As one of the Cotswolds' most exciting arts destinations, New Brewery Arts in Cirencester hosts thoughtful exhibitions and creative craft workshops throughout the year, as well as supporting local makers through providing studio space and selling their products in its shop.
SoGlos caught up with Sophie Bowen, an emerging textile artist with a studio at New Brewery Arts, about how she creates her unique pieces, why natural dyes and sustainable fibres are really important to her and when people can catch her at work.
Tell us about your craft.
I am an artist using natural dyes, print and hand embroidery to connect to nature and mindfulness.
How did you get started?
From as early as I can remember I have always enjoyed drawing and creating. This evolved over the years taking me to Falmouth University in Cornwall where I studied BA drawing and had a really great time exploring the outdoors and discovering new ways of seeing and looking at the world through drawing.
It was there where I began to develop my own personal visual language and really tap into understanding drawing as a tool for thinking and connecting with the world and myself. The next stage was going on to study an MA in textiles.
What drew you to textiles?
It made sense for me to move towards textiles and I would say this happened quite naturally. I started exploring embroidery as a drawing medium because I was curious about the rhythm of hand stitching and how an act of movement facilitates a particular state of mind. Just like walking in the landscape or the way marks made with pen or pencil journey across a surface.
Textiles is a very hands on form of expression and there are many methods for translating different layers of thought.
How do you go about creating a piece? Where do you start?
I usually begin gathering inspiration with a walk in nature and some simple observational drawings; usually looking closely at a plant or natural form. I like collecting things on my walks too.
I make responses to my observational drawings such as overlaying tracing paper and repeating lines and shapes to create new forms. I continue doing this until I get something that feels interesting.
When I make my finished pieces, I like to keep these visual references in mind but also not plan too much so that I can allow space for intuition. I enjoy seeing something unfold organically.
What techniques do you use in your process?
I hand dye all of my embroidery yarn with natural dyes and I also use the dyes to make drawing inks. The colours produced are dependent on what plants and dye materials are available to me at the time.
With my embroidery I employ repetition to create a sense of flow, drawing the eye in to all the little variations within the same repeated stitch. And recently, I’ve been exploring batik as a resist method, which I am working on introducing to a new collection of artwork.
Why is it so important to you to use natural dyes in your work?
I am very influenced by place and the seasons, so creating natural dyes from plants collected on my walks allows me to feel more connected. I love seeing how nature produces colours that reflect that particular season, such as deep oranges from autumn dahlias.
To me, these outcomes are like visual recollections of being in a particular time and place. I also feel an importance in making connections with people about all the plants around us that produce colour.
What are your favourite things to create?
This is hard to answer, I enjoy each process for different reasons! Hand embroidery is slow and considered, facilitating a meditative state of mind.
Drawing with a brush and ink allows for a more spontaneous and immediate response to space, which feels free.
And then with natural dyeing, it is a joy to see what colours can be produced from something I’ve collected in nature. I love exploring how I can bring these components together.
New Brewery Arts’ current exhibition, Fibreshed, is all about sustainability in textiles – tell us about how sustainability influences your artworks.
It would feel contradictory for me to not consider using sustainable materials and processes. Having a love and curiosity for nature means I want to celebrate and protect it.
Sustainability is another really important reason why I choose to use natural dyes. I work with fibres that are natural and certified such as my silk yarns, linens and cottons. These are regenerative, unlike synthetic fibres.
When can people see you at work at New Brewery Arts?
I am in my studio Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
For more information about New Brewery Arts' latest exhibition, see Fibreshed at New Brewery Arts.