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CETG Online Talk on Monday 9th January 2023

Aran Illingworth - Painting in Thread

Aran Illingworth is an exquisite, evocative thread painter who is best known for creating portraits of deprived women, troubled by poverty, hunger, disease and, often, with the added responsibility of children.

In her art, Aran's aim is to capture the emotion, their expressions of deep need and desperate love. She has taught herself a structured way of working which she generously shared with us.

She begins with a commissioned photograph plus its back story. Then, she photocopies the image into black and white to obtain variations of tone and traces that image to map the features of the face and limbs that are showing. The chosen picture is enlarged and drawn on to a linen background.

Next comes the task of bringing the subjects to life. Aran does this in two ways. She uses actual remnants of local clothes, will pad and fold them and stitch them in place. For the skin and facial features, she cuts out applique shapes in the differing tones and lays them down like the pieces of a jigsaw.

Finally, the really skillful task of stitching, blending and bringing out those emotions is implemented. Aran uses her threads like brush strokes. The results are so lifelike. Sometimes, the sadness and deprivation is accentuated by the juxtaposition of a richly embroidered border on a headdress over a stained, patched sari and a thin arm cradling a malnourished child.

Recently, in October 2022, Aran exhibited a collection of her work at the Knitting and Stitching Show. Her eye catching, panelled portraits stopped people in their tracks and even, moved some visitors to tears. The moment you see Aran's stitched portraits, you want to know where and why these desperate people are here. Much of her inspiration comes from India.

Aran is always progressing her work and has started stitching men's portraits with a new found authenticity. Old men and their dogs show a different kind of vulnerability and bonding. Her previous career was as a mental health nurse, caring for alcoholics, homeless men and dementia patients. Her compassionate nature and concern for people on the margins of life still informs her textile art.

Her professional approach and dedication and readiness to share her embroidery skills are admirable. She passed on valuable historic information about stitched portraits too Her work will continue to impress us, I'm sure.


Text © Judith Gibson CETG 2023

Photos © Aran Illingworth

Aran Illingworth Madonna_sm.jpg
Aran_Black Tuesday_sm.jpg
Aran_man and his best friend_sm1.jpg
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