Self portrait of Lesley Wood that won her 1st prize Hand and Lock Award

Lesley Wood: Threads of Memories

Lesley Wood is a distinguished textile mixed media artist whose evocative works have captured the attention of art lovers and critics alike. With a B.A (Hons) in Fine Art from Loughborough College of Art & Design, and further qualifications from Leeds Polytechnic and Sheffield Polytechnic, Wood’s academic background laid a solid foundation for her creative journey. Transitioning from a dedicated career in art and special needs education, where she served as Head of Department until 2016, Wood has since fully immersed herself in her artistic practice.

Wood’s artistic legacy is deeply inspired by figures and women, and the origins of domestic textiles, and the intimate history embedded within everyday textiles. Her creations often feature vintage fabrics, which she transforms through hand stitching and mixed media techniques to forge new, poignant narratives. These textiles, once marked by their previous owners, are given new life, evoking memories and emotional connections that resonate with viewers.

Since 2016, Wood has exhibited her work in numerous prestigious galleries across the UK, including The Mall Galleries in London and The Mercer Gallery in Harrogate. Her talent has been consistently recognized, garnering her several awards, such as the first prize at the Hand & Lock Open Textile Art Prize in 2021, the Madeira Threads U.K. competition in 2023, and the coveted Margaret Nicholson Award for Composition from The Embroiderers’ Guild the same year.

A member of notable organisations such as The Embroiderers’ Guild, Northern Threads, and The Society For Embroidered Work, Wood continues to push the boundaries of textile art. Her dedication extends beyond her own practice, as she actively participates in the art community through volunteering, delivering talks, and conducting workshops. Lesley Wood’s work is a testament to the power of textiles to tell stories, merge past with present, and evoke a profound sense of nostalgia and wonder. Join us as we delve deeper into her artistic journey, inspirations, and the unique processes behind her celebrated creations.

Lesley Wood

Self portrait of Lesley Wood that won her 1st prize Hand and Lock Award

“Initially I inherited a lot of table linen, threads, notions etc from family and so decided to work with these items. Vintage domestic textiles often bear the marks of previous makers and owners and hold memories within the fibres. Using a range of mixed media and techniques I aim to create new narratives out of the biography of the cloth.”

Tell us about your background and your journey to creating your own textile business.

I am a mixed media textile artist living in Durham in the Northeast of England. From studying art and gaining a Fine Art degree in painting I taught art and design in secondary schools for many years. Retirement meant I could fully focus on my creative practice.

During my teaching career, time for my own artwork was precious but I did continue painting and drawing and introduced collage into my artwork. When my mother died, I inherited her cross-stitch threads and so my journey into textile art began.

I realised quite quickly that I needed to improve my stitching skills so joined the local branch of the Embroiderers’Guild. This group of talented ladies encouraged and supported me, and the guild gave me the opportunity to attend artists’ talks, workshops and exhibit my work. To my surprise my work was awarded some regional prizes and some pieces even sold. This gave me the confidence to submit work to other competitions and gallery open calls.

My hand stitched work continues to develop which mostly features people and birds on reclaimed fabrics. I still pick up a paintbrush from time to time but discovering the delights of fabric and thread has been a real joy and boost to my creativity.

Hand embroidered magpie on vintage cloth by Lesley Wood

Where do your pieces originate from? What materials do you use?

When using vintage fabrics my imagination is sparked by the marks and stains left by the previous owners and makers. I attempt to create a new narrative out of the biography of the cloth. Words, phrases, idioms and some human behaviour can inspire me and lead to figurative work.

I often use a mind map at the start of a project followed by written notes, sketches and photos. I collect together materials (fabrics, plastics, papers) and ephemera of all kinds. Then start auditioning and layering up the materials on the base fabric. This can take some time as a lot of repositioning occurs. To add the figurative or bird elements to the piece; I usually sketch this using an erasable pen and sometimes some paint.

If working on very dark fabric I might sketch the image onto dissolvable fabric. Once sketched I start stitching. I don’t use many embroidery stitches mostly straight stitch and back stitch. I use stranded cotton, silk and sewing threads many of these I have sourced from charity shops. Embellishments (buttons, beads etc) are added to complete these mixed media fabric collages.

mixed media artwork and embroidery by Lesley Wood

What do you enjoy most about stitching?

The joy I get from stitching is immense. Hand embroidery is a slow technique, so I’m forced to slow down which gives me time to really consider each colour I apply, the textures and placement. That head space may affect changes not in my original plans. Unlike machine stitching hand stitching doesn’t require electricity making it a very mobile process. I feel the benefits it has on my mental health.

Textile Artwork by Lesley Wood

You’ve been working exclusively in the textile art field since 2016 – how did you find the transition into your own business?

My transition from painting to working with fabric and thread coincided with my retirement from full time teaching. My paintings in the past contained collage and mixed media elements so the inclusion of textiles wasn’t totally alien. Initially I started selling my work to cover the costs of materials, workshops etc.

I feel very fortunate that I can create original work that expresses and communicates my ideas and isn’t made on mass to order. I still get a buzz when someone buys a piece of my work. I’m gradually getting to grips with the pricing of work which was a struggle in the past. I love living in beautiful Durham but visiting and submitting work to London and other southern galleries can be difficult and costly.

hand embroidery work by Lesley Wood

How much did your fine arts degree contribute to the artist you are today?

My current work is fine art I simply draw, paint and create with fabric, thread and numerous other materials. My fine art degree course gave me the opportunity to experiment and develop my technical skills. But I do also feel my teaching experience has contributed to my current success. Drawing has always been important to me whatever medium I’m using so it remains an essential part of my creative practice.

Do you take commissions from the public or solely produce work for sale/exhibition?

From numerous sources of inspiration or concepts I create original pieces of work. Sometimes the existing pieces seem to fit an exhibition theme and at other times the work evolves from a brief or theme. I have done some commission work but I’m careful when accepting these as hand embroidery is slow and requires a lot of time.

Portrait of the lady by Lesley Wood

You use an amazing array of materials within your work. Can you tell us what your rational for including them is? Can you suggest ways or processes whereby our students could begin to do the same?

Initially I inherited a lot of table linen, threads, notions etc from family and so decided to work with these items. Vintage domestic textiles often bear the marks of previous makers and owners and hold memories within the fibres. Using a range of mixed media and techniques I aim to create new narratives out of the biography of the cloth. The workmanship in some of these domestic textiles is amazing. It deserves to be displayed and not left hidden in a drawer. I rarely buy new fabric now and prefer working with my charity finds.

Woman on her phone, hand embroidered by Lesley Wood

You have won an amazing array of prestigious awards – Madeira 2023, hand and Lock 2021 etc. Can you give our followers and students some insight into participating in these competitions please?

The first international textile competition I entered was the 2021 Hand & Lock Textile Open Award. At the time I had a slim knowledge of this historic London embroidery house. It was the competition brief ‘Digital Doppelgängers in a Virtual World’ that really attracted my attention.

My winning piece was a hand embroidered self portrait called ‘Digital Shadows of Self’. Using the internet for family history research I discovered a number of my ancestors. From the photographs I questioned the existence of family traits and likenesses. Were they, my doppelgängers? The camera had captured these distant relatives and frozen them in time. This led me to reference Peter Pan the boy who never grew old and his image portrayed by other artists.

The result was a very personal piece including a cloud of old family photos that happened to fulfil the brief and was awarded first prize. I would recommend any would be entrants to read the brief carefully, stick to and trust your own process. It was thrilling having my work validated and exhibited in the London Bankside gallery. The award has bought me recognition and spurred on my creative practice.

The 2023 brief for the Madeira Threads Award was again the incentive for me to enter a piece for the mostly hand embroidered category. I created a blue portrait of a Blues singer for the theme ‘Colour Your Life’ from some pieces of cyanotype fabric and Madeira threads ( which had been part of my Hand & Lock prize).

Portraiture is a favourite genre of mine. Therefore sticking to this familiar subject matter and familiar mixed media techniques resulted in a successful outcome. Staying with one of my favourite subjects also applied to ‘Stash Joy’ which was awarded the Margaret Nicholson award for composition in this year’s Embroiderers’ Guild challenge. Two magpies fluttering over a stash of materials worked perfectly for the ‘Layers’ theme.

Hand Embroidered Portrait of an elderly lady by Lesley Wood

What can we expect from you next?

I hope to continue enjoying hand embroidery, exhibiting, delivering talks and a few workshops.  My ‘wish list’ includes improving my tech skills and acquiring more studio space. I also want to explore combining stitch with other techniques such as print and encaustic work. This is a wish list I’m not sure all will materialise! Exciting times ahead. Discover more by visiting her website or follow Lesley Wood on Instagram

What we learned from Lesley Wood

1. Journey into Textile Art:

Lesley Wood transitioned from a career in teaching art and design to becoming a full-time textile artist after retirement. Her journey into textile art began after inheriting her mother’s cross-stitch threads, leading her to explore and improve her stitching skills.

2. Inspirational Background:

Vintage fabrics with marks and stains from previous owners inspire Wood, as she creates new narratives from the history embedded in the cloth. Words, phrases, idioms, and human behaviour often inspire her figurative work.

3. Creative Process:

Wood uses a mind map, written notes, sketches, and photos to start her projects, followed by layering and repositioning materials on the base fabric. Her work features minimal embroidery stitches, mainly straight stitch and back stitch, and incorporates embellishments like buttons and beads.

4. Artistic Enjoyment and Mental Health:

Hand embroidery allows Wood to slow down and thoughtfully consider each element of her work, which she finds beneficial for her mental health. The slow, mobile nature of hand stitching contrasts with the quick, stationary process of machine stitching.

5. Challenges and Successes in Business:

Transitioning to her own textile art business involved adapting her pricing strategy and navigating the logistics of exhibiting work in distant galleries. Selling original work that communicates her ideas remains a source of joy and fulfilment.

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