Meredith Woolnough’s textile works are just so goshdarn beautiful. Inspired by nature and old lace, it is their intricacy and fragility that draws me in, and it is their vibrant textures that hold me there.
It is the ephemeral nature of things that is so elegantly conveyed in these delicate pieces; one of Meredith’s stated purposes is to explore the interconnectedness of living things and communicate ideas of environmental degradation.
Based in coastal Australia near Newcastle, she uses things found in her immediate environment as the basis for her pieces. She often works in series based around a theme, and has recently completed a large collection themed around ocean life, featuring a wide variety of corals and shells.
Meredith uses her sewing machine as a drawing tool, and the embroidery threads are densely stitched together to gradually built up into a richly textured surface. The water-soluble base cloth is washed away, and the resulting freeform sculptures are then carefully pinned to paper and framed, or set in resin to preserve them as delicate handmade artefacts.
She works out of her home studio, “a sunny room full of all my favourite things where I lock myself for hours to create. Unfortunately more often than not it’s a big mess and I can’t find anything when I need it.” [I’m kind of empathising with you on that Meredith. A lot. – JG ;)]
Part of the studio also houses her collection of old glass. She confesses to a bit of an obsession with it. “There is something really appealing about old bottles and containers, all those colours and cast labels. Nothing excites me more than finding an old, dirty glass pharmaceutical bottle in an op shop that I can clean up and bring back to life.”
Meredith told me her childhood was filled with making and drawing. One special book from that time is still kept with her; it was given to her by her grandfather when she was 7. “I filled this book with ‘special drawings’ over the span of about 5 years. I still have that book and I look over it from time to time – sometimes I cringe at the wonky cats and bad self-portraits that I attempted but them sometimes I am impressed with some of the drawing that my 9-year-old self managed to capture. Perhaps that was a start of something for me.”
So how did she come to this particular point in her career as an artist? “I studied fine art at uni straight out of high school and it was there that I fell in love with textiles, and in particular the freehand embroidery that I use in my artwork. After art school I worked as a secondary school teacher while still trying to maintain an art practice by being involved in the odd group exhibition here and there. Naturally working full time as a teacher didn’t leave much time for my own artmaking so in 2011 I took a huge risk; I left my job, moved to whole new city and began work full time as an artist. It has been one of the scariest, but also the most satisfying choices I have made in my life so far.”
Meredith says that like all artists, she has her ups and downs. She admits the downs can be quite debilitating, like “when you pour your whole heart into a new piece or way of doing things and it doesn’t work – that can be pretty soul-crushing. But more often than not something good eventually comes out of these ‘failures’.”
“Behind every failure is a lesson.”
And of course there are the good days. “Last year a rather large and prestigious company purchased two of my works to include in their extensive art collection – that was a good day.”
Her very best advice? “Believe in your product – if you believe that you are creating something valuable then you are probably right and this will lead to success.”