Art & Design by Neroli Henderson

Interview series: Textile Artist, Felicity Hopkins

This week I’m pleased to introduce an amazing, multi talented, avant guard textile artist, Felicity Hopkins. Felicity manages to combine her full time career as a social policy analyst specialising in Aboriginal / Indigenous issues with her passion for creating one of a kind, multi-layered, truly creative pieces of mixed media art. What’s even more impressive is that she does this while juggling 3 kids, 3 cats, 3 chooks, a dog and a partner!

Felicity’s art reflects feelings and concepts rather then pictorial representations – it has become a vital part of her life and an integral medium to express her world view. Overall winner of the Buda Textile Awards (2008), her influences include Judy Watson, Andy Goldsworthy and Mark Rothko
‘Glimmer – Such A Shame She Never Married’ 71x65cm (28×25.5″)  $1800
Blanketing, silk, brocade, pieced ribbon squares, doilies, organza, tulle.
Buda Textile Awards 2008 – Winner of both overall and mixed media sections.

 1. How long have you been quilting and what first drew you to it? 
My very first quilt was a joint effort with my then boyfriend, now husband back in 1989 – I bought quantities of Laura Ashley squares which we manically sewed into long strips on an ancient sewing machine propped on a rickety coffee table. The top was finished quite quickly but wasn’t turned into a real quilt until about 2002. 

I was first drawn to art quilting by seeing Susan Mathews’ sunflower quilt featured in Quilter’s Companion magazine. We were driving home to Melbourne from Byron Bay in 2003 and stopped in Goulbourn for lunch. I went into a newsagent to find something to read and was captivated by Susan’s quilt on the cover. 

‘Connections’ 64x71cm (25×28″)  $1200
Indigo dyed cotton, hand torn strips of fabric from old linens, felted wool, copper plumbing connectors, foil, machine stitched then hand stitched with copper wire. Steeked and hand sewn into a triptych.

 2. How would you describe your style now? 
Mine :) experimental, expressive, bold. I like mixing up techniques and playing.



 3. How has your style evolved? 
I soon found I wasn’t precise enough to persevere beyond a few traditional bed quilts. I found using other peoples’ patterns didn’t provide enough of a creative outlet so I started making journal quilts with other members of the Australian and New Zealand art quilters yahoo group. Making A4 sized pieces allows for creativity and experiments without worrying about wasting materials.

I can’t emphasise the role of mentors enough – I have met some amazing quilters who have been so generous in sharing their knowledge and experience and who have become friends both in real life and via the internet.  Particular influencers and encouragers include Dijanne Cevaal, Susan Iacuone, Annabel Rainbow, and Arlee Barr.

 4. Apart from creating art what else to you do within the industry? 
I have a blog
www.textileseahorse.blogspot.com which I use as a way of keeping myself honest. If I post about a project I have started I need to finish it otherwise people ask!


I have just started to put my quilts up for sale – it never occurred to me that anyone would to buy them until I won the Buda prize and someone said it was a shame my quilt wasn’t for sale. My big goal for 2010 is to set up a website selling my pieces.


 5. What’s the best advice you could give someone who wants to try quilting or textile art for the first time? 
Just jump in and give it a try – there’s no such thing as failure. If something doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to turn it into something else.
‘Burnt Landscape #1’  46x51cm (18×20″)  $350
Layered fabrics of wool, silk and wool fibre, synthetics, tulle and organza stitched and burnt back with a heat gun.



 6. Do you exhibit your work? 
I find sending submissions to quilt and art shows incredibly stressful but also rewarding. 

    There is the risk in putting my stuff out there and being rejected but then the thrill when my pieces are accepted and even win prizes :) I am trying to push the boundaries a bit by submitting to art shows under the mixed media or the ‘any medium’ category/stipulation – so far without
     much luck! It seems to be very hard to get textile work accepted as art gallery-worthy

    I put in an entry to the Buda Homestead Textile Award in 2008 hoping to be accepted and ended up winning my category and best in show which was amazingly thrilling. Last year I had 2 pieces exhibited in Victorian Quilters’ One Step Further.

    Currently I am one of 30 Australian quilters with work showing in ‘My Place‘ an exhibition curated by Dijanne Cevaal – Diajnne called for submissions from Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa for quilts reflecting their creators sense of place and belonging. 

    Even more exciting was being asked to participate in an exhibition called Southern Lands, also curated by Dijanne. It’s still rather stunning to have my work hanging alongside quilters whose work I have admired for years.


     7. How do you go about finding and selecting exhibitions? 
    I usually scan magazines such as Australian Textile Forum and Australian Art Almanac for art and quilt shows seeking submissions.

    I think making personal connections with other quilters is vital – participation in My Place was through Dijanne’s blog and Southern Lands was by invitation. Similarly I was invited by Annabel Rainbow to join a group of quilters mainly in England who are making quilts to submit for the Birmingham Festival of Quilts.
    ‘Brave New World’ 28 x 46cm (11×18″)
    Felted wool, painted interfacing, ribbon, Textiva film, sequin waste, orange bag plastic netting, organza and tulle. Machine stitched and heat gunned.


     8. Do you belong to any quilt associations? If so why did you join these ones? 
    I’m not a very good group person and the first quilting group I went to was a mixed experience… I was accepted by some friendly quilters but firmly snubbed as a newbie by others. I ended up feeling too intimidated to go back. 


    I have found online groups a much happier experience – I belong to the Southern Cross Quilters, Down Under Quilters and Australian and New Zealand Art Quilters although I tend to lurk on each of these groups.

    One of my most rewarding group experiences has been with the Art Quilts Around the World which sets a quarterly challenge theme and exhibits them on the group blog. Being part of this group has forced me to think hard about topics I wouldn’t have chosen and made me consciously choose challenge materials such as paper, lutradur and copper wire. Getting positive feedback from other group members has also increased my confidence as an artist and contributed to me developing my own style.


     9. What would you recommend people do who want to seriously get into textile art? 
    Set aside time every day to think, plan or do some textile art – listen to the muse and be open to inspiration from or by anything.


    ‘Land Sea Alchemy’ 48x40cm (19×16″)  $545
    Felted wool, rusted silk, Tyvek, silk fibre, knitted wool hand spun by the artist, copper wire, silk saris, organza, synthetics, beads.


     10. What inspires you? 

    At the moment my main inspiration is the spirit of central Australia. I first went there in 2007 and was immediately captivated by the landscape and feeling of the country. 
    I can’t see a time when I will run out of ideas inspired by this area.


    Other inspirations are ideas, feelings, states of being – I have a series of  quilts planned which will explore ideas of hell and purgatory, including feelings of grief and envy. Ideas are usually stimulated by particular colours or groups of colours working together or violently clashing.  I don’t make figurative pieces – for me it’s all about the colours and the textures.

    I keep a notebook with me at all times to capture ideas for pieces – I often pull over to the side of the road as an inspired idea slides through my brain while I’m driving. If you don’t write it down it tends to disappear or lose its potency – it needs to be pinned down and fixed in a notebook before the colour and life leaks out. 

     11. What sewing machine / threads etc do you use? 
    I have a Janome memory craft 6600 which I just love although I would prefer it if bobbins could be made a whole lot bigger. I get frustrated when I have to stop quilting to change the bobbin, although it’s good to have a prompt to stop, get up and stretch.

    I use Guterman and  Mettler threads but have most success with Fujix King Star  which I buy from Embroidery Source in Fairfield. I do have a vast collection of hand stitching and embroidery threads – everything from DMC to Caron and lots in between.

     12. Do you have any formal art training? Do you think it’s necessary? 
    No and no – with the reservation that I would love to be able to draw “properly” and plan on doing a drawing course when I get the time. I feel this is a great gap in my repertoire and my sketchbooks would be much lovelier and less clumsy if I could draw!

    Sometimes I think about doing a formal textile art course but am a bit reluctant at the moment – partly due to lack of time and partly not wanting to corral my artistic freedom too much.
    ‘Mandala’ 26x40cm (10×16″)  $300
    Ink and fabric paint dyed velveteen, layered with felted wool and cotton backing. Machine and hand stitched.
    For more information on the construction of this piece on Felicity’s blog, click here.


     13. What’s the most rewarding thing about your career? 
    Making something that expresses something inexpressible – I research and write for a living and having a sideline that is artistic allows me to express myself in a completely different way. I have also developed much more courage in giving things a go – I’ve got over having to be perfect.



     14. How did you learn the techniques you use? 
    I learnt a lot online, noodling around on the blogs or using Mr Google to research techniques. Bloggers are amazingly generous with their knowledge and expertise. I like to look at someone’s technique and then work out how it fits with the look I want to get – usually a quicker and dirtier version. I don’t often get long stretches of time to create, so I tend to work in bursts – assembling, stitching and burning with a heat gun rarely happen on the same day.  I put a lot of time into thinking and planning so when I do get some time to create I can jump straight in.

     I also have a large and growing collection of books – current favorites are Margaret Beal’s Fusing Fabric,  Colette Wollf’s Manipulating Fabric, India Flint’s Eco Colour and Contemporary Whitework by Tracy A Franklin and Nicola Jarvis.

     15. What are your favorite / least favorite parts of the quilting process? 
     I loathe binding, hanging sleeves and labels – the absolute worst part of the process. Luckily I tend not to use binding anymore – my pieces don’t need it and look better uncontained. I can’t get out of sleeves and labels though :)

    My favourite part is the inspiration through to seeing the piece emerge from the chaos of fabric, thread and stuff that is my sewing space. I’m not usually that thrilled by the finished piece at first – I need to put it away and come back to it before I’m happy with it. 


    As always please add any comments for Felicity or myself, or general thoughts on the interview in the comments section below. I love to get feedback and want to hear from you if you have any thoughts on what you’d like to see more or less of in future interviews. –Neroli

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