Selvedge with designer Ann Wood
It all comes down to beauty in the beasts with Ann Wood’s wondrous creatures. Ann Wood perfectly formed mosquitoes ominously arch their bodies on long fragile legs, probosces aimed, ready for piercing. But those same menacing insects are dressed in genteel lace and fine, fine prints. What? Written by Susan Hurley
Sewer rats stop for a casual chat, their odiousness forgotten in the amiability of their stance and a sartorial style set by lace kerchiefs at their necks.
Massed creepy-crawly spiders escaping from a jar – normally the stuff of nightmares – are redeemed courtesy of couture outfitting.
As for Ann Wood’s raven – he may be dark and brooding but he looks as if he’s getting on in years, with slightly frayed fabric around his once-lethal beak. And his sharply watchful eyes carry a tired sadness due to stitching that peters out around the edges.
Suddenly, instead of recoiling in horror, you want to give these supposedly mean brutes a cosy place in your home. Thanks to the sympathetic handling by their handler, they’ve morphed from threatening to endearing.
Could the secret be that they’re made human by their vintage garb? “I work with Edwardian and Victorian garments and antique Japanese textiles. I love the fabric – always have,” says New Yorker Ann Wood. “The garments speak to me. I’m attracted to the sense of time and place and history. They seem like time travellers, in a way – from a life a world away. I love a label with a name or an incongruous print perfectly preserved in the layers of a ruined 150-year-old cuff.”
Or could it simply be the inspiration she found as a child when watching her first film – the Royal Ballet’s performance of the Tales of Beatrix Potter, with a nimble Jeremy Fisher in top coat and striped stockings, Jemima Puddleduck kitted out in hat and shawl, and the other familiar Potter characters dressed and dancing their way around magical sets. Ann Wood says she’s had “visions of them floating in my head ever since”.
“I remember my childhood through a lens of making things – it has always been the centre of my world. I was as encouraged as a person could be to value, nurture and enjoy my imagination and creativity.”
And just as her creations are contradictions, so too is the industry, effort and satisfaction that goes into their making. Untold hours of designing and stitching can come to nothing, when Ann Wood decides she isn’t 100% happy with the results. She’ll just take a deep breath and start all over. “I have a lot of do-overs – ripping out and trying again,” she says. “I feel and experiment my way to the finished thing.
“I love being lost in inventing something new, working out a fresh shape, experimenting with an idea. I don’t mind the endless drafts. Time disappears. Even on my 50th draft of something, frustration doesn’t even register. It is all an expression of my inner world; sweet and melancholy and sometimes funny. I make things I want to look at – things I want in my world. I am on a lifelong mission to shine a light into the deepest shadows of my imagination.”
For many, it would be throw-in-the-towel territory, but for Ann Wood, the slow and meticulous nature of her work is part of the allure. “Stitch work, for me, is in part an antidote for anxiety. It’s meditative and calming and puts me in the moment, one tiny stitch at a time. I think well in stitches. It’s a language I’ve spoken for a very long time. In some ways, it’s just the most efficient way to get where I want to go.”
More about Ann Wood
You can buy Ann Wood’s finished artworks, patterns and kits on her website, www.annwoodhandmade.com.
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org