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In conversation: Rosalind Stoddart

Welcome to "From Field to Studio," where we meet artist Rosalind, whose creative process begins with her own alpaca fleece, dyed with natural hues from her cultivated plants. Inspired by artists like Sonia Delaunay, Rosalind blends painting with textile techniques to craft vibrant wall pieces and sumptuously soft cushions. Each creation reflects her deep connection to nature and architectural forms, born from a contemplative process of observation and inquiry. Join us as we explore Rosalind's journey of sustainable artistry, where every stitch tells a story of mindful living and environmental stewardship.

Joana Alarcão
13 de março de 2024
Can you start by providing an overview of your practice and background?

BACKGROUND


I trained as a visual artist (painter) at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, London, since which I have exhibited both in the UK and internationally, particularly in Sweden.


After Camberwell, I worked full time as an artist gaining certain recognition including being selected for one of the 1000 residencies across England awarded by The Arts Council England in 2000.


Since late 1998 I began to exhibit other artists’ work in my home. The organisation Fermynwoods Contemporary Art became a formal not-for-profit limited company in 2004, and a Charity in 2008 with myself as Artistic Director. I have a broad interest in the arts focused on the visual arts. At Fermynwoods, we were particularly interested in engaging with the environment (both rural and urban), especially with our Forestry Commission partnership, as well as current agendas in our locality. We commissioned a range of international, national and local artists to be involved in exhibitions, education programmes, residencies and outreach community projects. I resigned from my position at Fermynwoods at the end of 2009.


In 2011 I invited Cabaret Jazz singer Barb Jungr to join me to set up Deep Roots Tall Trees, an arts community charity with a choir at its heart. The choir largely write the songs they perform. Also, in 2017 I incorporated a Dancetheatre group into the organisation led by Neil Paris. Under my leadership, DRTT led projects such as a concert at Corby’s Football ground with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and OUR WOODS – a festival of over 40 events celebrating Corby’s wonderful urban woodlands through music, dance, light, the arts, history, woodland management and much more. I resigned in 2018.

Both charities are still running.


I have also been a Trustee of Northamptonshire Arts Management Trust; The Core at Corby Cube; the Birgit Skiöld Memorial Trust; Fiori Musicali; Motus Dance and a Northamptonshire Ambassador. 

I am currently a member of Nordic Textile Art, International Feltmakers Association and an Associate member of Design Nation.

I am also passionate about taking part in dance-theatre, being an audience member at dance, opera and visual arts events; the environment, gardening and looking after all our animals.


CURRENT PRACTICE


From Field to Studio

I use my own alpaca fleece as the starting point of my work. All my alpacas are white, which gives me the wonderful opportunity to dye the fleece using natural dyes, largely from my land using plants that I specially grow for this purpose, as well as using wild plants. The combination of beautiful colours and tactile textures are a strong feature of my work.


I currently make wall pieces using tapestry techniques – smaller ones often in frames while the larger ones hang directly on the wall. Artist Sonia Delaunay is one of my inspirations, not only because of her joyous sense of colour, but also because of our shared path from painting to textiles.


I also make sumptuously soft cushions. Each one incorporates felting, weaving and hand-stitching, using the weaving like a canvas, as a painter would. Even the insides of the cushions are handmade and filled with my alpaca fleece. 

Working with material ‘from field to studio’, connects me more deeply to my immediate environment and helps give my practice a sustainable approach. My designs are usually refined down to what might appear at first glance simple, but come from a deep process of observing, questioning and engaging in things that fascinate me – the natural world and certain man-made things such as the bold sculptural and simple shapes of Romanesque architecture and work by artists such as Ben Nicholson. It is also my way of finding calm, feeling grounded and finding meaning in this complex world – which I hope is reflected in my work.

 

Each piece is unique, whether it’s a wall hanging, cushion, rug or some new creation. It takes a long time to make due to so many processes to work through – shearing and looking after the alpacas, processing and dyeing the fleece, growing and harvesting plant material, weaving, felting, stitching, sewing and, of course, coming up with the creative ideas. This way of working and living – slowly, caring for and having a deep connection with where I live - is a conscious decision. I aim to have as small an impact as possible on the environment.


I'm fascinated by your approach to working with material 'from field to studio'. Can you elaborate on the significance of this approach in your practice?

There are so many ways I could make my work and so many materials I could use, but largely restricting my practice to using materials from where I live knits nicely hand-in-hand with my limited aesthetic palette – it helps me reject ideas and materials as much as choose what I do – what one leaves out is as important as what one puts into a piece of work. It also gives me parameters to work within and thus focusing me towards a deep connection with my surroundings and this in turn grounds me. At the end of the day my intuition, observations of my surroundings and feeling my way into making a piece of art is probably more important and significant for me than the cerebral thought processes and text book research I do. 


It also enables my practice to be more sustainable and thus not buying too much which keeps the costs down. I also repurpose things that end up in my possession. 


HOW MY TEXTILE WORK STARTED:


I was looking, and maybe struggling with giving myself permission, for a way back into making again after running the two art charities, and I was given a helping hand. The field behind where I live came up for sale. I really wanted to preserve my view and I managed to buy the field, but didn’t know what to do with it. For the first few years a local farmer cut it for hay for his animals. Then I was taken to a car boot sale, which I soon became bored with (I am not about buying more stuff) and crossed the road to see what was going on there – the national alpaca event of the year! – I immediately became intrigued with these curious creatures. I came home and told my neighbour who responded with ‘I know of some a few villages away that need a new home because their owner has become ill’. These boys were in my field two weeks later! I fast tracked learning about how to look after them and naturally I could not let their fleeces go to waste. I started experimenting with them for a few years and even had my wedding dress made out of one of the fleeces, and then Covid 19 came. This time of having to remain at home gave me the full permission I was looking for, and I started making again full time with serious intention.



textile work by Rosalind Stoddart.
MEETING POINT, Alpaca and flax yarns. Japanese Indigo, by Rosalind Stoddart. Image courtesy of Paul Lapsley

Can you walk us through your creative process, from gathering alpaca fleece to the final product?

My creative practice is largely governed by the circular rhythm of the seasons of the year. This is due to using my alpaca fleece and plants that I grow.


I plant most of the seeds (both for dyeing material and for eating) in March or April – these are collected from the plants I grew the previous year where possible. I nurture them through the summer months and harvest the useable parts of them as and when they are fit for use – different times for different plants. I dry the dyeing matter or use it directly depending on whether I have enough fresh plant matter at one time or if I need to dry it to enable me to have enough. One needs quite a lot to dye only a small amount of fibre – at least equal weight to each. So much of my dyeing of the alpaca fleece and yarn happens late summer or autumn.


An expert shears the alpacas in June and I then remove any vegetation from the fleeces and put them in air sealed bags ready to take it to the specialised mill – this is done promptly so there is no worry of moth infestation. I usually end up delivering it late in the year when there is not so much activity to be done in the garden and dying studio, so I don’t get the processed fleece back before the following February. During the winter is the best uninterrupted time for making because there is less cultivating to do and it is good to be inside in the warm. 


Every year is a bit different due to what dyeing material is in most abundance, ie I had a bumper crop of acorns in 2022, so used them to dye with for the first time. However last year I had a failed woad crop, but an amazing quantity of good Japanese Indigo!


Your practice involves a deep connection to nature and sustainability, from growing plants for dyes to caring for alpacas. How does this relationship with the environment influence your artistic vision and practice?

It influences me greatly. 


Colour and the relationships of colours have always been central to my work along with abstract pure line and form – there is a real correlation running through my aesthetic since way back in the late 1990s. However, the colours I create now with natural dyes are often more muted, gentle and subtle, especially because alpaca fleece does not always take up the colour like sheep wool. I am fine with this; it reflects how I have become gentler with the earth the more I become concerned about my surroundings and beyond.


My way of life is becoming more and more entwined with my artistic vision and practice. This helps ground me. In theory, it slows me down and this is good for my mental health and gives me time to think as I go through many of the processes especially activities like sowing seeds, weeding, collecting the alpaca poo….as well as the meditative action of some of the weaving.


My close relationship to my land gives my work a real focus and thus calm, depth and clarity.



textile work by Rosalind Stoddart
FLOW, Alpaca yarn and cotton cord, Dye Japanese Indigo and ink Onion skin by Rosalind Stoddart. Image courtesy of Paul Lapsley

The combination of natural dyes and tactile textures is a distinctive feature of your work. Could you tell us more about your experimentation with dyeing techniques and how it contributes to the narrative of each piece?

I often work in blocks of time partly because of the growing season and partly to be able to really concentrate on the task at hand. One of my favourite blocks is natural dyeing – colour is so important to me. I can spend weeks with different dyeing pots on the go at different stages of the processes. Sometimes these dyeing pots will be steeping for months while I process others. But when it comes to the alchemy of Indigo, I am totally focused on this process because it is trickier!


The colours can dictate the work (like in RISING SAP which I talk about more in the next question) through dyeing masses of fleece and then seeing where these colours take me…or I might try and get as wide as possible range of colour out of one plant and use it for a particular concept – ie the oak tree piece I am currently working on - or within my dyed fleece bags I might play with colour combining and find they ‘click’ with a certain sketch I have made earlier. Each piece has a slightly different story, but colour is always at its heart.

So some experimenting, and sometimes I work with repeat standard recipes I’ve used before, but I always take lots of notes to be able to refer back to. It can be like alchemy.


Each piece has its own unique story about how it works with and from nature.


What can you tell us about the submitted artwork called Rising Sap? Can you delve into the creative process behind it and the material used?

In the late spring/ summer last year, I had a fabulous time in the studio dyeing alpaca rovings* from what was growing naturally in the garden – new nettle, comfrey and ivy leaves, and dried Dyers’ Coreopsis flowers collected from my polytunnel the year before. I was playing and experimenting with the dyeing materials and different mordants* and modifiers* not knowing exactly what I would get. I knew I needed to dye a lot of rovings because I wanted to make another large wall hanging that had an open weave.


As the colours emerged, I realised that many of them were the colours of the first fresh leaves in spring of the different trees around where I live which I had watched only a month or so before. The tan colour of Poplar as well as colours from other trees such as Oak, Ash, Rowan, Hornbeam, Willow and Walnut etc. – lime, silver, olive greens and more. Because the colours reminded me of these magical observations, I decided the wall hanging would be called Rising Sap – the first sap rising in the trees enables the leaves to come forth. The shapes were loosely based on basic seed forms and soft curves in nature.


I did not want to make a more conventional tapestry piece where the warp* does not display itself to the observer. I wanted to bring a darker tone, depth and mystery into it by staining parts of the warp. I did this with a natural ink I made from a mixture of onion skins and madder root. The warp was made from cotton cord that I had been given and I knew with many layers of application of the stain it would give the effect I wanted.


I keep making very simple. I stretched the warp over a large wooden frame that leaned against the wall. Each warp is kept in place by nails in the top and bottom edge of the structure, equally spaced. The actual weaving took under a month to finish, but as you can see, many processes happened long before the final stages of making the artwork.



Textile work by Rosalind Stoddart
RISING SAP alpaca rovings and cotton cord, Dyes coreopsis, nettle, comfrey and nettle Ink, onionskin and Madder by Rosalind Stoddart. Image courtesy of Paul Lapsley

Collaboration seems to play a significant role in your work, with both human and non-human entities. What can you tell us about the partnership with basketweaver Sue Kirk?

I had been aware of Sue Kirk for a long time and I knew she had lived and made work from an inspiring sustainable ethos for many years. I invited her to join me in applying for a joint exhibition in Birmingham. Working together helped us formulate into words a shared approach to life (see below) and curate the exhibition around this as well as the aesthetic side of our joint show. Our work sat comfortably together and we have both found it very supportive being able to work together on this. We also included a table of materials and tools and information panels within the show. 


We will be showing together again next year at Rugby Art Gallery, Warwickshire, UK. Alongside this show, there will also be activities such as talks, workshops etc to help develop the engagement of the public in our work and ethos. 


OUR SHARED APPROACH TO LIFE


*Live and work harmoniously with the land, improving biodiversity and living a low-impact lifestyle.

*Continue to research how to improve the rich diversity on our land and continue experimenting with the materials harvested from our land in order to create new work.

*Enjoy the process of making. Record processes, experiments and techniques for future ideas. Compile research and samples to inform final work.

*We want to continue working harmoniously with nature and the seasons, developing our practice and natural processes, benefiting our work and the land we live on.

*We want to share this sustainable way of living and working encouraging more people to understand the benefits we can have on our environment and thus help to create a positive change.

*Working with natural materials largely grown and harvested on our land or with materials grown sustainably in U.K. Rejecting plastics and chemicals within our working practice. Therefore, deepening the respect for our land and minimalizing our ecological footprint.


Art plays various roles in the fabric of contemporary society. How do you see your role in fostering environmental awareness and sustainable practices through your art?

It has become more and more important for me to give a message through my work beyond concept, beauty and artistic values. I feel it is important to highlight that my practice and way of life show some of the possible ways of trying to tread gently on the environment. 


Next year I hope to deliver a public engagement project where participants will be able to grow plants, process and dye them and then make things that they will be able to exhibit. The aesthetic quality of my work and thus exhibiting it is paramount, but I will become more open to doing and organising workshops, giving talks etc. to convey and share these views. I hope in my small and channelled way I will make people more aware that they can do their bit to help look after our planet. I feel I have a responsibility to do so.



Textile by Rosalind Stoddart.
EARTH, LIGHT, HOPE, Alpaca rovings, felt and yarn, cotton cord and collage by Rosalind Stoddart. Image courtesy of Paul Lapsley

What are your aspirations for the future of your textile practice, both in terms of artistic exploration and advocacy for sustainable living?

I will continue to question and find ways to extend my artistic and sustainable practice.


I am currently making my largest piece to date. It started towards the end of 2022 when the oak tree in the alpaca field had a bumper crop of acorns. I collected them, steeped them in water for months and made dye from them. It has taken till now to work through the ideas and practicalities of making this piece. The artistic side started with a large drawing of some of the branches of the same tree from which I am making the tapestry. The warp is flax twine (another material I have been working with) because I was worried I would run out of alpaca yarn, and the weft will be made from the subtle shades of acorn-dyed alpaca yarn.


My aspirations are to expand the development of conceptual ideas within my work, work larger and experiment with different ways of installing/hanging my art. It might even become more sculptural like in the past when I moved from painting to 3D forms.


I will also continue to explore further materials on my land – ie apple stems that have been cut off in pruning the trees recently (I have been told they make a fabulous colour) or re-use materials ie haybale twine, string from the hens’ and alpacas’ feed bags.


I aim not to fly, I drive an electric car (needed because I live in the countryside), don’t use Cloud, I reuse packaging and everything else where possible, love composting, grow fruit and veg, harvest water and only occasionally eat meat that I know where it has come from.


And, I aim to raise money for a community project next year, so I can reach out to new and wider audiences.


What message or call to action would you like to leave our readers with?

We can all do our bit to treat the earth – our only home – more gently….even if it is small gestures…… or big. If enough of us, as individuals, take this path we can make a difference and governments and big corporations will more likely listen and also take action. We ALL have a responsibility to each other but also to the other animals and living things that we share this beautiful planet with. It’s about giving as well as taking…. and love. Not only would this help our planet and everything on it, but reconnecting to our environment helps me rebalance and find grounded mental health – and I hope it will for others.


We have to have hope, in spite of what’s going on in the world today. We must all relearn how to give back and share. We mustn’t just take; we must also give. This is why I believe there is such value in community projects. We need to feed our souls through creativity.


Find more about the artist here.


* Warp and weft - The vertical warp yarns are held stationary in tension on a loom (frame) while the horizontal weft is drawn through (inserted over and under) the warp thread.

* Rovings - Roving is the step right before fibre is spun into yarn.

* Mordants - A mordant or dye fixative is a substance used to set dyes on fabrics.

* Modifiers - Colour modifiers are used after the initial dyeing process to alter or modify the shades.


Cover image:

FULL SPRING. Alpaca yarn & cotton cord by Rosalind Stoddart. Image courtesy of Paul Lapsley

hardcover-book-mockup.png

'From Field to studio'
Rosalind uses her own alpaca fleece as the starting point of her work. All her alpacas are white, which gives her the wonderful opportunity to dye the fleece using natural dyes, largely from her land using plants that she specially grows for this purpose, as well as using wild plants. The combination of beautiful colours and tactile textures are a strong feature of her work.


She makes wall pieces using tapestry techniques – smaller ones in frames while the larger ones hang directly on the wall. Artist Sonia Delaunay is one of her inspirations, not only because of her joyous sense of colour, but also because of their shared path from painting to textiles.
Rosalind also makes sumptuously soft cushions. Each one incorporates felting, weaving and hand-stitching, using the weaving like a canvas, as a painter would. Even the insides of the cushions are handmade and filled with her alpaca fleece.


Working with material ‘from field to studio’, Rosalind says, ‘it connects me more deeply to my immediate environment and helps give my practice a sustainable approach’. Her designs are usually refined down to what might appear at first glance simple, but come from a deep process of observing, questioning and engaging in things that fascinate her – the natural world and certain man-made things such as the bold sculptural and simple shapes of Romanesque architecture and work by artists such as Ben Nicholson. It is also her way of finding calm and meaning in this complex world – which she hopes is reflected in her work.


Each piece is unique, whether it’s a wall hanging, cushion, rug or some new creation. It takes a long time to make due to so many processes to work through – shearing and looking after the alpacas, processing and dyeing the fleece, growing and harvesting plant material, weaving, felting, stitching, sewing and, of course, coming up with the creative ideas. This way of working and living – slowly, caring for and having a deep connection with, where she lives - is a conscious decision. She aims to have as small an impact as possible on the environment.

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