Project 6 – Research Point: Interviewing a craftsperson

Helen MacRitchie

I’ve known Helen for several years now and admire her greatly.

Having a slightly warped sense of life, and an active imagination, I have often speculated about how our brains work – both seriously and in a more light-hearted manner.  Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we ran on a USB stick system and we could plug them in (perhaps in our ear or the base of our neck) and swap them around depending on what we were doing at the time?  We would never get overloaded or forget things because there would be tons of space and new USB drives to fill up all the time.  What on earth is she talking about, I hear you thinking.  Well, the point is this: if I could just borrow Helen’s Creative USB stick for a while I would be …… well …… quite fabulous!!!

Helen specialises in machine embellishment, creating layers and fabric manipulation.  It would be a rare day when she doesn’t either stitch, draw, plan or do something related to creative pursuits.  She may be working on her own unique pieces for pleasure, designing something to a specific brief, visiting an exhibition or searching out products to use in her next venture.

She has always enjoyed working with her hands and obviously had some quality tuition from her mother who is a retired Domestic Science teacher.  Whilst she loves drawing and collage it is the tactile nature of fabrics and the multitude of techniques that can be applied to them that attracts her.  She produces a range of items, both for sale and exhibition, and these encompass embroidered bags, purses, scarves, accessories, wearables and wall hangings.

Constructed fabric edging.

Helen doesn’t make a living from her creations but she covers costs and makes a small profit.  Whilst she would jump at the chance for her work to be more self-sustaining there are drawbacks to that at this stage.  She is a member of a couple of different textile organisations and takes the opportunity to sell at their once or twice a year events, but is very mindful of the fact that these items are being made with a commercial sale in view and have to be produced to a cost and time limit.  Her view is that if she spends all her time going down this route it may curtail her own enjoyment and creativity.  Great to spend a portion of her time doing this and getting her name more widely recognised but there needs to be space for exploration and furthering her own skills.

To this end, she is currently undertaking a distance learning course – City & Guilds Diploma in Design & Stitched Textiles – and has a blog outlining her progress.  I follow this avidly and have my fingers crossed hoping that my OCA journey will cover some of the techniques she has been doing in her course.

She also both attends and teaches workshops here in Australia.  If you follow my blog at all you will have seen the very average samples I managed to produce during the Carol Wilkes workshop I recently attended (post of June 5, 2012).  Helen was also in the class, produced some wonderful pieces, went home and constructed this bag the following day.  I hesitate to say ‘she just has it, she’s got the eye for this type of creativity’ because I know she has worked long and hard to hone her skills to get to this level.  However, she does seem to have a natural eye for colour, for enmeshing layers so that her work looks unified and for picking items to create focal interest.

Helen entered 3 pieces, into different categories, in the Royal Easter Show this year and won first place for each of them.

The picture here shows her contemporary Elizabethan wearable which not only won first place but also an Award of Excellence.

On the right is an image of her fronds bag which won in the felted accessory section.

In September Helen will be teaching a one day class for ATASDA called Layers of Texture and I’ve done it again – yes, I’ve signed up for this machine stitching, terrifying but stimulating class.  I really am going to improve my free-motion embroidery techniques beforehand this time!!

You can view Helen’s work on her blog and see items for sale in her etsy shop here.

Photos downloaded by kind permission from Helen MacRitchie.


About Claire B

I am a passionate printmaker, paper maker and book artist. I'm a 'forever' student and frequently attend courses and workshops to extend and improve my creative skills.
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