I remember talking to Zoë about her Toucan at almost the same time last year when I was writing up an update on how the pandemic had impacted on the ABC Art Trail, and of course on the artists themselves. Like many public events, the Trail had to be cancelled. Although this was a huge disappointment for all involved, we at The Beestonian did our bit to support by creating a gallery of each artists work accompanied by a short bio.

Back then Zoë told us:

‘I love working with a variety of media, but textiles hold the greatest fascination for me.  The immense variety of textures and colours, natural or manmade, provides inspiration for endless ideas. I find working with textiles very relaxing, rewarding and essential to my well-being. Taking inspiration from our British Countryside continuously inspires me with inspiration for new work. I love combining art with textiles which stretches the boundary between art and craft.’

A complete change in direction for her, it was great to have an opportunity to discuss her move from muted pastels to a more vibrant exotic colour palette. Sitting on the sun-baked balcony at The Canalside Heritage Centre, Zoë tells me that at the start of the first lockdown she was ‘knocked for six.’ She felt so worried, and that along with all the cancelled events completely squashed her creativity. As an escape from the blanket of sadness that seemed to have suddenly engulfed many of us at the time, she sought refuge in her home and garden. 

It wasn’t until a friend asked her if she could make her a peacock brooch that Zoë contemplated sitting at her sewing machine at all. As a consequence she began pulling together a more intense selection of fabrics and threads – working with such brilliant colours her creativity was re-ignited. Adding orange and lime green threads to her stock colours, she started to look at other exotic birds and settled on a toucan for her next subject. Zoë created a few different versions and sold some of the larger pieces quite early on. The idea for the rainbow-billed toucan featured in this issue’s magazine, was more than likely a direct reference to the rainbows that she had seen suddenly appearing in windows up and down deserted streets, adopted as an emblem of encouragement and hope. 

The origins of Zoë’s carefully created textile pieces began when she was a child growing up in a small mining village between Wakefield and Pontefract when a make-and-mend attitude was fostered by families and communities passed on their skills. Her mum taught her to use a sewing machine and recycled materials were often used, nothing was wasted or thrown away – she mentions rag rugs and quilts as other ways she saw fabric reused.  In her home studio Zoë has a huge stash! Boxes of colour coded fabric scraps she enjoys rummaging through to find the perfect pieces to represent the texture of whatever natural form she is depicting. She talks about a delightful piece of beige lace fabric that was passed to her by her friend Pam – it had been a beautiful 1930s cocktail dress worn by Pam’s mother and had come to the end of its life. Zoë loves that she has managed to extend its use a little longer and it features in quite a few of her coastal scenes. 

She credits her confidence to experiment with a range of fabric types to her excellent training at South Nottingham College where she studied for several years to gain a City and Guilds certificates. The college was then known as a Centre of Excellence for the East Midlands and had annual end of year exhibitions of work that was considered to be of a very high standard – Zoë was truly inspired. She learned the full scope of what you could achieve with a sewing machine and a range of textiles. Courses included textile design, fabric techniques, which featured dyeing and manipulation of fabrics and machine embroidery. Being provided with great opportunities for practice  gave her the confidence to experiment and take risks – she felt she learned a lot from the other women on the course as well as the course tutors, who had created a empowering environment for their students to develop their practice. The course started with a return to mark making and drawing, which she already felt confident with. You can see by the way Zoë picks out the details in her pieces how adept she has become at free-machine embroidery. I recently admired how she used stitching to add weight to a bouquet of pink satin tulips in sugared almond pinks but I particularly love the tactile appearance of ‘Three Teasels’ and the depth she achieves in her landscapes.  

Zoë has been part of the ABC Art Trail since it became an off-shoot of Broxtowe Open Studios which was wider reaching but felt a little inaccessible as the studios were so far away from each other. She currently holds the position of Vice Chair and welcomes the community feel of the current event. As well as being heavily involved in the organisation and exhibiting in the Trail, she has also been the co-ordinator for the gallery space at Attenborough Nature Centre for the past ten years having initially being invited to exhibit there. She is hoping to exhibit a collection when the centre re-opens to the public later in the year.

Look out for our update on a new date for the ABC Art Trail, also in this issue!