30th October 2014

Artist Profile: Karen Hall

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Oekaki World is all about celebrating the clever and creative of the sewing world – we’re always looking for others who love beautiful sewing as much as we do. After all that hard work, want to share our finds with you! The Artist Profiles are a way to show off the best and brightest of British textiles artists, from all kinds of backgrounds, methods and styles. 

This month we reached out to Karen Hall, a professional textile artist originally from Manchester.

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Now living in Bessacarr, Doncaster with her two children, Karen produces beautiful thread sketches through delicate free-hand machine embroidery. She graduated from Loughborough University with a first class honors degree in Multimedia Textile design in 1997. Afterwards she spent 10 years working in manufacturing and product development for the fashion industry supplying to high street stores. Unable to continue travelling abroad with work due to having children, she became a full time mum and is now a self employed textile artist. Karen first caught our attention due to her stunning woodland animal canvases, with her distinctive trailing thread style.

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What was it about textile art and sewing that first captured your attention?

There’s a strong family tradition of involvement in textiles, dating back to 17th Century. Whilst my direct ancestors were tailors, cotton and silk manufacturers and weavers, my grandfather was a textile manager at the dyers and printers Courtaulds. My grandmother was a milliner. My granddad taught himself to knit whilst a prisoner of war, and then taught me to knit at a very young age. My mum was a Lecturer in needlecraft and design, and introduced me to the sewing machine at the kitchen table whilst she was dressmaking.

Visiting many 19th Century mills as a child may have influenced my interest in the historic and construction side of textiles. I was always fascinated by the machine aesthetics and the vast processes required to produce cloth. As I experimented with techniques during my A-levels and Art Foundation in Manchester, I found using the sewing machine as my drawing tool gave me the freedom to produce unconventional pieces, which diverged from the typical expectations of more traditional machine made products.

Where do you draw inspiration from when you work?

My work is inspired from so many different avenues. British wildlife (I’m an avid bird-watcher so spend a lot of time outdoors), seasons, books, photography, and my collections of antique electrical paraphernalia, vintage haberdashery and trinkets. There’s too many to mention! I have over 20 years worth of sketch books filled to the brim with notes and drawings, which I often revisit as food for thought.

As a self employed full time mum, how do you balance your work, talks, teaching and life?

My work load is mainly commission based, so when orders coincide it’s time for me to move up a gear and utilise my professional head. Of course completing a degree and working in the fast-paced fashion industry has put me in great stead to balance caring for my children and running my business. Stitching, talks and workshops all occur during the day between the school run. My favourite time to stitch though is when the children are in bed. I’m often the last light out on my street!

Textile Art Stag. Image courtesy of Karen Hall, Etsy.

Textile Art Stag. Image courtesy of Karen Hall, Etsy.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your work process when you start a new piece?

When starting a commission I formulate the subject, colour choice and layout in my mind. Once this is all balanced in my minds eye, I draft them out in my sketch book. I then attach fabric swatches taken from my vast collection of fabric, and experiment with them. I know when an idea will work as I become excitedly obsessed with it right from the start.

We’re stunned by all of your work, but what do you consider your personal favourite piece?

My most favourite piece so far was produced as a joint project. I met a folk artist by chance whilst our kids were playing, and although from very different backgrounds with regards to style and favoured medium, we both agreed that we had to make something together to capture the enthusiasm and inspiration we felt for one another. We began making a bag, using vintage haberdashery finds, car parts and leather pieces, teaching each other new skills and letting the design spontaneously grow. It turned into a gift for the the person who, unbeknownst to her, had brought us together. Completely surprised to hear we had made the bag and it was a gift to her, the new bag owner then broke the news to us that she was starting cancer treatment the following day, and so was very appreciative of our gift at this moment in her life.

It sounds like you’re very open to new directions – where would you like your work to go in the future?

I’m currently expanding where I sell my work and perform workshops, and sourcing new outlets which compliment bespoke art pieces.

I love sharing my skills, and I hope to continue passing on the wonders of textiles and endless possibilities of free-hand embroidery and textile art with my children and others.

We’d like to thank Karen for taking them time to talk to us about her work, life and art. You can contact Karen by email at karenhalltextileartist@gmail.comvisit her Etsy shop, or join her on facebook.

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