Did you ever think that embroidery could be used to embody political views?  Well, that’s one of the topics that embroidery artist Rowan Bridgwood explores in her work. 

In this week’s Spotlight blog post, she explains how embroidery becomes a language for her, to voice what her words can’t. She also uses it as a way to calm her anxiety.

Find out more about Rowan’s story here…

Rowan at work

Where do you live and what do you love about it?

I live in Bury, a town just outside Manchester. Within easy travelling distance to the city and close to the lovely countryside, it’s the best of both worlds. We have a small but thriving art scene here, especially focused at Bury Art Museum, which I have the pleasure of being involved in their current year-long exhibition, ‘Spirit of a Place’.

Manchester is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s been at the heart of so many important endeavours: the suffragette movement, modern computer science and fantastic music! I can always lose myself in Manchester’s creative scene – a wander around the galleries, a browse in the Craft and Design Centre, and a drink in one of the Northern Quarter’s quirky bars: perfection!

What do you make/create?

I create contemporary hand-embroidered art.

How would you describe your work?

My work weaves together personal memory, mythology and literary fragments to visualise my concerns for our world; of politics, relationships, and the female experience. My hand embroidery explores the nature of our inner worlds. Its quiet and contemplative method reflects the quiet and often silenced voices within us. Embroidery becomes a language for me, a way to make a lasting mark, in the way words cannot. 

I work with a range of textiles as my canvas, from creating intricately stitched imagery on hoop-mounted muslin to more abstract pieces on inherited and reclaimed fabric. I enjoy the contrast of using traditional embroidery techniques with modern imagery and unconventional materials. Much of my work begins with reclaimed material. Aged fabric has an inherent history, which often provides a meaningful starting point and process of making. The continued mark-making on domestic textiles binds together the past and present narratives of both fabric and the women who use them. Using such materials simultaneously celebrates and subverts them in order to explore the concept of femininity that such textiles helped construct. 

What do you love about what you do?

I love the nature of embroidery. It has such a history and lineage to it that I love to both honour and subvert. My work is often centred around women, their bodies and experiences and the medium of embroidery lends itself so well to this. The domestic ‘women’s work’ of needle and thread that for years were many women’s only creative outlet, now allows me to explore our marginalised histories and personal stories.

What/who inspires you and why?

My most common inspirations come from the world around me, whether that’s ground-breaking political decisions, or simple perceptions of people I meet every day. Our world today is a complicated place and the way we communicate is vital for helping us make sense of it all. But all too often our voices are silenced, whether through pressure from others or the expectations we place on ourselves. I want to capture those silenced inner voices in thread.

What’s your favourite piece and why?

My current favourite piece is ‘Absent Friends’. I made it during the height of lockdown and it really expresses how I was feeling during that difficult time. We have all lost something to the pandemic, whether it is time spent separated from our loved ones, our work, or our health and I wanted to create something that explored that sense of communal loss.

How did you get into doing what you do?

I turned to embroidery as a way to ease my anxiety. It’s such a slow and mindful medium, it consequently slows and quiets the mind as each stitch falls into place. It started as a hobby, a way to escape the tedium of my office day job and provide a creative outlet I felt I lacked. I joined a community stitch social (MCR Sew Social), which introduced me to not only fellow stitchers but to textile artists. 

There I found a wealth of creativity that I rarely saw in any gallery. That planted a seed in me that wanted to not only embrace this community, but to push it forward. And to get textile art into more galleries – to champion it as the beautiful and meaningful medium it is. I now co-run MCR Sew Social and am able to work full-time as a textile artist.

Where would you like to see your business in five years’ time?

I would love to continue to get my work out into the world. My first solo exhibition is in September at the Fish Factory Art Space in Penryn, Cornwall, which I’m looking forward to immensely. I would also love to show in more art and craft fairs. Textiles and embroidery are often under-represented and I’d love to change that!

Who is your dream customer – if you could pick anyone (dead or alive!)

I’d love to meet Tracey Emin, she’s a huge inspiration for me. Her textile works are challenging, subversive and always have something to say. I’m not sure what she’d think of my work, but I’d love to find out!

How can other people get involved in stitching?

If anyone in the Greater Manchester area would like to give stitching or any other textile craft a go, or perhaps already sews, crochets or knits and wants to meet some friendly, like-minded people, please do join us at our monthly stitch socials. More details can be found on our Instagram @mcr_sewsocial. 

You can find out more about Rowan and her work here.