A SHORT distance from Skibbereen town nestled into the woodland behind a stately home lies the bright and colourful Vine Field Art Studio, named for the unruly creepers that once grew in its lush garden.
Each Wednesday a dozen or so textile artists under the tutelage of local applique expert Susannah Sindall assemble here to share ideas and the banter while stitching fabric upon fabric to create vibrant abstract designs and vivid figurative images.
Susannah, affectionately called Sukey by most who know her, teaches a method of applique art that is extraordinary in its simplicity. Sukey teaches how to apply layers of material by using one simple stitch – the stab stitch – which she says is all one needs to ‘sculpt’ fabric into art.
Sukey is an accomplished artist in her own right selling her applique work internationally. She mixes new and reclaimed fabrics, preferring to work with fine materials such as silk and chiffon, to create rich and evocative images inspired by local flora and fauna.
She has been teaching classes and running workshops for ten years and has also worked closely with the National Learning Network and for local mental health groups.
In that time her students have grown in number and standard eventually giving themselves the name ‘Liberty Stitch Textile Artists’ because the ‘little humble stab stitch gives people the freedom to be creative,’ explains Sukey.
There are currently 12 to 15 people who meet weekly in the colourful woodland studio owned by Ann Hall who, judging from the interior is a prolific painter, but is relatively new to this group. ‘I went to see Sukey’s exhibition last year and was immediately taken with her work,’ she says. ‘I raved about it to everyone I spoke to until finally my daughter said “why don’t you just try it yourself!” So I took Sukey’s course and here we are.’
This is a recurring theme. Most of the members are women who were looking for something to do and looking to be creative and then got hooked on textiles. Sukey thinks there is something about this stitch work that makes them feel like ‘oh I can do that!’
Joanna Burke spent her whole life believing she was not creative at all – being told as much from her school teachers. After only one year of working with the Liberty group she is finding a new confidence in her abilities and has seen her work framed for exhibition.
By all accounts the group’s recent exhibition in Christ Church at Kilfaughnabeg in Glandore was a monumental success. Many more pieces were sold than in previous years and the overall feedback has been enthusiastic and encouraging.
To Sukey the simplicity of the work is important. No other skills are necessary. With that said many come to her with established skills in fine art and needle work. They embellish their pictures with embroidery or blanket stitches or any number of techniques they have learned along the way.
There is drastic diversity in the style and experience in the room. ‘Heidi (Krug- Wischniewski) here is a brilliant patch worker and Freddie (Sheahan-Murphy) is a top-selling (fine artist and painter). There are skills that people employ that are not true to what I teach, however it doesn’t diminish the work,’ says Sukey.
Indeed, Freddie attended Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork studying life drawing and watercolours. She has had a number of solo and group exhibitions in that medium.
However she loves the feel of the textiles and she enjoys the camaraderie of working in a group. ‘It inspires me to do more work.’
Another member, Julia Zagar, exhibits her textile art independently as well as with the group. She is a member of the respected Schull-based artist co-op, Blue House Gallery, and she has exhibited in the RDS as part of the Cork Textile Network exhibition.
Through it all Sukey has been the stalwart supporter and mentor. She is ever ready to guide and inspire. She is a force of good nature and the drive behind getting their work noticed. She joys over any of her colleagues breakthroughs.
She beams with pride when boasting about her student and friend, Sheila O’Regan. Last October Sheila went with a group of friends to visit the Dáil, Seanad and Oireachtas. It had been arranged that they would meet Michael D Higgins, so they of course needed to choose a gift to present the President. After some discussion, they dismissed pottery and lace thinking that surely he already owned samples of these West Cork delights. They settled on one of Sheila’s applique pictures of fuchsia and marigold.
After the auspicious meeting Higgins’ assistant rang her friend to explain that the president hadn’t hung the picture in his office as planned. He was so taken with it that he hung it in his own private sitting room!
‘Sukey was more excited than I was – she was very pleased for me,’ says Sheila. ‘And I told her, “Well Sukey only for you it wouldn’t be there in the first place!”’
The Liberty Stitch Textile Artists welcome newcomers of all shapes and sizes. As interest is growing they have added more class times and are looking for more exhibition spaces.
•To make inquiries please contact Susannah Sindall at 087-9193513 or email [email protected]