Artists Interview – Ann Wheeler

Looking back to the past for inspiration can be a way to move your  work in a different direction. Researching techniques from the past, a  collection of  old textiles could provide the stimulus for new work. Working with these ideas to celebrate tradition, yet create a new relevant dialogue for modern times. Ann  shares how finding an old school exercise book of hers started a  new narrative.

Ann Wheeler
During this project have you looked at a new way of working?
Previously much of my work has been exploring traditional bobbin lacemaking techniques, to be used in a larger scale contemporary context.  I researched the history of lacemaking and the lives of the women who made the lace and found this was a story I wanted to tell. This project came about in a different way as the research was closer to home. However, the techniques I have used are completely different to my usual way of working.

On finding my old school needlework exercise book and also tray cloths worked by my mother just after the war, I again had a story to tell. The difference was it was the tactile feeling of the cloths and remembering those school days and how they are not always ‘the best days of our life’ that influenced me.

The embroidery on the tray cloths was often from the between the wars period, lots of crinoline ladies and ‘lazy daisy’ stitch. The school text book and my work in in school were all still looking back to the thirties, by being taught very defined needlework techniques. At the time this didn’t seem strange, but now thinking it through, so few books were produced during the war years that the fashions and styles illustrated tended to be pre war.

I cut up the cloths and pieced them together, not something I usually do. The joined pieces were then further enhanced with more hand stitching using stitches that were used at that time. To this I added ‘how to’ descriptions and images from advertising from the same period.

I enjoy integrating lettering in to my work and in this case chose to add some of the varied comments, not always very complimentary, made in my notebook by the needlework teacher.

What is your favourite part of the creative progress?
From the first idea or brief I find the research particularly interesting. As well as looking at visual images I find the interest is studying the subject and finding a story to tell in my way. Looking at art, poetry and particularly  social history. I always hope this is seen by the viewer but the important thing is that I have the background to the piece and this in turn will lead to more work on the same subject.

The next step is the sampling process, both as sketches and materials that will help me make the choices for the final piece. I try not to have preconceived ideas of the materials or techniques I will use and hope that the variety of samples and sketch book ideas will eventually show me a way though.

These sketches and ideas, as well as influencing the final piece give me pleasure in the working. This in turn gives time for thought before rushing into working the first idea that comes into your head.

Ann Wheeler

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