CETG Online Talk Monday 8th November 2021
Amanda Cobbett - Stitching the Forest Floor
Amanda gave us a fascinating insight into her life and work. She grew up in suburbia but always wanted to be outside. She was taught to sew by her Mum but mostly making clothes for her dolls. This continued until she was about 13 when she did a GCSE in Textile Design. Her teacher was very neat and polished and she expected her students to be the same but Amanda felt they didn’t live up to this. One project was to make a cushion so Amanda made one of a hamburger large enough to sit on. She also helped her friend make a large cupcake cushion. However, she did learn from this teacher and in particular to always make something to the best of her abilities.
Amanda went to college to do her A levels but textiles didn’t seem exciting enough so she did sculpture and fell in love with making 3D forms. She then did an Art Foundation where the tutors persuaded her back to textiles. This was followed by a degree in Printed Textiles which she really loved. Her tutor obviously picked up on her affinity with nature and was keen for her to study botanical illustration so enrolled her in the Natural History Museum which also meant she had access to study at Kew Gardens. This opened up a world of botanical illustration which she continued to pursue.
After graduating from Chelsea Art School she worked for two companies - one was a fashion house and the other was an interior design company. She did printed textile designs for them and was expected to produce six per day for the fashion house which was impossible to keep up with especially as this was before computers were in common use! Amanda did this for about ten years and produced designs for textiles and homewares for companies such as Debenhams, Monsoon, Top Shop etc. However, it was frustrating as everyone always liked to throw out their suggestions on a design so it didn’t always feel as if she was producing her own work.
She met her husband and moved to the village of Peaslake, had two children and a dog and decided to stop working in London and to enjoy the country life. She started to make small items such as pin cushions and string holders and sold them in the local farm shop. She gradually moved back to 3D items using papier maché to make figures. These became very popular at the school fairs and then she did Open Studios and sold everything! She was nominated for Surrey Artist of the Year and moved on to gallery exhibitions.
Around this time her mother-in-law gave her an old Bernina sewing machine and she started to teach herself machine embroidery which grew into an obsession. A friend was taking part in the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate so she decided to have a go. By then her work was then trying to trick the eye and to make people look twice to see if a piece was real or not and included birds, mushrooms, coral, lichen etc. She wanted to display pieces in Perspex boxes and the items seem to float in these boxes. She was given a Highly Commended award at the Fair and from then interest in her work just took off - magazines did articles and she featured in a programme on BBC4.
She then managed to get a place at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019 and decided to invest an inheritance from her Grandmother to fit out her stand to reflect the Marianne North Pavillion at Kew. This was quite a risk but it definitely paid off. She met Alan Titchmarsh who purchased some of her work and invited her onto his Sunday morning show. She got a 5* rating and several new clients from the show. This year (2021) she was actually too busy with work to attend. She has now stopped doing commissions and only sells to private collectors who usually buy a collection of 6 or more pieces at a time. Most of her clients are in America.
Currently she is in the November 2021 edition of ‘Country Living’ magazine and she features in Cas Holmes' new book ‘Embroidering The Everyday’.
She makes every piece of her work herself from the bark to the lichen to the mushrooms. She photographs everything in situ and there is a grid reference on each piece to show exactly where the original was. A lot of the work is machine embroidery on dissolvable film and some papier maché to give structure.
Everyone was completely entranced by Amanda’s talk and amazed at just how realistic her pieces are.
Photos © Amanda Cobbett