Les Petits Bonheurs - Gentlework by Christine Kelly
Les Petits Bonheurs series is back for 2015 and appropriately this weeks artist, Christine Kelly of 'Gentlework', is someone who I discovered thanks to Johanna Flanagan of The Pale Rook who I interviewed in November. What a wonderful gift it has been to meet so many wonderful makers, you are truly inspiring me.
I completly lost track of time the morning I stumbled into Christines blog, each image more beautiful than the next. Her handstitched treasures whisper to you, they soothe and comfort.
One image in particular touched me deeply, a photograph of antique jewel boxes inside which, Christine has hand stitched words of hope, "let go"; "have hope", "courage dear heart". She describes making "a collection of tiny tokens, to be called upon in times of need, slipped into a pocket, closing fingers around them, a comfort".
I feel Christines work on a very personal level, it moves and nourishes me and right now, with events of recent days her work and stitched words have taken on a special importance.
I am so grateful to Christine for opening up her creative process and home here for Les Petits Bonheurs and know that you will enjoy discovering her work.
"I’ve always loved vintage textiles and I suppose I’ve been collecting for about 20 years or so. I use them because I prefer them to ‘new’ fabrics. I like the fact that they have a narrative, they are often soft or faded from years of washing and handling or there may be a stain, a mend or a tear which hints at their former use. The use of these materials in my work, especially in more personal pieces, means that their story and my story become intertwined."
"I can get very attached to little scraps of fabric, even little plain pieces that may not seem very precious. I can’t remember the first piece of vintage textile that I fell in love with, and I get new favourites all the time, but one piece in particular is a small piece of broderie anglaise lace picked up at a Paris flea market, it’s old and hand worked with tiny pintucks along the bottom. It’s humble and stained and nothing special, but it has a little mend on it and it’s those tiny stitches that melt my heart….thinking how much it must have meant to someone for them to mend it with such care. I’ve used it in a piece of work, but it’s one I’m going to keep…"
"I pick up vintage pieces from all sorts of places, but mainly local antique fairs, some of the stall holders know me now! I don’t buy online much as I like to see and handle things.
When I buy vintage materials I don’t buy expensive or precious items, or anything too perfect. I’m often more attracted to something that’s a bit tatty or worn, also that way I don’t feel bad about cutting them up and re-using them."
"My work is characterised by it’s subtle colour palette and that’s what I’m drawn to when looking for materials to use. I like the gentle variations in tone that vintage linens and lace provide and exploit this in my work by patching together differing shades. I also like to use old mending threads to embroider with rather than modern embroidery silks as I prefer their soft and subtle colours. I especially look for interesting edges or details on textiles or bits of embroidery and lace with motifs that I can cut out and use for appliqué. I don’t set out to look for materials with a particular project in mind, rather I like things to just find me...."
"In my workroom I’m surrounded by the materials I use and new acquisitions are kept out on display for some time before they are used, to be considered and to provoke thought. Seeing materials side by side often inspires me and happy accidents can happen through a combination of untidiness and serendipity."
"My favourite place to be is at my desk in my workroom, surrounded by all the things that inspire me and looking out onto trees, fields, sky and birds. I’m at my happiest when quietly hand stitching, listening to the radio or gentle music. In the past I worked predominantly with machine embroidery but now, stitching by hand has taken over. I find hand stitching more tactile and immediate, it also fits well with the vintage materials I use which have often been handled and hand stitched themselves over many hours, many years ago. The other thing about stitching by hand is that it can be very calming and meditative. I find stitching a great comfort in times of stress and some of the work I’ve made has been in direct response to difficult times in my life."
Do you have an absolute favourite material that you love working with?
"I love using vintage buttons, especially really tiny mother of pearl ones that are quite hard to come by, but some of my favourite items to use have been some vintage bone buttons and some beautiful buff coloured heavy French linen, which is lovely to stitch into."
What is your background and how did you find your way as a textile artist?
"I don't have a formal education in textiles, I've taught myself and learned along the way over the years. I can't remember a time when I wasn't making things. I used to regret not having studied art or textiles, feeling that it put me at a disadvantage, but I don't anymore. A lot of my work is very personal and draws on my experience of life and I don't think I'd be making the work I do now without having been on a personal and creative journey."
"I’d always shoehorned my creativity around work but in 2005, myself and my husband took a 'year out' from full time work to concentrate on our creative selves, after the sale of a home and a business and a long period of stress. It was during this year, and having this time to devote to my art that marked a turning point in the work I was making, when lots of different elements came together, my ideas and experience, the vintage fabrics and ephemera I’d been collecting for so long and all of the creative skills I’d learned over the years. We rented a house in a rural location, the first time I'd experienced living in the countryside, something which was to have a profound effect on my work and my creative process. The house was called Trevethoe House and inspired a piece of work of the same name."
Who inspires you?
"Like most creative people, inspiration comes from everything and everywhere. The influence of nature is something that permeates a lot of my work. I live just next to woods and fields where I walk my dog each day and it’s often when I’m out walking that ideas come to me."
"There is also a connection for me between the peace and calm of experiencing nature and the contemplative aspect of slow hand stitching, the two seem to go hand in hand and this is reflected in my work. Inspiration often comes from the vintage textiles I find (a little detail may spark off an idea of where I want a piece of work to go) but mostly my work stems from personal experiences and my inner landscape, thoughts and emotional states. You asked whether I get creative block, and the answer is I don’t really. Quite the opposite, in terms of ideas I have a backlog of things I’m longing to make. Of course, sometimes, it’s harder to work at something than at other times, if you don’t feel so great or things aren’t really flowing or working out as you had planned them in your head. At times like this I try to just go with it and if all else fails, have a break, do something else and come back to it."
Is there anything that you can not imagine parting with?
"There are lots of things that are special to me but they are just things at the end of the day. I would struggle to part with some of my work, though. Stitching a piece of work by hand over many hours results in a real connection to the piece you are working on, often making a piece very difficult or impossible to part with (or to put a price on). Also, much of my work is inspired by my feelings and experiences, like a journal really, they contain a part of me, so it would be very hard to let them go."
I find your work so moving, especially the hope tokens in antique boxes and the fabric tokens where you have woven beautiful comforting words on inside. I understand that you create these not for sale but as personal talismans - could you talk about these pieces and their meaning for you?
"The use of stitched text plays quite a big role in my work. I keep a little notebook of words, phrases and quotes that are meaningful to me. I’m interested in the power of words, to comfort and inspire and remind us of things which are important. This is something I’ve explored in the form of portable little fabric tokens to act as reminders and tiny boxed stitcheries that can be kept in a pocket and looked at in times of need. I’ve made these pieces for myself over time in response to various emotional states, the act of making them is reassuring in itself and then you have them as a keepsake. I’d been reluctant to share personal items like this on my blog in the past, but when I did, particularly in the case of the fabric tokens, the response was overwhelming. I think people really connected with them, after all we all have difficult feelings to deal with from time to time, I just tend to deal with mine through stitch."
How do you sell your work?
"I sell my work mainly at fairs, exhibitions and at workshops I teach and occasionally to people who contact me directly. Generally, I prefer not to work to commission, which people find unusual. I have tried in the past but I find it stressful and it makes me feel constrained, and this takes some of the enjoyment out of creating and means I can’t really put my heart into it. My work means so much to me that I wouldn’t be happy to sell a piece that didn’t have my heart and soul in it."
Please visit her wonderful blog here to view more of her work.