieces and provide more interest, and then moved on to introducing elements of the foreground in the form of the trees.

The next stage was to add the foliage, bringing in autumnal colours and developing the perspective of the image. I used smaller, angular pieces of fabric to depict these, and again was reminded of an art tutor who always stressed, when demonstrating painting trees, that it wasn't a case of trying to show each individual leaf but the suggestion of the foliage as a whole.

I also recalled watching the artist Rowan Mersh creating one of his sculptural works by placing each minute shell in position to achieve the effect that he wanted: precision and patience are qualities that are evident in his work, and these qualities provided inspiration for me and the incentive to ensure that I took the necessary care with each fabric piece as the image developed.

The final part of creating the image was to add more stitching, in variegated autumnal shades for the leaves and black or dark brown for the branches. I used the technique of free motion stitching on my sewing machine for this, having been inspired by videos and reels on Instagram.

While I am sceptical about the role of "influencers" in determining actions that I take, I am happy to be influenced by principles and by the advice or appreciation of others. Favourable comments on the finished piece and advice given me on how to display it from the photographer Jerry Daniel, have prompted me to keep this as wall art and in due course it will be hung somewhere in my new home.

And just as I was inspired by a photo that I'd taken, my textile art inspired a friend to take a photo of a scene that has similarities with mine. That is now going to form the basis for my next fabric collage.

So this feels like a new chapter in my creative journey. Will it take the place of bag making? No, that's not my intention but hopefully can run alongside it. Watch this space for further developments as I respond to influences and inspiration around me!

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