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Directory Maker of the Week: Melanie Bowles

Part of the Brixton Design Trail at London Design Festival this September

Our Directory Maker of the Week, Melanie Bowles, talks to us about getting into making, what inspires her and her favourite part of the making process.

Who or what got you into making?

I was a maker from a young age and was brought up in the 1970’s with Blue Peter, Vision On, Golden Hands Encyclopedia and Reader Digest Manuals. I loved poring over these DIY projects imagining all the quirky things I could make out of toilet rolls, egg boxes and scraps of fabrics. In the 70's things were practical, functional and resourceful, that was how I was brought up, on Tupperware, food processors and home-made jeans. 

My mother was from Suffolk and rural crafts such as basket weaving, leatherwork and dressmaking surrounded me as a child. As a result I have always been interested in domestic crafts and how it is embedded into family life. This is echoed through my latest book ‘Print Make Wear’ – Laurence King, Creative projects using digital print technology. All the projects translate a traditional craft technique using Photoshop or Illustrator ready to print your designs and make into garments. 

I studied embroidery at Manchester Metropolitan and was interested in the digital embroidery even though it was early in its development. Throughout my career I have been interested in the relationship between craft and technology. My publications aim to make design software inspiring for textile design and accessible for all to combine making, craft and computer skills through digital print technology. 

Writing books, lecturing, running workshops, creating events that celebrate the activity making for the individual, the family or a community is at the heart of my work. 

Could you please tell us a bit about your work?

Recently I have been working with hand and digital embroidery techniques, translating traditional stitch structures using the commercial digital embroidery machine Tajima. Pushing the limits of the machine beyond its commercial boundaries to create ‘Digital Craftworks’ I enjoy the combining the processes of slow and fast, hand and digital using all my skills to create innovative artworks that engage the viewer to modern embroidery as an art form. 

What are your inspirations?

My inspiration comes from colour, form, materials and techniques. My approach is playful and immediate. I use textiles as a form of collage and construction exploring surface and stitch structures that I work by hand and digitally. My pieces are contemporary and abstract inspired by space, architecture, modernism and primitive play. I like to surprise the viewer with surface, colour and interacting forms that conjure imaginary landscapes through textiles. 

What is your favorite part of the making process?

My process is fairly complicated, constructing and deconstructing to build a new language through digitally embroidery. I develop my drawings into hand embroidery experimenting with different stitches. These are drawn up in Illustrator on the computer which is exported into the embroidery software where I build a vocabulary of stitches through scale, space, overlays and yarns. My favorite part of the process is finally watching the digital embroidery machine output all your hard work, building a relationship with a machine is very satisfying. 

What are you working on right now?

I have recently returned from a four-week trip to Mexico where I was on a residency in Oaxaca learning Mexican embroidery techniques from the indigenous artisans. Working in a rural part of Mexico, discovering how craft is embedded into Mexico’s everyday life was fascinating. I visited natural dye farms and weavers in the Teotitlan Valley understanding how textiles are connected the natural environment. I will be translating my drawings and paintings and stitch research with the digital embroidery machine to create a new series of works inspired by my trip. I am also preparing for a workshop with Aimee Betts as part of Brixton Design Trail part of London Design Festival at The Department Store in Brixton on Sunday 17th September called The Supper Cloth. The Supper Cloth workshop is part of UNDER/EXPOSED, a design series hosted by Squire and Partners in their new Brixton office, The Department Store.  Providing a platform for the area’s finest creative talent, the dynamic line-up includes a conceptual fashion installation, printmaking, embroidery, typography, leather and papercraft as well as talks and a maker market.  We will be teaching hand stitch techniques around our giant needlework frame celebrating the art of embroidery.