Welcome to the Cutting (& Stitching) Edge, where we showcase people whose embroidered creativity is fresh and new!
Gunta Andrews is a London-based textile artist whose applique and machine embroidered pieces document the days of 2-Tone and punk by reproducing cultural places and fashions.
“As a teenager in Coventry in the late 70’s and early 80’s I embraced the punk and 2-Tone scenes, both of which are still important to me today. Textile art was a natural progression from those days of using my sewing skills to adapt second-hand clothes in an attempt to achieve a low-cost Vivienne Westwood look. I have made my own clothes for most of my adult years, but in the last 10 years or so, I have found much joy in creating pictures using free-motion machine stitching, hand embroidery, water-colour and appliqué.
“Textile art has offered me an important, non-verbal and cathartic means of illustrating both my childhood and later years. As the daughter of a German mother and Latvian father, made to dress in the full German ‘lederhosen’ style, living in a city that had been destroyed by the Germans during WW2, I regularly encountered considerable hostility from people in my neighbourhood.
It was no surprise that at the age of 20, I moved to London where I found true happiness, enjoying the architecture, galleries, live music venues and the melting-pot of different cultures that makes London such a great city. I have produced a number of pictures depicting my childhood years in Coventry, and of London pubs and shops that are dear to me, in addition to pictures of Dr Martens boots and shoes – purely because I love them and have always worn them!
“I live just outside London now, but visit regularly, always taking photos for inspiration, always on the hunt for interesting fabric scraps or threads in the few remaining haberdashery and fabric shops in Soho and always with some hand-embroidery to do on the train and tube journeys. There’s nothing nicer than spending a Friday afternoon in the French House in Soho, drinking wine and trying to stitch a new picture!”
I was intrigued by Gunta’s documentary approach to her work and sought to find out more:
How did your technique evolve?
I began with cross-stitch and basic embroidery stitches I had learnt as a child and then moved on to drawing pictures in water-colour and outlining them is black-thread, using back-stitch. When I was half-watching a crafting show presented by Kirstie Allsopp several years ago, my attention was drawn to a feature on a textile artist who used the technique of free-motion machine stitching. It was a revelation and a game-changer for me! I consulted a local sewing teacher the very next day to show me how to set up my sewing machine properly, and never looked back.
A few years later, I became aware of the textile artist Sue Stone and enrolled on a couple of her online courses. She uses paints and hand-stitching to create pictures of people and places. Her work is beautifully textural using stitch to create different textures. I now combine much of what I learnt from Sue Stone, some free-motion machine stitching and various appliqué techniques I have discovered along the way to create my pictures. I have a tendency to over-work things, adding too much detail and throwing every technique at a piece, but have decided to accept that this is just the way I am!
What other artists inspire you?
In the world of textile art, I am particularly inspired by Sue Stone, Emily Tull and Mary Carson, but there are currently so many wonderful textile artists sharing their work on Instagram and other social media platforms, many of whom are an inspiration to me. I am also inspired by Quentin Blake, loving his gentle use of colour, black outlines and wonderful humour.
Can you share one creative tip with our readers?
Seeing incredible pieces of work by other textile artists can make you feel like it’s not worth carrying on in your own creative journey but it’s only by practising and experimenting with techniques that you will eventually find a style of your own. Enjoy creating – it’s personal to you. There is no right or wrong way and it isn’t a competition.
Where do you think your creativity is taking you?
My creativity is taking me to a better place in my head! I am happiest when I am creating something new. Going forward, I hope to develop more of a cohesive style in terms of subject matter and techniques used. I would love to create a strong body of work in the future and have the opportunity to exhibit it one day.
I think I originally wanted to document 2-Tone and punk in Coventry – foolishly thinking that my pictures would be of interest during this year’s Coventry, City of Culture, but as time went on, my pictures became more about my own personal past. The work I’m currently doing is slightly random at times, but I still have a strong desire to make pictures of London, particularly Soho, which is my favourite place on earth. Sadly it is disappearing fast, so I feel it is important to document the pubs, cafes and shops that still remain, with a leaning towards pubs that are frequented prior to gigs.
My next picture will be The Ship – a popular meeting place before gigs at the 100 Club (and previously the Marquee Club and the Astoria). I guess then that my pictures will have a London/Soho theme but the actual places will be very personal to me. Also, (in part because I have developed arthritis in my right hand which makes hand-stitching a bit painful sometimes), I intend to use free-motion machine stitching for outlining and creating shape, some use of water-colour or inktense blocks and finishing with hand-embroidery and maybe some applique.
Textile are has always been a fantastic tool for recording society and immortalising elements of life and the vernacular that might go otherwise unseen. Here on the site, we’ve seen work by Gillian Bates who captures quietly English moments with her machine embroidery, or Susie Vickery who pays homage to the everyday people she encountered in Mumbai. The transformation from a small moment in someone’s life to a tangible treasure of their existence is arguably one of the most profound aspects of this craft, and here we have Gunta who records her personal progression through a specific subculture with charm and subtle humour.
The punk scene has been documented to some extent and we can all picture icons from that era, but Gunta’s work takes time to get under the surface of the scene, while binding the stories with personal aspiration and a nod towards a social context somewhat forgotten. This is more than an exploration of the scene in Coventry and London, it’s Gunta’s retelling of her story through that era, showing us the early stages on a journey that’s brought her to the present moment.
It’s early days for Gunta, as she says herself, but her aim is true and her technique is improving alongside her fortitude, so I think there will be many more tales told before she’s done. Come along for the ride by following Gunta on Instagram.