Saturday, 16 June 2012

Christine Sawyer

Home Is Where the Heart is


Q Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in North Yorkshire and enjoyed, as I remember it, a happy childhood spent poking in ponds, building dens and performing in impromptu concerts to half attentive relatives. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. Having the means to invent the world as I would like it to be, has been a lifelong occupation. Drawing gave me a private space, which evolved into a life support system. It was a natural progression to study Art, and I enrolled at Bath Academy of Art at Corsham, in the early 1960’s.

It was an exciting and illuminating time, being exposed to a whole range of disciplines, working with practising artists. After the initial ‘taster’ sessions I specialised in painting and construction as main subject, plus ceramic with mosaic as secondary. The most important insight I came away with is the belief in the importance of the idea: i.e. if it’s got sustainability, then you with find the means to make it manifest, in an appropriate medium. I also learnt that sometimes you have to make an arbitrary decision and go with the flow.


In the magicians workshop


Q When did you decide to become a maker?

In order to support myself I gained an art teachers’ qualification and took a post in a comprehensive school in Bristol. The art budget was very small and it was vital to develop a strategy for using recycled materials: improvisation became key.

I subsequently moved to Devon, where I still live, my final teaching post being part time Lecturer in Textiles at Rolle College of Education in Exmouth, with special responsibility for construction, particularly weaving. The experience of working with students in this area led directly to what I do now. At this time my own work was mainly drawing and colour studies on paper, which I exhibited locally, and experimental weaves connected with work. In the early seventies my biological clock started ticking loudly, and I left teaching soon after my son was born, in 1975.

My work changed immediately: I metaphorically chopped up the loom and incorporated it into constructions with wrapped ropes. I held my first solo show in 1980. Gradually, flat woven tapestry began to exert itself, and in the mid 1980s I realised it’s potential as an expressive art form: it sort of engulfed me. The most absorbing characteristic of the medium is that the structure and image are totally integrated, giving intense colour saturation, and great opportunities to explore texture. There are challenges attached, though. You start weaving at the bottom and work up, so the woven part is completely finished, and elsewhere the warp is empty. In drawings, I address the whole arena and try to maintain an even development throughout.

I was accepted onto the Crafts Council Selected Index, (now Photostore) in 1987, and undertook a first major commission shortly afterwards. The first international touring show I took part in was World Tapestry Today, in 1988 /89. Since then I have made several large tapestries for various prestigious clients, including Coca Cola Schweppes and The House of Lords, and am always engaged in an on going body of personal work which I exhibit here and abroad.


green construction 1


Q What made you choose the materials that you work with?

My early tapestries were woven in knitting wools bought from the shop around the corner, but after I became more solvent financially I bought a stock of 2/6s worsted and a Russell Dye Kit to develop my own particular palette. I also use 2/12s cotton, which comes in a good choice of colours for plying up into mixtures, and like to incorporate odd yarns given by friends. I am using some strange bobbly yellow rayon that my window cleaner donated at the moment: just what I needed for a small passage in the latest piece.

I like graphite to draw with, on gessoed canvas, but also use pastels, charcoal and pen and ink on various papers.


empty vessel 1


Q What other materials would you like to work in?

It’s more a question of time and space than materials. I did a term of sculpture at college, and always have had a hankering to really explore 3D on a large scale.


under the weather 1


Q Where do you get your inspiration from?

I used to think ‘inspiration’ is such a hackneyed word, but having discovered that it literally means ‘breathing in’, I realised it describes exactly the process of how ideas occur and are dealt with. I tend to become absorbed by something seen, read about or personally experienced: the way light falls on things, for example. Occasionally, in that beautiful twilight time between sleeping and waking, when the rational is down, a new approach or solution to a problem floats in. Generally I work in series, mostly developed from contemporary affairs. The period between 2002 and 2008 saw the production of several works concerned with medical issues, the heart, genetics, cancer, and drugs, entailing some pretty serious research.

Currently I am involved in exploring the manipulation of Nature and the consequences: loss of resources, pollution, climate change, waste etc. The latest piece, entitled ‘Out of the Blue’ poses the question ‘What will happen when the Big One hits?’




Q What motivates you?

The stimulus to start and keep going comes from the desire to make an idea come to life, coupled with the somewhat arrogant notion that other people will be interested in what I have to say. One thing leads to another and I just love filtering and navigating my way through the process. The more I do the more I realise how much I don’t know: possibilities seem endless, but time, unfortunately, isn’t. Woven tapestry occupies a unique place in the art landscape, demanding all the acumen necessary for a fine art practice, and rewarding with the sensuous, emotionally satisfying act of making by hand. It’s a very beguiling combination.


wrap images


Q Do you create your work in a studio base or a home base?

We live in a Victorian terrace house, and I have commandeered the front bedroom as my studio. It has good constant Northeast light. My husband, a sculptor and musician also works at home, so we meet up for coffee or tea occasionally, then concoct a meal together when work is over.


studio shot may 27 2012


Q Crafts in the 21st Century – what does this mean to you?

There’s always been an overlap and blurred edges in the art / craft / design field. I enjoy imaginative well made work whatever the medium. Makers now are incorporating new technologies in very inventive ways. In this digital age of quick response codes and rapid process 3D printing I feel there will always be an appreciation of the heartfelt artefact encapsulating time, skill and an exquisite understanding of materials.


modern Living,,cheek by Jowl


Q Where do you sell and promote your work?

This is the link to my recently updated Axis page, and my work can also be seen on the British Tapestry Group website and Crafts Council Photostore.

My website is currently under construction. I sell work from exhibitions, undertake commissions, both public and private, and have work in collections in Europe, USA, Japan and Australia. My husband and I are supporters of the Open Studio Movement when we exhibit and sell work from home as part of an annual organised event.


Journey, 300dpi


Q What does your typical working day look like?

Sometime between 9.30 and 10 am I check emails and have a quick gander at the BBC news page to keep up with what’s happening. I am interested in science from a lay person’s point of view, and often there’s an item about new research to mull over.

I always have at least one piece of tapestry on the loom, sometimes up to three in various sizes, as my preference is to have more than one thing on the go at any one time. I also have a drawing in progress: alternating between the two forms means they can interact and feed each other. Also, drawing is so FAST in comparison to weaving, it uses a different kind of energy. If it all gets a bit intense, a good trawl around a few local charity shops lightens things up a bit.

When working on a large tapestry I find it necessary to stop at intervals to do stretches and exercises, otherwise I become stiff. I also endeavour to squeeze in a daily brisk walk: good health is really important. During long hours weaving new ideas spring up and I note them down for future reference. I mix observation, memory and imagination to arrive at new images.

Having consumed a good breakfast (usually porridge!) I can work through until about 4pm if sustained by tea and coffee, after a break I continue until around 5.30 to 6pm when it’s time to start cooking.


medical series Periwinkle Tapestry


Q 3 words of advice for an aspiring Craft artist/maker...

Heart. Hand. Head.


Q Who is/are your favourite artist(s)/maker(s)?

A most difficult question! Favourites come and go, though there are constants such as some early Italian Renaissance artists, also Goya, Samuel Palmer and Soutine. Contemporary artists include Sarah Lucas, Fiona Rae, William Kentridge, David Nash, Anish Kapoor and Jon Eric Riis, at the moment.


yesterday's.psd 300dpi


Q 3 likes and dislikes?

Like : The Natural World, family and friendship.

Hate: Cruelty, bigotry, waste


two drawings


Q What do you do to relax?

A long chat on the phone with our son does me the world of good. He lives in London so it’s a really good break to spend some time with him. When he comes to Devon we ‘do ‘ the beach and woods.

We live near the river Exe which offers many good walking opportunities and links up with Exeter Green Circle, which, as it’s name suggests is a footpath which goes round the perimeter of the city. I like walking through towns looking at buildings, and through the countryside looking at the sky and plants. Pottering about in the garden can be very satisfying and I also keep scrapbooks. I enjoy cinema and some TV, though the latter is often not worth too much attention so I doodle draw at the same time. I read that Grayson Perry also does this, so I can admit that one now.


winter boat

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Anne Jackson

2 The Old Masters Series_after Bosch

The Old Masters Series: After Bosch (2002) 132 x 108cm


Q Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in New York City, to an American mother and a Scottish father. Though I grew up in the US, I was raised as half-Scottish. I spent two years at Vassar College in New York State, studying theatre. A summer season in repertory theatre gave me a clear idea of the challenges and disappointments of that path, so I worked towards being accepted for a year abroad at a Scottish university instead. Within a month of arriving at St. Andrews University, I “defected”, and never went back to live in the US.

I did my degree at St. Andrews in Medieval History, specialising in art and architecture. I don’t think I was actually very academically-inclined. I certainly couldn’t wait for the hour or two each evening, during which I began to make textiles as a creative escape from my studies. By the time I sat my final exams, I knew that I wanted a career as a textile artist.


1 Old Master II

The Old Masters Series: Old Master II (2002); 98 x 78cm


Q When did you decide to become a maker?

When I was young, I learned various textile techniques. My beloved Scottish grandmother taught me to knit, and my high-school friends taught me the technique of knotting. I was at school in the Chicago suburbs; it was the time of the Art Fabric Movement, and the foyers of numerous skyscrapers were hung with monumental tapestries and wall hangings. Textiles appeared to me to be a very prestigious medium, a possible way to make a living and a successful career.

Later, in St. Andrews, I made friends with local people who were tapestry weavers I used to escape from university lectures and studying to spend days working alongside them. While I was still a student, we set up a street market stall selling our own and others’ textiles and ceramics. Not long after I graduated, we were offered premises for a shared studio and gallery in St. Andrews.

Fairly quickly I realised that in order to succeed as a tapestry/textile artist, I needed proper art college training. I had already been strongly influenced by the vibrant Scottish woven tapestry scene, based at Edinburgh College of Art and the Dovecot Studios.

Finding a place at art college proved problematic, however, as I had no background beyond art lessons at school and my own practice. Luckily, I managed to secure a post-graduate place in the Constructed Textiles Department at Middlesex Polytechnic in London. As a result of my time there, I evolved the hybrid “knotted tapestry” technique I have employed ever since.


3 Leaving Eden 1

Leaving Eden I (2004) 130 x 170cm


Q What made you choose the materials that you work with?

My technique enables a high degree of flexibility, but requires strength of materials. The individual warps and wefts are held in tension in the structure of the tapestry. I am willing to use almost any high-quality yarn which doesn’t stretch, has a good breaking-strain, and isn’t prohibitively expensive.

From my earliest involvement with textiles, I was drawn to colour, and tapestry is the perfect technique for its deployment. The way yarns absorb light gives richness. In effect, the colour penetrates through the surface because it is integral to the construction.

In my early career I often dyed my own yarns, but in the mid-1990’s I moved into colour-blending, plying up to ten fine strands of anything from cotton to acetate ribbon into hanks to achieve the effects I want. I work directly on top of a painted and collaged cartoon, to which I can respond with frequent colour modifications, sometimes even adding and subtracting individual threads from my wefts according to the changing light on the surface throughout the day.


4 Leaving Eden 2

Leaving Eden II (2004) 130 x 170cm


Q What other materials would you like to work in?

Someday, if I had time, I would like to master the hot glue gun. I imagine that it would be a way to express some of my ideas more quickly, through mixed-media sculpture with found objects. But I feel hampered by having to start from scratch, when I already have fluency in a medium through which I can express exactly what I want to, without feeling inhibited by initial lack of skill.


5 The Witchcraft Series_Half Hidden Signs

The Witchcraft Series: Half-Hidden Signs (2007) 165 x 110cm


Q Where do you get your inspiration from?

I see myself as working in a contemporary art context. Some years ago I explored the possibility of doing a practice-based PhD. It didn’t work out, but I acquired a taste for academic research and critical writing. I now write reviews and catalogue essays as part of my practice. For as long as I can remember I have been using my medium to express my ideas about the world, the art world and my place in it.

For my current long-term project, ‘The Witchcraft Series’, I have gravitated back to the skills learned in my Medieval History degree. I research Early Modern European witch-trials, so far mostly in England. Sometimes I try to draw out strands of particular women’s lives, and the circumstances that led them to be condemned and executed for witchcraft. I think these stories provide an excellent metaphor for aspects of the contemporary world, and human nature.


6 Witch Hunt Maleficium (In Memoriam)

The Witchcraft Series: Witch-Hunt; Maleficium (In memoriam) 170 x 180cm


Q What motivates you?

I have a strong tendency towards what I call ‘square-peg-ism.’ Probably due to my background, I often seem to have come at things from an odd angle, as a bit of an outsider. This can be awkward, but also keeps things interesting.

I was an active second-wave feminist at the time I began my practice, and I think that background of social rebellion and critique has stayed with me. It’s probably not a coincidence that I’ve always worked in a medium strongly associated with the feminine.

I’ve also begun or participated in several artist-led initiatives, including the South West Textile Group (which I founded), New Fibre Art, and Art Haven. The first two, based in textile practice, were almost entirely made up of women. My background in radical alternative politics probably also helped me to feel that we artists should help and empower ourselves, because we don’t receive a great deal of assistance from outside. These days my two main involvements are with European Tapestry Forum, of which I am a Steering Group member, and the American Tapestry Alliance, which provides excellent opportunities and online networking possibilities.

I have exhibited widely over the years, and done some teaching. In recent times I have had the opportunity to show my work across Europe, in the three ARTAPESTRY exhibitions organised by European Tapestry Forum, and the “Web of Europe” project mounted by the Ildiko Dobranyi Foundation in Brussels and Budapest. I have exhibited in American Tapestry Biennials 7, 8 & 9, and in the Kate Derum Award Finalists’ Exhibition in Melbourne, Australia. I also do quite a bit of lecturing and critical writing.


7 The Witchcraft Series_Daemonologie

The Witchcraft Series: Daemonologie (2008) 86 x 102cm


Q Do you create your work in a studio base or a home base?

My studio is located in my house. I used to rent studio spaces, but they were often cold, expensive, and inconvenient. I always hoped to be part of an artistic community. Often however, given everyone’s different schedules, I would find myself working alone in an unheated, dark, uncomfortable space. Now I work in a beautiful conservatory with storage, painting and photography space adjacent, Wi-Fi broadband access, kitchen, telephone and central heating. I miss the camaraderie and friendship of shared spaces, but the internet, and a friendly local community, largely make up for it. These days, it also seems more ecological not to travel to work unnecessarily.


12 Anne Jackson studio shot

Anne Jackson’s Studio


Q Crafts in the 21st Century – what does this mean to you?

I have always been aware of the art/craft divide, and at times have made work that addresses it directly. I feel that we may be on the cusp of coming back to skill-based work, where engagement of the hand, eye and mind is acceptable as a mode through which contemporary art can be produced. Artists like Grayson Perry are great examples of this, and writers like Glenn Adamson are illuminating the boundaries and connections between art and craft practices. His book, ‘Thinking Through Craft’ is a vital text in this argument, and I strongly recommend it.


8 Certaine Wytches

The Witchcraft Series: Certaine Wytches, Chelmsford, Essex, 1566 (2009) 156 x 195cm


Q Where do you sell and promote your work?

I promote my work through online resources, including my own website, and the American Tapestry Alliance artist pages. I exhibit in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia. A few years ago, I had a large tapestry bought by the City Art Endowment of Aalborg, Denmark. I have work in public and private collections in the UK, USA and Budapest, Hungary.

Q What is your typical working day look like?

I try to begin work at 10.00AM, finishing at 6.30PM. I do as much admin, emailing, and writing at the weekends as I can, so that my working week is clear for making.


9 The Witchcraft Series_Ursula Kempe

The Witchcraft Series: Ursula Kempe, St. Osyth, Essex, 1582 (2010) 174 x 176cm


Q 3 words of advice for an aspiring Craft artist/maker...

Self-discipline is important.

Q Who is/are your favourite artist(s)/maker(s)?

Grayson Perry, Annika Ekdahl, Anne Wilson, Anselm Kiefer (today, anyway.)

Q 3 likes and dislikes?

Likes: Countryside. Music. Friends.

Dislikes: Arrogance. Self-righteousness. Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.


10 The Great European Witch Hunt The Word 'Witch' in 10 Languages

The Witchcraft Series: The Great European Witch-Hunt; the word ‘witch’ in 10 languages (2011) 177 x 165cm


Q What do you do to relax?

My husband and I are musicians; we have two bands. Playing live music gigs is the opposite of relaxing, but the buzz is incredible. In K-Zee Zydeco Band, I play Cajun fiddle.

My newest passion is playing bass in a post-punk electronica band, the Swamp Gods ( We write our own songs, program beats and make samples and backing tracks. I also read a lot of music magazines and have an unfeasibly firm grasp of pop music trivia.

I still feel a bit of a foreigner, and continue to observe life in the UK with interest. A little bit of me is permanently on holiday, I think. Having grown up in the suburban American Midwest, I have a deep love of the natural beauty of the British countryside, and still feel nourished by it on a daily basis. I lived very happily in rural Fife for some years, then enjoyed the buzz of London. Now I live in a beautiful village in Devon.

11 The Witchcraft Series_Alchemists

The Witchcraft Series: Alchemists (2011) 72 x 95cm

Monday, 6 February 2012

Update from the Editor

Hi Folks,

Christmas has been and gone and so has New Year...oops! Its a bit late but I do hope everyone had a great time!

I am terribly behind on things over here for a variety of reasons but I just wanted to say that your support, comments and viewing are all very much appreciated. I also wanted to let you know that I am slowing things down a bit at Blethering Crafts as I am busy, busy setting up my own creative adventure and working hard on new work (once I have gone live I will post up a page letting you see my own creative work!), however until then interviews are still going to be posted, but maybe not quite as often as in previous months!

Once I have managed to sort out the life/work balance I intend to post up more regularly. If you know of any crafts people that you think would be great to be interviewed and shared please do get in touch. The e-mail is

Anyway,  I look forward to sharing more happy finds and creative lives.