with Alison Holt
on 04 July 2017
Alison Holt, renowned machine embroidery artist, visited us to talk about her 30 year journey through her artistic life. It began at Shrewsbury Art School, on a foundation course running two parallel strands of textiles and drawing. Her natural talent in producing photographic like sketches is evident in her detailed, embroidered landscapes. On the textile course, she produced representational, handstitched pieces and again her work was detailed, often taking six weeks to produce one piece.
Her portfolio earned her a place at Goldsmiths and she learned many new textile techniques there. A critique by Audrey Walker of her hand stitched shawl asked, “Why didn’t you machine stitch it?” Seeing the advantage of the time saved by using a machine, Alison gave it a go. Thinking of it as a drawing tool, and with considerable experience in detailed drawing, she took to it instantly and her next piece, 3’ by 2’, was a layered, machined landscape.
She graduated from Goldsmiths, not particularly wanting to teach, but realising that at the time it was an option for her to support herself, she got a job at Wrexham College teaching textiles, and stayed there for three years. She then took a decisive step and moved into Barn Studios in 1982 and there she developed her art by painting the backgrounds on silk before embroidering the landscapes. Batsford, recognising her talent, asked her to write a book on Machine Embroidered Landscapes in 1990 and, since then, more books have followed with her latest being Machine Embroidered Seascapes.
To keep herself fresh, she has focused on different subjects from fruit and vegetables, through snow and frost, and the sea. She works from her photographs, printed out to size as her starting point. She showed us a series of slides that illustrated the steps in the process of creating a machine embroidered landscape.
In 2013, Steven Tai, a fashion designer, contacted her, asking her to create a sweater; she imagined it was a piece to be placed on the front of the garment. It was, however, the entire front and sleeves of the sweater with an image she described as Heidi meets War of the Worlds! She learned about the demanding world of fashion and the time constraints to adhere to. She certainly broke out of her comfort zone with this piece and it was shown on the catwalks of Paris and Toronto. She has tried unsuccessfully to get a piece into the Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition, believing as many of us do, that textile pieces are worthy of being described as art.