Indie Oxford Interview: Freestyle Textiles
Today we chat to Eleanor Matthews from Freestyle Textiles, which celebrates an art form that is thousands of years old. They promote textile art by showcasing the work of the UK’s foremost textile artists, and share skills and techniques in ‘Draw with Stitch’ workshops so that anyone can discover the joy of creating their own work.
Tell me about Freestyle Textiles and how it came about.
I have always been interested in textiles, but didn’t realise that there is such a vibrant textile art community out there until a couple of years ago, when I happened across an image on Pinterest. I realised that it had been “drawn” with a sewing machine and clicked on it to find out more. Some hours later I emerged blinking into the real world, my interest piqued and my education underway. I was at a point in my career where I had a bit more time on my hands and decided to play with the idea, put on some workshops and invite artists to come to Oxford to talk to people who might be interested in hearing what they have to say. Et voila – Freestyle Textiles was born!
Where did your love of textile art come from?
When I was growing up I tried every kind of textile-based hobby from dressmaking to needle felting but, like many people, I didn’t think of myself as artistic in any way, having been told I wasn’t “arty” at school. Then I realised that the things I was making were moving away from being useful and towards being beautiful (but pointless) and started to read more about what other people were doing. That spurred me on to try new things and to explore new artists, go to different galleries and generally immerse myself in the world of textile art.
I find the process of creating something hugely therapeutic, whether it’s the repetitive rhythm of knitting, the slow build of hand embroidery, or the hypnotic whirring of the sewing machine.
What does making mean to you?
I love the process of making and always have more than one project on the go. I love planning an idea, then sampling techniques and materials. I find the process of creating something hugely therapeutic, whether it’s the repetitive rhythm of knitting, the slow build of hand embroidery, or the hypnotic whirring of the sewing machine. Seeing something emerge from the piles of scraps, skeins of yarn or bundles of threads is so satisfying.
Who are your customers?
We have had a really diverse community of women come to the workshops – sadly still only one man, and that was my husband, doing his best to understand what on earth I get up to! We have had everyone from beginners to seasoned crafters and stitchery gurus. The youngest person at a workshop was 8 and the oldest probably a good fifty or sixty years older than that. Anyone who wants to learn more about machine embroidery and is willing to have a go and have fun is welcome.
What workshops do you offer?
We offer workshops to learn the skills of freestyle machine embroidery. This is effectively using a sewing machine to draw a picture. We use photographs for inspiration and then follow a simple technique which means that everyone can create something they are proud of. The workshops are designed so that beginners don’t feel out of their depth and experts don’t feel frustrated by the pace.
Are you doing any events this year?
Our last event scheduled for this year is on 20th October and the (internationally exhibited superstar) textile artist Rosie James is going to lead a day-long session to share some of her experience. The people who are lucky enough to have a space will be creating a book of samples based on the techniques that she uses in her own work.
Who inspires you?
There are a lot of artists that I love. Rosie is a real favourite of mine, but also love the work of Debbie Smyth, who works with pins and captured threads; Harriet Riddell, who creates work real-time as a kind of textile-based performance; Mr Finch, whose amazing sculptures take “soft toys” to another level; Louise Riley, whose embroiders portraits on discarded mattresses. There are really too many to mention
What would be your advice for anyone wanting to nurture their creativity?
Forget everything you think about how “arty” or creative you are and just get started. Dabble, take a class, doodle, read books about techniques, go to galleries, contact artists and ask to see their studios. Chuck out the word “should” and instead use the word “could” and then see what happens.
Lastly, tell us about your favourite indie businesses in Oxford.
I love Oxford and there are some really brilliant small businesses. For art, the Sarah Wiseman Gallery gives a constantly changing window with lots of inspiration. For food I love Portabello because it is so reliable, and my husband and I always sit on the same table and eat the same food but never get bored of it. Louise Holt interior design is where I look for inspiration when I want to give my home a bit of a classy upgrade. We are lucky enough to have loads of great independent businesses on our doorsteps and should be supporting them to make sure that continues to be the case.
It’s so great to support a business that is promoting creativity in such an inclusive way. We’re really excited about the workshop on 20th October with Rosie James. You can find out more and book your space here. Hope to see you there!
Love, Rosie xxx