Textile Artist Sharon Brown presented new work at Queen Street Mill for the British Textile Biennial 2021, which reimagined found letters and documents connected to the history and workers of Lancashire cotton mills. Sharon Brown used freehand machine embroidery to create this series of Stitched Histories. Sharon wished to communicate, celebrate, and preserve fragments of the skills, structures and rhythms of generations of often forgotten lives spent working in the textile industry.
Sharon Brown noted “I am fascinated by old letters and documents and the personal histories contained within them, how writing can be so unique to an individual, suggesting character and narrative. I am intrigued by the shapes and rhythms of the letterforms and respond to the spaces that are created inside and outside of each line of text. Although the very nature of freehand machine embroidery breaks down the fragile surface of the aged paper, I am, through stitch , trying to preserve and celebrate a very small aspect of history. She added “I make heavily embroidered and embellished one off pieces where I am drawing and painting with thread, responding to the existing aesthetics of each vintage document.” Recent work has been made using old, discarded letters and documents from the now defunct cotton manufacturer Riggs of Rochdale. The documents offer a glimpse of a way of life that no longer exists, as well as the people who lived it.” http://www.live-magazines.co.uk/a-stitch-in-time/
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday of BTB21 Sharon was on-site at Queen Street Mill working with her sewing machine to create a growing display of new textiles work. It was great to see her working, stitching on-site, to feel more engaged with her making processes and her exhibition itself. This textile artist continues to use as the basis of her work any paper documents, photographs or personal stories from the local textile mills so she continues to collect avidly such evidence of prior experiencing in the textile mills. For Sharon Brown drawing with the sewing machine, creating layers of stitch that capture layers of history, these handwritten fragile papers reveal not only personal histories but also glimpses of global events and the social and cultural context in which they were written to offer a rich narrative filled with meaning.
Sharon Brown came to England from Scotland to study Fine Art at Manchester Metropolitan University, she then went on to study for teacher training qualifications and in 1997 she went onto Botswana to teach. The textile artist said “Teaching in sub-Saharan Africa was an eye-opener, even though the country was diamond rich the students I was teaching walked for miles to come to school and lived in very poor conditions.” Having specialised in printmaking at university, Sharon Brown has always had a fascination with old letters and documents and the personal histories contained within them. There was acknowledgement that she was “really interested in where the documents have come from and who has handled them in the past, the history of that piece of paper.” http://www.live-magazines.co.uk/a-stitch-in-time/
Sharon Brown bought herself a 1950s Bernina sewing machine more recently and as a result her textile practice changed to incorporate sewing, stitching and machine embroidery to create fascinating pieces of art working directly onto the historic documents with the sewing machine including use of mixed media. For Sharon Brown “It just felt right,” as she now regularly acquires these documents from local vintage markets and junk shops, many of them are from the cotton industry era. https://britishtextilebiennial.co.uk/
Sharon Brown noted her creative process…“I have handwritten letters, invoices, memos, all from a bygone era. I don’t really have a plan when I start work on a piece. I may get inspiration from the beauty and style of the handwriting, the content or how a document is laid out.” “The character of handwritten letters fascinates this textile artist as she is often intrigued by the shapes of the letterforms and the spaces in between. The rhythm of the sewing machine also inspires her and guides her– although the very nature of freehand embroidery breaks down the fragile surface of the aged paper, she strives to make known a small part of history. http://arttextstyle.com/tag/sharon-brown/
Given my own use of machine embroidery on a range of materials including different paper types this exhibition has encouraged me to increasingly use relevant vintage documents, text, research papers, blank clinical note paper and proformas in accordance with my own narrative. I have been increasingly inspired from this textile artists work to push the boundaries concerning my own forthcoming options and possibilities for new creative work and processes.