A Sketchbook Tour With Textile Artist Ruth Chalk

My sewn work usually starts with snaps taken on my phone of things that catch my eye as I am out and about. Working from the photographs I develop the pieces by making sewn samples until I get something I am happy with. These samples end up in my sketchbooks.

Sometimes I’m just ‘doodling’ – trying out ideas with no particular purpose in mind.

Plant texture sample
Bracken textures
Sewing and collage on card

My work uses techniques of machine embroidery, particularly satin stitch (a close zig-zag stitch that creates a continuous thick line) and free embroidery (done using a special foot on the sewing machine in combination with the feed dog teeth lowered, that allows the fabric to be moved freely in any direction). I often incorporate newspaper, packaging or plastic bags into the work. Partly for the aesthetic qualities and because this sort of material forms the fabric of our lives and I want to reflect this… but if I’m honest as much as anything it’s because I just like free art materials!

Sewn trees with collage
Gas storage tanks and trees with collage
Tree with collage of packaging
City at night collage

Sometimes the photographs find their way into the work as well as being the inspiration for it.

Weeds and graffiti sketches with sewing and photographs

 I must admit I don’t draw from life much. It’s something I always intend to do and never quite get round to. Drawing demands a different way of looking at a scene than I normally employ when I’m thinking about making it in sewing, because with pen and paper you would tend to start with the foreground and then fill in the background in the gaps, whereas with sewing and collage it is a case of building up layers starting at the back, and can use blocks of colour from fabric or collage. I find I get frustrated by drawing because you can’t just go over things with a pen the way you can with sewing.

‘Sorrel going over’ drawing in felt-tip on paper
Allotment drawing in felt-tip on paper

When I do draw with pen and paper, usually this is for ‘technical’ purposes – to work out the layout of something more efficiently than I could in sewing, or to transfer an image onto fabric.

Layout drawing for ‘Imbolc’
Template drawing for ‘Nine Bar Tree’

However most of the development happens on the sewing machine because this gives me an idea of what things will actually look like when they are finished and how the materials will handle.

Sample for ‘Imbolc’
Ideas page for ‘Nine Bar Tree’

To see more of my sketchbook work visit my Facebook page ruthchalktextiles.



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