Designer Profile On Michelle Holmes and her Betty Embroidery Series
Let it be said that all of Michelle Holmes creative work is inspiring and unique, as is her stables studio.By Susan Hurley
But in the interest of conserving text space here, we’re going to concentrate on Michelle Holmes charming Betty series of embroideries, which completely win your heart.
They’re the fusion of yesterday’s storybooks and modern art, remarkable in what they convey in just a few stitches. And they speak of things so many of us hanker for – the simple life of home and crafts and happy day-to-day chores. Never have wash days, feeding the chickens or cycling to the postbox felt more enticing.
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To breathe life into Betty, Michelle treats heavy cotton calico with a tea-coloured dye, on to which she free machine embroiders in graphite-grey thread. “I prop up sketch books in front of my sewing machine and refer to these as I work, but don’t draw her out with pencil first. Working directly onto the cloth allows me to work spontaneously, and this, I think, adds to the character of Betty – even small stitches suggest posture and mood, atmosphere and life.”
Michelle deliberately simplified the elements for this series, the intention being to create a rather cartoonish effect. This neatly attired and utterly sweet character always wears the same outfit and hairstyle, which on a subliminal level only increases the sense of warm familiarity the viewer has for her. You feel as if you know Betty when you look at her. She’s an aunt, a friend, a family member … gently successful by virtue of her contentment.
“In stitch,” Michelle says, “I want to explore buildings and environments associated with Betty; maybe a series of places she visits – haberdashery shops, the post office, the local hall … I set myself a target a few years ago to embroider a Betty each week and post her on Facebook. I wanted to build up a gentle story reflecting the events, conversations or ponderings of my week, a stitched diary with quite universal themes.”
There is very much a sense of the past in the Betty series, which is no coincidence, since Michelle loves old books and illustrations, borrowing from their mood to reflect the atmosphere of bygone days in her unique stitches.
“As I child, I loved book illustrations, especially etchings just in black and white on cream paper,” she says. “I had all of my parents’ childhood books from the 1940s; I loved the simplicity of the text with illustrations enclosed … the line qualities, patterns and detail.”
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Michelle Holmes uses a machine embroidery viscose thread and a thick linen thread in cream for hand stitched details such as the collar on Betty’s blouse or sunlight reflecting on water. She often presents the work hand stitched onto card and set in box frames or as wallhangings and quilts.
Whatever the format, Betty’s future looks promising. Michelle Holmes is planning to create a book of these illustrations, which say acknowledges will bring her inspiration full circle, back into paper.
“I am both a crafter and an artist. I think of the crafting side of me as the techniques I employ when trying to push boundaries to develop new ways of working. The artist side to me is the part I put into the work – creating work that in some small way represents my place in the world.”