CETG Online Talk on Monday 14th February 2022
Emily Notman – My Textile Journey from Then to Now
Emily took us on a whistle-stop tour of her background, processes and inspiration. Born in Stoke to a creative family; mum a florist, an aunt who was a bridal seamstress, and other members working in the ceramics trade, she never doubted she would become an artist. However, her introduction to textiles was disappointing, with an inability to sew a straight line on a machine and school lessons focused on making clothes rather than art.
When she went to Leeds Art College to study Fine Art, she started adding sand and textiles into her paint, in search of texture and surface embellishment. Finding acrylic paint too bright and harsh, she discovered techniques for mixing drawing inks with bleach, applied with pipette, which gave the muted sepia tones she sought. At the University of Cumbria in Carlisle, during her Contemporary Applied Arts degree, she mixed ceramics with textiles and learnt that stitch did not have to be precise.
During family holidays on the Portuguese Algarve, she fell in love with the faded and weathered colours of the fishing villages, and introduced a more muted palette into her work. Creating mixed media works which combined paper clay, textiles and stitch, buttons and handmade embellishments, she found inspiration in worn paintwork, shells and barnacles.
After graduation, she was lucky to find space in Jennifer Collier’s studio in Stafford, where she learnt how to create a business and teach workshops. It was here she created her “bread and butter” range of smaller pieces: flower brooches and rings, and shell pictures; whilst continuing to experiment with techniques for her larger wall hangings, and developing her personal style. Her signature “loopy stitch” which stands proud of the surface was combined with all kinds of methods for adding texture – paint, burning with a soldering iron, applied embellishments, lace and hand dyed fabrics, frayed edges and free machine embroidery – mixed together to create richly textured landscapes in subtle colours.
Her work was slowly making its way into galleries and shops – a chance meeting at a farmers' market led to sales in a prestige shop in Liverpool – and an article in a Chinese magazine led to international commissions. She exhibited at various trade shows and met people from outside her home area, and took on several residencies, including at a girls’ school in Loughborough, where she is now based.
It was perhaps inevitable she would create a bridal range of accessories, given her gentle colour palette and the strong inspiration from her aunt the bridal seamstress. This led to more pink tones in her work, a colour she had not favoured in the past.
Emily talked about her methods of using the cheapest materials possible, DIY tester pots and fabrics recycled from charity shops (fitted bed sheets are a favourite), which she dyes and manipulates, before covering with layers of emulsion paint, drawing inks, stitch and embellishment. She keeps a basket of fabrics she dislikes, which can be dyed to give the colours she needs, and she likes layering up multiple fabrics including painted Bondaweb. Her mark-making tools are anything which comes to hand – sponges, washing up brushes, household items. Edges are frayed with a teasel brush. Applied items include pressed flowers, self-covered buttons, lace and net, and paper
She likes to challenge herself by using a new colour scheme each year, taken from photographs of her mother’s garden, and by taking workshops with other makers to learn new techniques and styles outside her comfort zone. If a work is becoming stale, she will step away from it and create something entirely different, before coming back to the original work refreshed and ready to continue. In a way, she feels that her pieces are never truly finished: she can always add more stitch, another embellishment, an extra layer of paint. She talked about finding a wide variety of frames for her works to give buyers a choice. And how once a work is sold, it may end up in a completely different setting to the one she envisaged for it – but it still looks lovely.
Emily’s enthusiasm for her work shone throughout her talk, and gave us all inspiration to try out new techniques and materials, and just pile it all on. Her eye for colour and surface creates landscapes of stitch, where each viewer can find their own idea of beauty.
Text © Liz Wilmott CETG
Photos © Emily Notman