Quilter Magazine Review by Ann Gibson


Quilter Magazine Review by Ann Gibson

Review for The Quilter

Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, Greater Manchester
11 October 2014 – 31 January 2015

Ask anyone about Rachael Howard and they will all have a special piece they remember: the Indian Embroidery Factory (first exhibited at Ruthin Craft Centre in1998 and now owned by the German Museum of Technology, Berlin) and Find Me (shown in 2006 in ‘Art of the Stitch and Scholar’, a travelling exhibition, and now belonging to the Embroiderer’s Guild) featuring high on the list; for others it’s simply the drawing. Most of us are in awe of her sketched lines, reproducing an image so effortlessly, and her mark making forming new life on a page or textile surface with such alacrity. Those who have attended her workshops are always enthused and elated. Howard draws every day. “Drawing is key to all I do”, she says and she maintains that everyone has the ability to draw – that if you can use a pencil to form words, you can draw.

Narrative is also important and it threads its way through this new work. It is no surprise to learn that the catalyst for this subject matter was a redwork quilt she saw at the American Museum in Bath in 2009 at the Exhibition ‘American Beauty – Art from Craft in 19th Century America’. At the time she was intrigued and bought some linen shortly after with a project in mind: linen she has horded until now and used for ‘Red Work’.

Utilising many of her signature techniques: line drawing, screen-printing, machine and hand stitching, appliqué and beading, ‘Red Work’ reinvents the redwork quilts and coverlets of the late 1880s and early 1900s which made good use of the ‘new’ and ‘washable’ Turkey Red dye. Howard follows the same recognisable pattern – squares outlined with stitching – and shares much of the imagery: designs associated with domesticity; simple motifs of flowers, animals, birds and children in scenes adapted from everyday life. For the original quilts some women created their own pictorial images or copied images from children’s books or household items but the majority of the designs were drawn by professional illustrators and easily and cheaply purchased. Children were very involved in the making process, often embroidering their own squares. In a similar vein Howard’s children, too, have been involved here, their words and their art incorporated in so many of the pieces.

It was while Artist in Residence at Liverpool Hope University in 2012 that Howard honed her skills in digital printing, the results of which feature in the exhibition. Digital imaging is currently favoured by many professional artists and illustrators: it is quick and speedy; it is descriptive of the hectic pace that life is lived today. And it is this almost chaotic pace that Howard has caught, captured and virtually ‘posted’. You have to achieve an economy of line, she explains, or the subject is gone.

For the first time, Howard’s work is accompanied by sound. Nigel Piper describes immersing himself in the ‘world of Rachael’ to compose a selection of ‘vignettes’, of sounds recorded while Howard was at work in her home – with her children never far way. This was available via a single head piece at the entrance to the exhibition but, as one viewer expressed in the visitors book, it would have been wonderful to have had the sound accompanying you as you walked around the exhibition.

‘Red Work’ was curated by Jenny Waterson to commemorate Waterside Arts Centre’s 10th anniversary. The exhibition will move to the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead, from 7th February to 22nd March 2015 and from there will be available for tour.

Ann Gibson, The Quilter Magazine