Studio Stories – Judith Pinnell

I first met Judith when attending one of her Silk Paper making classes in about 2003.
On this, my second, visit to her home and studio she firstly introduced us to the visitor in her swimming pool – Esmeralda, a very large pink blow-up flamingo! Judith’s studios are in her home, conveniently located next to her living area. Judith is a life Member of the 84 Group and Western Australian Fibre and Textile Association (WAFTA). Judith describes herself as a very late starter, as you’ll see…

Studio
Judith moved into her current house when she moved to Australia with her husband and three daughters in 1983. She is lucky enough to have two studios, both with lovely natural light. Her Sewing Room was originally a games room, then became the music room for the girls, and slowly her work and sewing machine and computer have moved in. She is surrounded by her artwork and books.

Judith Pinnell 14Judith’s laundry was extended to become the Wet Studio. It was designed to allow her to run all her private teaching classes here, with easy access and plenty of tables to work at for a number of students. A second sink was made deep enough for silk paper frames. There are lots of storage cupboards, shelves and large shallow drawers to hold flat design work.

Judith Pinnell 2Judith Pinnell 6Judith Pinnell 5Judith Pinnell 3Judith makes large works in the garage  on trestle tables (moving the car out for a time). Sometimes she works in the living area hand stitching or designing. She dyes all her own threads and feathers, often on the kitchen stove! She says “I’ve taken over the house!”

Work Routine
Judith does most of her designing in the Wet Studio. She will design the work, draw it out, sometimes painting it in colour. She used to work a lot at night, as time spent during the day with her retired husband was important, along with various committees she was a member of. Now, she finds it easier to work during the day. She works without music or the TV; she likes it quiet so she can concentrate.

Judith designs and plans projects ahead, often thinking about half a dozen steps in advance “as it is very difficult to unpick machine embroidery”. She makes her silk paper then prints on it with foam stamps she has designed and hand cut, or Indian wooden stamps (which she has a large collection of), then she machine and hand stitches the work, sometimes adding more printing later. When she is at the sewing machine she will set a timer for 30 minutes and then take a break to walk around for 5 minutes. She spends most of her time machine stitching and can be in there for “days and days and days”.

Judith Pinnell 8Judith Pinnell 9
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“I love putting the colours together for a new project” Judith said. She can spend 2-3 days gathering threads, collecting fabrics, maybe up to 30, putting in, taking away, deleting and deleting until she’s left with a very small number. “That’s how it works for me”

She tries to be fairly organised, although she likes setting herself a challenge, “What if…”

“When you get accustomed to designing you always see things you could do or use. You keep thinking about things, even when you can’t work.”

Judith’s Journey
Judith was born in Australia. After becoming a shorthand typist she wanted to travel to the UK. At 22 her parents gave their consent for her to go as long as she agreed to their conditions: “You have to live somewhere respectable, have your return fare home, and you are not allowed to hitchhike or go behind the iron curtain.” Along with a girl she met in Singapore she traveled 3rd class around Europe to 9 counties in 6 weeks: “Great adventures on a very tight budget”.

Judith worked at IBM in London where she met her husband-to-be, Martin. They married soon after, in 1957. She planned to stay for 6 months, but ended up living there for 29 years and raising her family in the UK.

Martin’s work as a Computer Architect meant he travelled a lot. Judith was at home with their 3 daughters. They lived in Winchester, near Southampton.

Judith always loved sewing, and once her children were at school she started making kids stuffed toys for the World Wild Life Fund stalls. In 1978 when her girls were teenagers studying for their O and A Levels, Judith started her City and Guilds Diploma at Southampton School of Art. It was a 4 year course in Design and Embroidery with 1 day a week of classes and with a full time load of study and homework: 15 students started, 5 finished the course. The course was mostly traditional hand embroidery along with classes in History of Embroidery, 9th – 20th Century. “That’s where I developed a love of Medieval history” she said. “One week we were studying the Bayeux Tapestry, (and) my husband said “Would you like to go and see it?” “Yes please!” So they all popped over to France for a long weekend. “It made it all come alive, it made so much more sense” Judith said. They continued to visit stately homes all around Winchester to see the works Judith was studying.

During her course, Judith had only two days of machine embroidery classes so she taught herself from Valerie Campbell-Harding‘s books. She liked the quick results compared to hand stitching. Judith was a great fan of Valerie’s work and has all of her 22 published books on machine embroidery.

Judith Pinnell 15Judith’s husband retired early and in 1983, a year after she graduated they emigrated to Perth Australia. Judith was 50 years old.

Judith said returning to Australia after 29 years was a shock. She felt lost, as everything had changed.”I thought I was coming home, (but) it didn’t become home for a very long time”. As she discovered, “Nothing is ever the same.”

Judith arrived in Perth at the beginning of a lot of change and development in the textile scene.  At the Embroiderers Guild she met Susan Wilding and with others they began the 84 Group. They initially met in each others homes. Judith became a tutor for the group,  teaching machine embroidery. Judith also started teaching private classes in her home.

Through the Craft Council, Judith met Peggy Buckingham and became involved in FibresWest and worked on the committee for the first 5 retreats, starting in 1992. Through this, Judith finally met her “guru” Valerie Campbell-Harding in Perth in 1995 when she hosted her as a tutor for FibresWest.

In 1995, Judith became the first secretary when the new textile group WAFTA was formed.

In 1992 Nancy Ballesteros of Treetops Colour Harmonies introduced Judith to silk paper. Nancy had seen silk paper in USA and had started to experiment with bonding mediums. Judith started trialling, making samples and testing the paper making techniques, using it for machine embroidery and other textile techniques. Judith and Nancy started running classes together in 1995.

Judith taught silk paper making and machine embroidery classes from her home studio and eventually throughout Australian and overseas.

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“Creativity brings longevity.”

At the 1995 FibresWest retreat when Valerie Campbell Harding was a tutor, Judith  introduced Valerie to silk paper making. Both Valerie and Peggy Buckingham suggested Judith write a book about it.”Because you know so much”.

Judith feels she knows so much about silk paper making because, “First of all you have to be passionate about it, and keep working and working until you have cracked it… The more you do, the easier it becomes…you can’t teach people to see things…You have to do something for 6 months to really discover…”

She said her thirst for knowledge was inspired by her husband, who always supported what she did, and she was always learning from him.

Valerie very kindly sent Judith instructions on how to lay out the book to present to a publisher, including images, chapters, 2-3 lines on each chapter and projects. She very fortunately got a contract in a week! The book “Take Silk” was published in 2001. A following book, “Silk ‘Paper’ Creations for the Fibre Artist” was published in 2004.
The books led to teaching and exhibition opportunities throughout Australia and overseas. “You learn a tremendous amount by making a book”, says Judith, although “you don’t earn a lot from writing books… As I say, “I cancelled the Rolls Royce and the around the world trip!”

Judith Pinnell

“Embroidery has taken me to so many things.”

Judith has gone on to have two solo exhibitions, one in Perth and one in New Zealand, along with group exhibitions in Australia, USA, New Zealand and UK. On making work for exhibitions she says, ” I could probably paper the walls with all the refusals for exhibitions… that’s the way you learn, by being prepared to enter.” She said it is so important to stick to the criteria.

Judith’s Work

It is evident in Judith’s work that she has a love of colour. After a life in England, on her first visit to India she says she discovered colour and it changed her life: “I didn’t realise I loved colour so much!” she said. She works in the bright colours of the silks or monochrome shades of a colour.

Judith’s work is inspired by her many holidays: The family had 17 holidays in Europe, and Judith and Martin also had 7 trips to India, mostly Darjeeling. Broome also features. She has dozens of notebooks, often from her holidays.

Judith loves the 1930 costumes specifically the work of Erte’;  his flowing lines, tassels and pockets, along with beading, feathers and tassels and metallic threads that can be seen in a lot in her work. Judith has made book covers, boxes, bags, hats, clothing, and silk paper hangings. She loves working in 3D.

Judith Pinnell 12If you would like to contact Judith please do so via this page.

Studio Stories – Anne Williams

I’ve known Anne Williams for about 8 years. We met through WAFTA and got to know each other very well serving on the general committee together. Anne has always been a great resource for information, offering helpful ideas and advice when I have been stuck on a project. She is always busy making something. She often talks about the very steep driveway to her house in the Perth Hills, that no one is prepared to tackle. I was prepared for this and parked at the bottom of her driveway, I wasn’t however, prepared for the lovely tranquil setting and the stunning views back across Perth.

Anne is busily preparing work for her 1st solo exhibition at Mundaring Arts Centre, Artist in Focus – “Through the Singing of My Hands”  19th March – 17 April  2016
Anne’s studio is her kitchen / living area. So we sat there with a cuppa and a slice of delicious home made pear cake and started the interview.

Anne Williams 8

One of Anne’s many notebooks

Studio
Anne describes her house as her studio, mainly working in her kitchen/living area, although extending throughout her house are storage areas for books, resources and completed works. She describes the space as being comfortable and having good light. She spends most of her time doing hand work (hand stitch, knitting, spinning etc) sitting in a comfortable chair in the living area or standing at the end of her kitchen bench. She draws and writes at the dining table nearby. This whole area has large windows looking out to her garden and views beyond. She is surrounded by works in progress and beautiful collections of objects and works by other artists.

Anne Williams 1

My studio has comfortable chairs and good light

When her children were younger it was the perfect place to work whilst supervising piano practice! Although Anne has had a separate, purpose built architecturally designed studio since 1980s, where her husband “hoped she would keep all her stuff”, it gradually found its way back into her living area and she uses the studio as a store room! She has her sewing machine set up there although says it is not a good work space, it is really hot in summer, the light is not very good, especially at night and it just doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t have good Feng shui. Fortunately her husband was very patient with this!

Anne Williams 10Anne Williams 12

Work Routine
Anne works every day. Her hands get itchy if she is not working. She often has many projects on the go, sometimes starting work in the morning and going till 10 o’clock at night. She has spent 6 – 8 – 10 hours standing at the kitchen bench working when that feels like the right place to work.

Anne Williams 6

Anne often works standing at the kitchen bench

“There is extreme excitement of developing an idea, knowing it’s working”

“That is rare, sometimes you can work on a piece for three weeks and then go  ‘That’s a dud!’”

Anne said she “draws a huge amount”, she has beautiful notebooks filled with “a drawing a day”, others with ideas sketched out, how she might do things. Her work books and coloured pencils are on the dining table at all times, she also carries a notebook in her hand bag, often writes her ideas on a used envelope and then transfers to a notebook.

Anne Williams 9Anne writes a lot, often inspired from quotes, Rudolf Steiner’s work, art history and her daily reading of Anthroposophical literature. She has journals full of detailed plant studies accompanying dyeing notes and samples. Anne has been working with Natural dyes since the mid 1970s, keeping meticulous records since 2006, including recording rigorous fade tests.  She makes lots of samples, trials, experiments, sometimes drawing the ideas, sometimes written. She uses mostly recycled materials, simple low tech stuff. She doesn’t as a rule go and buy specialised tools and materials.

Anne Williams 3

Anne’s Journey
Anne came from an artistic family, her parents were both artists and skilled craft workers, her mother trained as a commercial artist and later became an art teacher, her father was self taught. Although the family was poor, she said there was always quality art materials, tools and books around which she was encouraged to use. She was taught to use them in the proper way and that it is important to respect tools, even simple tools. Through her parents interests she was exposed to weaving, painting, pottery, china painting, leather work, lino cutting as a young child. At Primary School she along with all girls of her generation was taught sewing. If work was not up to standard, it had to be pulled out and started again. Anne says at 11 years old her stitching was immaculate.

Anne went to Perth Modern School where there was no option to do art so she ended up in a science course which she felt unsuited to. At the school there was never an attitude that girls can’t do anything. Following this she received a bursary to attend teacher’s college gaining a BA Dip Ed majoring in English Literature. She got married at the beginning of the year she graduated (1966) and taught English and Social Studies for 5 months. She had her first child later that year, never returning to teaching in the state school system. For almost the next 20 years she was a mother at home with her children. Anne’s husband worked away from Easter to October every year as a field geologist. These were the days of communication by letter (sometimes taking three weeks to arrive), no skype, rarely a phone call, no mobiles nor emails. She said the few visits to see her husband in the bush have been the highlights of her life. They built and moved into their current house in 1969.

At home with her young family, Anne would visit the Kalamunda Library every week and take out all the craft books she could get her hands on, learning all she could. She craved to make things. She made all the family’s clothes, even made shirts for her husband, knitted their jumpers and socks, her husband loved her brightly coloured socks. Anne said all the “practical stuff” of sewing she learnt at primary school. In 1974 she began spinning, she was drawn to it, right at the beginning of the spinning movement. She still uses the same spinning wheel 40 + years later. At this time along with another parent she ran weaving and then embroidery classes at the primary school her children attended. As there was no budget for the classes Anne would buy fleece and started natural dyeing, purely experimenting at this point.

In the early 1980s Anne was asked to teach off-loom weaving, spinning and dyeing at Nedlands Teachers College, firstly for a semester then continuing for two years. When the colleges amalgamated and all part time jobs were lost, including Anne’s, she flipped her role and at 37 enrolled as a student in the art school, gaining a Diploma in Secondary Art Teaching.

Whilst studying part time with two teenagers at home and a husband away for most of the year, Anne attended a talk by a visiting German family about the Waldorf Steiner school system. This lead to Anne becoming an instrumental member in the foundation of the Perth Waldorf School. This was all voluntary work, from fundraising, writing constitutions to finding land for the school. She was fully involved on the school council for the next 21 years. Over this time Anne set up the craft curriculum for the school, kindy to class 12. She retired from teaching at the school in 1997 although even now teaches adult classes in spinning, knitting and drawing, and the occasional school class. Anne became involved in WAFTA and around this time started to develop her own work.

Anne’s work
Anne describes herself as having two types of work: (i) Bread and butter work, such as sewing/mending/knitting/spinning/making socks and jumpers…saleable items; and, (ii) What is becoming increasingly more important to her is her own body of work as an artist. At the time of the interview she was working towards her first solo exhibition which consists mostly of hand stitched works on linens, denims, tea towels and mining sample bags. Anne uses lots of recycled fabrics. Many are heavily stitched works, lots of running stitch and chain stitch, layers of fabrics, often backed with woolen blankets.

Anne’s work is influenced by her study and readings of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner and art history. She hasn’t met any other artists trying to express Anthroposophical teachings in a textile form. Anne said her parents treating children with respect as artists, and a belief that their work has integrity “has gone throughout my childhood, my teaching and my own work.”

“I get inspired by people who have done terrific work in later life”.

Anne Williams

Untitled – Made for Memory and Commemoration exhibition

Artist statement

‘Housewives’ (sewing kits) were standard army issue for the ‘Nashos’ of the 1950s. They have been carried into battle zones all around the world. This one was issued to Pte. Ian Williams in 1956/7.

The above work made for WAFTA’s Memory and Commemoration exhibition, will be on show in Lake Grace Regional Art Space in March and Art Geo, Busselton in April.
If you would like to contact Anne please do so via this page.

Studio Stories – Margaret Regan

My interview with Margaret is the first for The Studio Stories Project. I have known Margaret for a number of years through WAFTA, although it was not until early in 2015 when she asked my son Josh Wells to photograph her work that I discovered what she does. At the time Margaret showed me her studio and told me a little about her work while Josh took some photos of her studio space, so when I decided to start this project Margaret was a natural first choice.

We started the morning with delicious freshly made, still-warm scones and a cuppa, and then moved into Margaret’s studio for the interview.

Interview with Margaret Regan

Interview with Margaret Regan

Studio

Margaret has had the same studio space (she calls it her “work room”), a small room at the back of her house for 54 years. The area was created not long after she moved into the house with her husband and 2 1/2 year old daughter. She had nowhere to put anything so her gardener gave her some cupboards from a shed, much to the horror of her husband as they were old and worn out. They have changed colour a number of times from white to yellow, bottle green and currently blue. The whole space is very organised, a trait she learnt when she was a tailoress where everything had to be cleaned up, pressed and put away at the end of each day. The space hasn’t changed much over the years, although the use of it has. Margaret used the space to work as a dressmaker for some wealthy ladies for a number of years, she made all her children’s clothes here and since retirement about 20 years ago she has been making her art works. Cupboards and shelves lining all the walls are filled with fabrics, threads, paints, tools…she says “What I’ve got here is like a shop – I’ve got everything”

It's like a shop, I've got everything

What I’ve got here is like a shop, I’ve got everything

Work routine

Margaret gets her inspiration from a picture. She then likes to study the subject, going to the local library and finding out about her subject. She loves the planning stage, getting all the pieces together, the drawing of the pattern onto paper. “Which part do you enjoy the most?”, I asked. “I love the whole lot” she said.

She gets so involved in the project she will happily sit for 6-8 hours a day working intensely on a piece for months on end, feeling quite upset when she has to stop and make her husband’s lunch! She can’t start working though until the housework is finished, then she can relax knowing the house is clean. Not feeling guilty, she can sit there and work all day.

Margaret at her work desk

Margaret at her work desk

Margaret’s Journey

Margaret has always been creative. She said she was gifted with an eye for detail and from 2 years old was drawing all the time. By 8 she was making costumes for all the kids in the street and bribing them with a shilling apiece to participate in her concerts. Margaret’s aunt was a tailoress and a big influence on her. She used to watch her aunt doing hand work at home and was soon able to stitch fine work herself. She could simply look at a hand stitched button hole and was able to make one. This was at the age of 10 -11! Margaret would deliver her aunt’s work to the Tailor in Perth city and realising she was sewing some of the work, he asked her to come and work for him as soon as she finished school.

At 15 Margaret joined the High Class English Tailor starting her 5 year apprenticeship as a Tailoress. By the time she finished her apprenticeship, her wage was twice that of a shop assistant, a very good wage. She would make a coat in two days, from start to finish, completing every step herself, except for the cutting, which the tailor did.

Over the years she has seen huge changes in the way clothing is made. In the 1960s stock work was introduced ending the tradition of one person completing the whole garment. A man’s suit although expensive, would last many years due to the construction, nowadays they are throw-away…not made to last.

After Margaret got married she stayed home with her young family, where she did dressmaking for private clients. She found this a breeze compared to high class tailoring. This lead to working part time at a local fabric shop when her youngest child was 10 years old, and then full time managing Northlands fabric shop for 20 years, spending a lot of her time showing customers how use the products and materials they sold.

This was 1980s when everyone was making their own clothes and there was a fabric store in every local shopping centre. Margaret would make a garment in the evening and then model / wear it to work the following day and sell the pattern and fabric to her customers. She developed a loyal customer base helping them select fabric patterns, threads and trimmings for day wear and Christening gowns to ball dresses, sometimes going along with a daughter’s desire to wear black in a time when our mothers thought it was a big no-no! “Oh she has beautiful young skin, she will look gorgeous…”

On retirement Margaret joined Contemporary Quilt Group “for somewhere to go” and then WAFTA about 9 years ago. In the late 1990s she discovered the stunning realistic and detailed work of Annemieke Mein in a textile magazine, and knew she wanted to do this type of work. Annemieke Mein was the inspiration for the work Margaret now does. She started making her current artwork about 9 years ago.

Margaret had originally wanted to be a commercial artist and I asked if the work she now does is as fulfilling? She said “Oh no, this is much better”

Margaret’s work

Margaret is inspired by a picture, often an Australian bush scene or an old building, ones with lots of detail. She uses a variety of textured base fabrics that she paints, stiffens and then heavily hand stitches with embroidery threads to create the desired effects, “Like painting with stitch”. She often hits the finished stitching with a hammer or rubs it with a pair of scissors to blend the stitches. She secures additional 3D sections with strong tailors threads. She loves the challenge of looking for images with lots of detail and aims to make it as realistic as possible.

Carnarvon Gorge is the work she is most pleased with as “It’s so damn good, full of detail” She loves the positive reactions she has received for this work.

Carnarvon Gorge by Margaret Regan

Carnarvon Gorge by Margaret Regan

Awards
Margaret has received many awards from the Perth Royal Show and most recently the Textile Award at the City of Stirling Art Awards 2015 for the “Balcatta Hotel”.

Margaret, along with WAFTA Life Members Judith Pinnell, Joy Knight and Peggy Buckingham will be talking about their “Creative Lives” at the WAFTA general meeting Tuesday 19th April 2016.

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Margaret can be contacted via the form below.

If you would like to learn more about Bespoke tailoring, The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan is a fascinating journey of the craftsmanship through history to the current day.