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A View Through A Porthole – Sunday Artist Interview

Continuing on with Sunday Artist Interviews – many are lined up, so keep checking back – here’s Rachel to tell you a little about herself and her work…

First of all, who are you?

My name is Rachel Hewlett and for the past eleven years, I have lived on a narrowboat in an old working boatyard in the West Midlands. I’m a self taught stitcher, working mainly in hand and machine embroidery and applique. I spent many years making pieced patchwork quilts, but now work pictorially. As well as my stitching, I’m also a keen miniaturist and my favourite genre within this scene is fantasy. I have a collection of twelfth scale witches who I build scenes for and weave stories around! I’m currently working on a big ongoing project, a book in the form of a nature diary about the wild creatures I share my life with on the canal. It will be full of photographs, anecdotes, stitching and drawings and traces my nature experiences throughout the seasons. I go by the name of A View Through A Porthole.

When you were asked (all those years ago!), “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  What did you answer?

As a child and even right throughout my teens, I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up-a farmer’s wife! Which would never have worked, as I’m now a vegetarian and aspiring vegan! Failing that, I also wanted to be an RSPCA inspector, which I would also have failed miserably at, because as anyone who follows my Instagram page will tell you, I’m a complete softie when it comes to birds and animals! I’d have been a mess! Little did I know it then, but I should always have gone down the route of becoming a textile artist. Unfortunately, though, I was packed off to university, kicking and screaming, to read languages and came to stitching really late.

What is the funniest thing as an artist that has ever happened to you?

My funniest moment creatively speaking was also very nearly a disaster! I make decorative waistcoats and the first one I made was a really jazzy affair, crazy patchwork, with lots of embroidery and a princess seam to boot. A real labour of love. On completion, I thought I’d celebrate with a large G and T, but promptly tripped over the cat and spilled the entire contents of my glass onto my work of art!

What is the hardest part of being creative?

For me, there are two things in particular that I struggle with creatively speaking. The first is time. I get up at 5, as I thought this would give me more stitching time, but strangely, it hasn’t! My other bugbear is perfectionism. I’m a Virgo and if you believe in star signs, I’m a typical one! I long to be able to work more figuratively and to loosen up with my stitching, but nature will out and I find I can only work neatly and precisely.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

If I were to advise an aspiring artist at the start of their creative journey, I would say just enjoy the process; don’t get hung up on the outcome, and embrace the failures and mistakes. They’re all part of the learning process and are where the best lessons can be learned. Also, don’t put things down, put them back!

What subjects inspire you?

I’m a creative scattergun, both in terms of what inspires me and also what techniques I use. First and foremost, the natural world is my greatest inspiration and I’m very blessed to live in a unique location on a quiet stretch of canal, bordered on one side by a wild nature reserve. I’ve lived here on a boat for eleven years and been privileged to share the space with a variety of birds and animals. I’ve observed them closely over the years and even built up relationships with some of them, getting to know at first hand their habits and behaviours, and even their families. For the past three years, I’ve been very lucky to have been befriended by a robin, called Bob, and recently, by two others, one of which I rescued as a fledgeling from a cat. They fly to my hand for food and have become well known on Instagram.

Who are the 3 greatest living artists in your opinion? (they don’t have to be famous!)

Being a stitcher, the artists who inspire me most are needlewomen and needlemen. Having to choose my three favourite living artists is a wicked cruelty! I have so many stitching heroes and am lucky to be friends with many of them on Instagram. My biggest influence has been master applique artist, Sandra Leichner. Her generous blog and stunning work set me on the path to stitching imagery and without her, the world would never have been introduced to Bob! Amanda Hartland is a ridiculously talented textile artist working in paint and free-motion embroidery. Her work makes my heart sing and I’m lucky enough to call her my friend. Finally, I have long been an admirer of Jane Hall, butterfly queen, conservationist and friend of the fae. All the loveliest of women with the most extraordinary talents.

Who are the 3 greatest dead artists in your opinion?

I didn’t feel quite so guilty having to choose my three favourite deceased artists! The first is Constance Howard, a leading figure in the development and teaching of textiles and embroidery. And having green hair, way ahead of her time! My second inspiration is Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. She really intrigues me and I love how she has inspired so many textile artists to recreate her image with cloth and thread. Finally, Vincent Van Gogh is one artist I’d love to have met. As well as admiring the incredible work of these influential artists, I also enjoy reading their quotes. I especially like this quote by Van Gogh-“Normality is a paved road. It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it”.

What is your favourite work of art you have ever produced?

I am completely obsessed with designing and stitching pictures in embroidery and applique, but my greatest work is still in the making! So for the purposes of this question, my favourite work to date is a miniature patchwork quilt, made to fit a six inch bed. It has drops on three sides and was hand pieced and hand quilted. I make my mini quilts in exactly the same way as I make my full size quilts. The patches are usually no bigger than an eighth of an inch wide and the seam allowances barely a few threads deep.

What was the last piece of art you sold?

I’m working on a series of portraits of my little muse, Bob, and I recently posted work in progress shots of one such image on Instagram. I was only halfway through, when I received a private message asking if I would mind selling it! I was very happy to let this piece go, as it went to an Instagram friend who has been part of the Bob story right from the start and is one of his biggest fans! His image now hangs on a living room wall in America!

A little extra piece…

The piece that reflects my mischievous side!

My mum and I are both ex convent girls and I couldn’t resist making her this miniature scene for a recent birthday. This is Sister Aloysius having a crafty swig of altar wine while the priest is in the vestry! 

And finally… Because this is really important….

What’s the best type of cheese?  (haha)

Cheap Aldi brie! With pimento stuffed olives!

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