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…

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
“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.


“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.

5 thoughts on “Studio Stories – Judith Pinnell

  1. Lovely piece Louise. I love reading about the artists so much that I go looking for pieces of their work online. Hope you are all well.

  2. Hello from the U.S.!

    I just found Judith’s book, “Take Silk” and I’m fascinated by it. Thank you for this wonderful studio visit — I enjoyed reading it and getting to know Judith better. You have such a dynamic fiber arts community in Australia. I hope to visit in the future.

    Kind regards,
    Cleveland, Ohio, USA

    • Hi Amy,
      I am glad to hear you enjoyed Judith’s story. She is a lovely lady with an amazing body of work. The hard work of women like Judith in the 80’s onward is the reason we enjoy such a dynamic fibre arts community in Perth, Western Australia.

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