I am an artist that uses nature as my inspiration, and textile as my chosen medium for interpreting the emotional response to what I see and feel of the natural world around me.
I choose to work in fabric and thread as I love the process and rhythm of stitching and the feel and texture of the various fabrics I use in my work.
I take my inspiration from the natural world, particularly the birdlife and native flora of Guernsey’s West Coast. I decided some time ago that I would limit my subject matter to what I saw and experienced within walking distance of my home. To compensate for this potentially limiting subject matter I employ a wide range of styles and techniques as best suited to each piece, including print and paint – but always incorporating stitch as the main component. I might sit on an idea for months, even years, before I find the right fabric, or decide on the best way to interpret the idea in my head.
It is a constant source of pleasure that my twin passions of nature and stitch can find expression in my art.
I was recently asked to find just one word that summed up why I do what I do. After due deliberation, the conclusion I reached is that I stitch for JOY, both in my source of inspiration and in the process. It is my hope that the viewer, in turn, can experience something of this emotion when looking at my work.
©Jenny Mahy. All rights reserved 2020
Coming from an island with few trees, I love taking holidays in the New Forest. When strolling through Fordingbridge, I noticed what I think was a strip of wallpaper at the back of a window display in one of the local gift shops. This inspired my picture of a stand of tall trees, possibly beech, but it doesn’t really matter what type of tree. I just wanted a minimalist approach to what might otherwise be a very busy subject.
I used a piece of grey watered taffeta as the background and worked the trees in a dark linen thread using a simple combination of stitches – or thread marks. As the work progressed, the trees became taller and taller until I eventually ran out of fabric!
This piece gave rise to two smaller embroideries where I stencilled tree-bark patterns unto silk organza and overlaid similar images printed unto white cotton.
SCRUFFY CROWS and FIGHTING COCKS
This piece was originally destined for the Gallery’s ‘Warmth of the Sun’ exhibition in February but didn’t make it as I changed my mind and worked on a picture of swallows instead. The title of the February exhibition made me think about the first migrants to return for the summer breeding season; traditionally chiffchaffs.
I discovered a suitable photograph in an RSPB magazine showing a nest woven in a tangle of undergrowth. I decided to use that as a basis for my embroidery.
The hitherto plain khaki-coloured linen has been bleached with a de-colourant paste, applied with a stick, and a mix of natural threads have been used to suggest the tangle of undergrowth caught in a shaft of sunlight.
Rightly or wrongly, I occasionally feed the Herring Gulls on the West coast headland where I live. I find it exhilarating to watch the birds as they swoop down in large numbers but each seeming to find its own space. I wanted to capture this excitement in this piece of work. Again, I have used printed silk organza overlaying printed cotton fabric with various cut-outs of birds held between the layers. There is no attempt at perspective as I wanted that feeling of chaos that accompanies the bird’s descending on the scraps of food that I throw out for them.
FLIGHT PATTERN – OYSTWERCATCHERS
My favourite seabirds are Oystercatchers; I love their evocative calls and distinctive plumage, especially in the breeding season when their beaks are bright red. I wanted to capture the striking pattern that they make when a flock takes off in unison.
Some time ago I admired a beautiful piece of dark blue linen that had been roughly joined together by a row of white stitching. The owner very generously made me a gift of the piece with the seam down the centre. I kept it safe in my fabric stash until I realised that it would make a perfect horizon for a flock of oystercatchers!
The ‘waves’ have been created by stitching a series of pin-tucks across the length of the fabric then brushing the ridges with lines of diluted bleach. Without this lightening of the fabric, I felt that the black part of the birds would be lost against the navy linen.
The birds were cut from coloured paper and placed/moved/placed until I was happy with the arrangement. During ‘lockdown’ I rationed myself to stitching just half a bird a day – I find the rhythm of hand-stitching to be really calming and totally absorbing and could have stitched all day.
In the spring an article and photograph appeared in the Guernsey Press informing us that the rare sight of a pair of Ospreys had been seen above St Saviours reservoir. I was delighted at the news and wanted to mark it in some way.
I used many photographs and sketches to build up a repertoire of images of Ospreys and eventually decided to treat the textile piece as a series of pencil sketches showing the bird swooping down to snatch its prey (always fish)
I chose natural linen for the background and used only one thread throughout for the bird– a natural dark grey linen but added bright orange silk for its piercing eyes.
Months after finishing this piece, I was looking through old sketchbooks, searching for something entirely unrelated, when I discovered a photograph that I had cut from the front cover of the RSPB magazine in 2015 which showed a swooping osprey in almost identical pose to the one at the bottom of my textile picture. Obviously, this had made an impression on me at the time and was just waiting for the right moment to be expressed in stitch!
PARLIAMENT OF ROOKS
This piece was inspired by a holiday in Exmoor in early May 2018. Sitting with friends in the garden of their hotel, we watched a raucous colony of rooks feeding their young in the trees overhead. Rooks are gregarious animals, so I wanted to include several birds in this composition. I used my own personal sketches and bits of several different photographs to create this piece of work.
The natural background linen has been embellished with overlapping stencils using a combination of oil paint sticks and spray dyes. Some painted areas have subsequently been removed using de-colourant paste. The birds have been hand-stitched, the beaks are painted leather.
SKYFALL – TUMBLING RAVENS
I often store images or ideas until I can decide on the best way of depicting the subject… Two years ago, I witnessed the fascinating acrobatics of three ravens apparently free-falling through the sky above Port Grat. I was entranced by the spectacle and wanted to record this in some way, but finding a suitable background posed a problem. I stored the idea away for future consideration. Then, many months later I was walking above Ronez Quarry following the nature trail and stopped to study patterns of the steep granite sides; it suddenly occurred to me that here was the perfect setting for my acrobatic Ravens!
Working from a full-scale drawing, I cut the pieces of granite from pre-printed fabrics and pinned them in place on a piece of dark linen. After many false starts, I eventually decided on the placement of the rocks and used insertion stitches to secure them, leaving dark fissures to suggest deep cracks in the granite. After many hours of deliberation on the details of the cliff-face, the ravens, which I wanted as plain silhouettes, just fell into place.
In this piece, I wanted to illustrate the power of the wind as it is captured by the wings of seabirds in flight and the sails of a yacht.
Method – I drew a full-scale image on stiff paper and, when I was satisfied with the drawing, I cut it up into its various parts. Each piece was then covered with fabric and the relevant fabrics tacked in place over the card template. The pieces of fabric-covered card were then oversewn together using the English patchwork method. Once the background was complete, Herring gulls were hand-stitched across the face of the sails.
When the picture had been stretched over the backing card, white ‘rigging’ threads were laced across the finished piece to create a feeling of tension.
The piece entitled ‘Catching the Wind’ was created in much the same way but I decided to leave the bird images as outlines rather than fill them in as solid shapes.
Inspired by the Nui Project Japan
The Nui Project is a creative art group of embroidery at a rehabilitative facility for handicapped people, Shobu Gakuen.
“The act of sewing is, both in Western or Eastern cultures, a highly developed handcraft that satisfies both practical and ornamental purposes. Its techniques have been invented in each culture and contain elements of social objectives. The embroidery of the ‘Nui Project’, however, is not constrained by any culture, as it is highly personal. We cannot find any conventional stitch or pattern in it.”
Yukiko Koide (no date) ‘Upon the Exhibit, “Fabulous Fabrics: Made in Japan”’, in Nui Project – Embroidery Stitches.
Rock Pool Sets of 3, 7 x 6 cm (£15.00 for a set of 3)
MEN OF THE TREES
Linen covered card, stitched decoration. 36 x 18cm, £95.00