THE incredible thing about this week’s Picture of the Week is that it is not a painting but a work of intricate embroidery, created by textile artist Rachel Wright.
“Embroideries enable me to draw and paint through the medium of fabric and stitch,” says Rachel. “My embroideries stand out because of the striking use of rich colour, which captivates and draws the viewer in. My aim is simply to delight the eye.”
Her Brill Windmill piece was part of a commission completed during lockdown earlier this year which also incorporated seven miniature pieces of the churches that form the Bernwode Benefice.
“The windmill part of the brief didn’t bother me at all as the subject matter was right up my street,” she says. “I loved creating the sky, giving a sense of drama with the feeling of wind and movement. The little churches were a much greater challenge. Working at such a small scale was new to me and trying to put in enough detail at that scale was tricky.”
Rachel studied fashion and textiles at Birmingham City University and set up her own business in 1994, selling her work through various galleries and shops and exhibiting regularly.
“I grew up with art all around me because my father is a fine artist,” she says. “He paints in oil and watercolour and does wonderful wood engravings. We used to spend lots of weekends in galleries and museums. My dad was a huge influence on me. He taught me so much about drawing and especially how to observe. I think that’s why I have an eye for detail.”
Her particular love of textiles stemmed from sitting at her grandmother’s knee as a child. “She was always stitching or mending something and she had an old sewing box full of sewing curiosities, which I found endlessly fascinating and just loved to root through,” Rachel recalls.
“I loved to draw and paint when I was young but I wasn’t very good at mixing up paint colours. Fabrics are like a ready-made paint-box full of glorious colours, textures, patterns etc. I realised that I could paint with the fabrics, using them as my palette of colour and the stitching like the stroke of a fine brush to add in details.”
She takes her inspiration from landscapes and cityscapes and has a particular love of the sea, harbour towns, boats and lighthouses. But Chilterns landscapes have featured in her work too.
She explains: “I am inspired by the beauty we find all around us, by the forces of nature which shape our surroundings, carving out our coastlines, sculpting landscapes and twisting mighty trees and painting wondrous sunsets in the expansive skies above our heads.”
One particular picture was inspired by a walk with her son. “It was one of those blustery days in March when the clouds were racing across the sky urged on by the wind and the light on the landscape was changing second by second.
“We were on the Waddesdon estate and I noticed a clump of trees with a stripy ploughed field in front of them. Something about the light and the feel of the day made me give my phone to my son and ask him to try to capture what I’d seen. I knew I wanted to make a piece based on that day and this was the result.”
She works a lot from photographs – “often taken by my family because they are better with a camera than I am” – and sketches directly onto her base fabric, which is cotton calico.
“Once I have a basic sketch I begin to gather together a palette of fabrics, which offer me the colours, markings, textures etc that I will need. I start to cut tiny pieces of fabric, choosing them very carefully and begin to lay them down, painting with them in small areas.
“Sometimes I use pins to hold them in place and then I begin to free motion stitch on my machine, a beloved old Bernina from the 80s.”
Dozens of works in her portfolio focus on animals and birds, as well as seascapes and landscapes – like one archetypal Chilterns view of bluebell woods near Christmas Common.
“This piece was also inspired by a family walk and I worked from photographs taken by my son on my phone again,” says Rachel.
“Apart from the obvious glory of the carpets of bluebells in the woods up by Christmas Common, I was drawn again to the light, dappled and soft as it filters through the bright spring green leaves on the branches.
“It is both exciting and terrifying to see a piece of work emerging, battling through the tricky stages when it really isn’t working until at some point it turns a corner and everything comes together and finally you have the piece that you imagined in your mind’s eye at the start of the whole process.”