Meeting with a passionate artist, modest and in love with nature.
Interview with Claire de Pourtalès
All photos are copyright © Collette Kinley – Please do not download them without her consent.
Collette in her workshop ©Collette Kinley
The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire
I’m Collette Kinley, also known as Sewn by Collette Kinley. I’m a 43-year-old self – taught textile and embroidery artist. A member of the Society of Embroidered Works SEW, a society working towards getting embroidery and textile art recognised as the art form it is. I’m originally from the beautiful historic city of Norwich, where I lived until my early twenties. Norwich is a city steeped in history, with tiny back streets full of unique independent shops. It’s situated close to the beautiful Norfolk coastline, somewhere I spent many a weekend as a child. The sound of the waves crashing onto the shore, the salty air you could taste on the tip of your tongue, the sand constantly moving to create ever changing patterns, the big moody Norfolk skies. These memories are etched onto my mind. Being outdoors in such a beautiful, raw landscape when I was growing up definitely sowed the seed for my greater appreciation of the outside world and all it has to offer. It was the foundation to my lifelong interest in the natural world which is now an integral part of my art.
First embroidery, designed ans stitches at 14 ©Collette Kinley
My first ever attempt at embroidery was for part of my Art G.C.S.E. coursework, when I was 14 years old. I was prolific at drawing and working in coloured pencils, though I was never a natural painter. I knew I would need to use some other medium to demonstrate more variety within my coursework. I had always had a keen interest in arts and crafts, as a teenager when my peers were buying girls magazines, I was buying the art and craft ones. My first embroidery I designed myself and, a colourful garden scene, learning new stitches from books as I went along. It was the first time I had ever done a French knot. I didn’t pick up a needle again until 20 years later.
My textile journey really began to evolve about 8 years ago from when I started to make clothes for my youngest daughter. This quickly went from me just making clothes for my daughter to designing and selling clothes online and at fairs. After a couple of years this started to feel creatively restrictive, I was missing my first love of drawing. I then stumbled across Poppy Treffry’s book on free-motion embroidery. This opened up a whole new avenue of textiles to explore. It ignited my curiosity to experiment and was the start of my ever increasing library of sewing and embroidery books. It was the first steppingstone to where I am now.
I started to make pretty, if a little twee, houses in appliqué. This developed into me having an order book that was full of bespoke house portraits. Whilst I was fulfilling my orders, I was also taking the time to experiment in my newfound love of textiles. My subject matter started to digress more into birds, insects, and fish and with this deviation I also changed the way my work was created. I started to use my sewing machine more like I would a pencil. This drawing in thread was pivotal in finally finding a way I could express my passion for the natural world.
I now work from a studio in rural Cambridgeshire. My workroom is my place of sanctuary and solitude. When I close the door, I can leave everything other than my creative work outside. It’s a small, cosy, charming room, flooded with tranquil tones and warm natural light. The shelves are filled to the brim with the things I take inspiration from; whether that be vintage sewing or natural history books, to objects I have collected over the years. These range from bird feathers to twigs with vibrant orange lichen, discarded bird’s nests, as well as stones and shells with different textures and structure. I try to observe things that are ordinarily overlooked so my audience can see them through my eyes. I want to pass on a greater appreciation of the beauty in nature and hence increase awareness of the plight of climate change.
I have now been embroidering by hand for the last couple of years, maybe with age I appreciate the slower stitch. Free motion embroidery can be quite quick whereas with hand embroidery I find it gives me the time to work more instinctively.
Allotment a bird’ eye view ©Collette Kinley
My latest piece Allotment a Bird’s Eye View had been an idea in my head for a long time. I have an early memory of sitting in the car at a roundabout in Norwich. On the left were allotment; I was mesmerised. They have an organisation both aesthetically and on a practical level, yet there is an unkemptness too. I’m drawn to that juxtaposition. I was working on another piece of work; a beetle and I don’t know why but for some reason I was feeling restless with it. I am an artist who usually needs to finish one piece before starting another so this was unusual. The stitching of the allotment just flowed. I was completely immersed. Nine different stitches illustrate different forms and textures. I had never done a bullion knot or a turkey stitch before but learning new techniques on a need-to-know basis is part of how I work and my process. This allows me to evolve and build my textile and embroidery repertoire. As the allotment slowly started to grow, I posted work-in-progress shots on my social media platforms. I was really apprehensive as it was so different to my usual subject matter. The work went viral with over 500, 000 having viewed it and one post getting 35,000 likes. The piece really resonated with people. I think it’s because it alluded to the freedom we had all been so accustomed to before lockdown, alongside an increased awareness to outdoor surroundings, nature and bird song.
A kind person on Twitter suggested I enter my work into the Saatchi-Gallery Textile Takeover. To complete my piece by the deadline I have never stitched with such vigour! I was totally overwhelmed when I won, I really couldn’t believe it. This was the same emotional reaction I had when I became a member of The Society of Embroidered Works. To have that recognition by The Saatchi Gallery that firstly textile and embroidery is art and secondly that my work was credited with being one of the winners was an amazing feeling.
My textile journey has taught me to keep doing what you love, let change happen when it feels right and most importantly do what is important to you, not what you think is important to others.