Interview with Meredith Woolnough

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Meredith Woolnough is a visual artist that works and lives near the coastal region of Newcastle NSW, Australia. Her elegant embroidered traceries capture the beauty and fragility of nature in knotted embroidery threads. Meredith’s work is held in both private and corporate collections worldwide. Her works express the essence of her art better than simple words can.

This is the link at her website:

http://meredithwoolnough.com.au/

Spiramirabilius”,front and angle, copyright Meredith Woolnough

Meredith, can you tell us how your passion for machine embroidery started?

I have always found embroidery relaxing and enjoyable but I didn’t get excited about machine embroidery until I was introduced to the freehand embroidery technique while at University. This technique allowed me to drawwith my sewing machine and my mind just burst with ideas and possibilities.

I then spent my entire honours year focusing on the freehand machine embroidery technique, specifically working ontowater-soluble fabric. I learnt so much and really fell in love with the process along the way. I made lots of mistakes that year as I tried to push the limits of the technique. Now almost 13 year later I am still discovering new ways to work with this embroidery process and I still love it!

Embroidery process, work in progress, copyright Meredith Woolnough

The subjects of your work are exclusively elements of the natural landscape. Why this choice?

Quite simply, I have always been drawn to the natural world and find endless sources of inspiration in it. I am a bit of a science nerd and I love to combine my love for biology and botany with my passion for embroidery.

“Azure Ammonite”, 2015, 93 x 103cm, embroidery thread and pins on paper, copyright Meredith Wolnough

Clear resin collection, copyright Meredith Woolnough

“Hydrangea leaf”, 2018, copyright Meredith Woolnough

Caladium”, 2016, 81.5 x 66cm, embroidery thread and pins on paper

Your embroidery technique involves the use of a textile support that dissolves in water. The completed work is delicately three-dimensional. Can you tell us about your technique and how you developed it?

Water-soluble fabric is the magic ingredient in my work. This material is what made me want to explore this type of machine embroidery in the first place. I loved the idea that I could do a drawing in thread and then wash the base fabric away. I felt like I was liberating my drawing from the fabric and giving it new life as a three dimensional object.

I didn’t develop the freehand machine embroidery technique, nor it’s use on water-soluble fabrics. I can’t claim any of that. But I have certainly developed specific approaches to the technique that give me the results I want.

The freehand process is actually very simple. I turn all the settings on my sewing machine off so that it is just that needle going up and down really fast. I then move my base fabric around the needle to build up a drawing in thread. It is the equivalent of moving a sheet of paper rather than a pencil to do a drawing. The water-soluble base fabric that I use acts as a temporary surface for my drawing. Once the drawn structure is complete, I wash away this base fabric leaving my threaddrawing behind. This drawing can then be shaped and molded to give it more form. I generally mount my drawings onto pins to display them. I got that idea from studying insect specimen collections.

Embroidery process, work in progress, copyright Meredith Woolnough

Tiny black piece inspired by frog eggs, copyright Meredith Woolnough

 Embroidery in progress

What kind of yarns do you use for your work? Do you like to experiment with unusual materials?

I am pretty traditional in my use of thread. I work exclusively with polyester machine embroidery thread because it is reliable and I like the surface quality it produces when it is densely stitched. I haven’t experiment with many other thread types for a long time. I haven’t felt the need to. I will occasionally experiment by stitching other materials into my drawings. I will trap fresh leaves, papers and fabrics in between my stitches.  But I haven’t been happy with these experiments just yet, so I am counting them as art play rather than art work.

 

Do you use a sketchbook to design and create your art work? Do you also use computer tools such as digital printing, photoshop…?

I do a lot of sketchbook work as a lead up to my designs. I have a number of ‘nature journals’ that I use to document the things that interest me from the natural world. These sketches and notes often lead to further research and eventually to the designs that become my embroideries.

I occasionally use Photoshop to edit photographs I have taken while doing fieldwork. But this is rare. It’s mostly all done with pencil and paper. I’m a bit ‘old school’ like that.

Amazonian Water Lily” (2014) 69 x 69cm, embroidery thread and pins on paper, copyright Meredith Woolnough

“Amazonian Water Lily – detail” (2014) 69 x 69cm, embroidery thread and pins on paper, copyright Meredith Woolnough

Thanks to the use of threads, transparency and the absence of a fabric as a background for your work, your sculptures express an idea of fragility and lightness. What is more precisely the role of empty spaces  (transparency) in your art works?

I aspire to capture lightness and fragility in my work – so I am very glad that you identified that.

My main reason for including negative space in my embroideries is because they allow for creation of wonderful shadows. When my pieces are lit well there is a dance of shadow patterns projected behind the artwork. I go to great lengths to always mount my work a few centimeters proud of the backing board or gallery wall so that I get this shadow effect. I feel these shadows add another dimension to the work and give my embroideries life.

Ginkgo Florette – detail”, 2014 in the morning light, copyright Meredith Woolnough,

“Ginkgo Circle”, 2014, 40 x 40cm, embroidery thread and pins on paper, copyright Meredith Woolnough,

“Ginkgo Florette”, 2014, copyright Meredith Woolnough,

“Ginkgobilobastudy”, copyright Meredith Woolnough,

“Ginkgo Florette”, 2014, copyright Meredith Woolnough,

Meredith, a few weeks ago, we included in our ArteMorbida website the review of your book “Organic Embroidery”. Can you tell our readers how the project of this book and its contents was born?

The book came about because so many people were begging for it. There seems to be a lot of interest in my work and in this specific form of embroidery. So when I was offered the opportunity to write a book, I jumped at it. If I had known how much work it was going at the time I may have hesitated. But now that it is all done I am very happy with how it turned out.

In Organic Embroidery I share all that I know and love about working from nature and the embroidery process that I use to create my artworks. I discuss my practice from start to finish with lots of stories about my favorite artworks along the way. There are plenty of instructional elements throughout the book as well.

“Stitched specimens”, 2015, dimensions variable, embroidery thread, wall installation, copyright Meredith Woolnough

“Nature Studies”, 2014, embroidery thread and pins on paper, each measuring 40 x 40cm, copyright Meredith Woolnough

How has your work evolved from the first pieces to date?

My early work was purely experimental. I just played with the possibilities of this embroidery technique, scribbling all sorts of shapes and structures to see what would happen when I washed the base fabric away. Basically, I made a lot of tangled messes to begin with. While still at University I developed a way of stitching densely so I could create more solid, purposeful forms.

Once out of university I moved onto nature inspired work. This began with a series of small circular pieces inspired by coral patterns. This range was very popular so I kept making work along this theme for a few years, becoming deeply fascinated by coral as a result.

Following my coral obsession I started to introduce other subjects into my repertoire; such as leaves and shells. I was drawn to these because, like coral, they have beautiful and intricate structures. Today I am still focused on natural structures. I keep going deeper and deeper down that rabbit hole. I am always on the look out for something new and fascinating to study and depict in thread.

Foto 17

Mushroom coral Mandala”, 2015, 93 x 93cm, embroidery thread and pins on paper

The New Neighbours”, 2017, Tamworth Regional Gallery Install, copyright Meredith Woolnough

The New Neighbours detail”, copyright Meredith Woolnough

What are you working on right now? Do you want to tell us about your current textile projects and current or future exhibitions?

Right now I am working on a new body of work for the exhibitions I have coming up later this year. I am studyingsomenative plants in my local area, focusing on the leaves from certain Banksia and Eucalypt species. I start by collecting a bunch of real leaves, studying and sketching them. Then I will develop a drawn design that will translate well into embroidery.

I am planning on having a series of large circular arrangements featuring these leaf types, along with some smaller studies. So far I have made one large ‘leaf circle’ which is a tight arrangement made up of over one hundred leaves. It took me over a month to stitch. Hopefully the others won’t be so time consuming because I have lots of wall space to fill in those upcoming exhibitions.

“Leaf circle”, 2018 (front view)

Leaf Circle”, 2018 (angle view)

First four Leaf studies of 2019, copyright MeredeithWoolnough

 “Leaf circle”, 2018 (detail)

Be the first to comment on "Interview with Meredith Woolnough"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*