Conversations with the Makers

An array of questions to fibre/textile artists and their answers.

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Conversation with Mary Sleigh, UK

 I enjoy the industrious process of creating work and investigating materials and construction. Being resourceful and using what I have is significant in my practice: learnt as a child and reinforced by my travels and experience of tribal people. Much of the joy in what I create is in the actual making process; allowing work to change through making, finding visual, inventive and expressive ways of capturing fleeting moments, the essence of a place, person or an event. Using mixed media, combining fabric and paper, stitched surfaces and unexpected materials are exciting ways of allowing connections to emerge, inviting viewers to respond in their own way.


CONVERSATION WITH THE MAKER(CWTM)Did you always envision a life as an artist?

MARY SLEIGH(MS)No, but I have always loved being creative and it crept up on me! After giving up regular teaching I have more time to follow my own ideas and develop my own work, but of course there’s never enough time. I need another day in the week – my day. 

CWTM What was your first experience with making art?

MS As a small child drawing, making, using fabric and thread was just part of my life at home inspired by my parents and grandparents. 

CWTM Do you have a dedicated studio?

MS Yes, I have taken over a room now that my family have left home and it’s so good to be able leave work in progress out on the table or the room in a state of chaos if needs be!

 CWTM Can you describe a typical day?

MS Quite impossible! I have many commitments in my life and one of the most difficult things is to balance all those demands. I find a deadline galvanises me into action.


CWTM Would you consider your art making to be more about the process than the outcome?

MS The process is very important to my way of working but the outcome is vital if sometimes unexpected. I enjoy the industrious process of creating work and investigating materials and techniques. Much of the joy in what I create is in the actual making process; allowing work to change through construction, finding visual, inventive and expressive ways of capturing fleeting moments.

 CWTM Do you agree that a small element of uncertainty about the finished look is what makes the process of creating so enticing?

MS Absolutely; the process of creating is very much a journey of discovery for me and lots of ‘what ifs’.


CWTM Any indispensable tools or equipment?

MS I use very simple tools and love working by hand. Gadgets never seem to work for me so I don’t bother with them!

 CWTM Do your pieces start with a planned course of action or are they more spontaneous?

MS There is no straight line from beginning to end in my visual thinking, but rather a combination of fragments that relate to one another.


CWTM How do you know when to “stop” – when do you consider a piece actually finished?

MS That’s a hard question. I stop when I have removed everything that isn’t adding to what I’m trying to say….

 CWTM Your greatest source of inspiration is….

MS Part of the joy and inspiration in what I make is finding links that bind us as individuals and in the actual making process. Our heritage and culture as well as those of other people inspire me. It’s all bound up in choosing materials, finding ways of expressing colour, marks and surfaces that speak of a person place or moment in time.


CWTM Favourite quote?

MS A short one:

Chance favours the prepared mind.

Louis Pasteur, chemist 1822-1895 

And a longer one
The most satisfying thing a human being can do – and the sexiest – is to make something. Life is about relationship – to each other – and to the material world. Making something is a relationship. The thing about craft, about the making of everyday objects that we can have around us, about the making of objects that are beautiful and/or useful, is that our everyday life is enriched.

Jeanette Winterson, writer 1959-

CWTM When do you do your best creative thinking?

MS At the most unexpected times and often when I’m walking or working in my garden


CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

MS I love the actual making, choosing appropriate materials, combining skills, some newly acquired, solving the problems of construction and overcoming those moments of doubt and despair!

 CWTM Best advice you’ve ever received?

MS Can I answer with another quote?

CWTM Sure!!

A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed a hopeless failure may turn to a glorious success.

Elbert Hubbard, American writer 1856-1915

CWTM Best part of your day?

MS Waking up to the possibility of spending time on my work

 CWTM Who would be 6 people that you would invite to dinner?

MS I love the company of people who enjoy good food and wine and stimulating conversation so there are too many to name.
CWTM What inspires your creativity?
MS Exhibitions, books and artists in other disciplines as well as people from cultures very different from my own


CWTM What are you excited about right now in the world of textile art?
MS The lack of boundaries and crossing over of techniques and disciplines

 CWTM You’d be lost without…

MS My family and fellow artists who support and encourage me

CWTM What would you do with a few extra hours each day? 

MS I’d like to think I would draw


CWTM Your favourite luxury in life? 

MS Sharing creative ideas with other like-minded people on a summer’s evening in my garden with a glass of wine

 CWTM Has the advancement of computers and technology impacted your work?

MS No, but it has made it much easier to communicate with a wider public.

 CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

MS Just doing it and being absorbed by a project

 CWTM Is it important for us to be recognized by the art world and if so, how can we help affect that change?

MS Just do what we do with conviction and honesty and value it ourselves and then others will enjoy and feel it is worthwhile.

CWTM What is next for you?

MS Make some more work for Making Time, a new joint exhibition with a fellow artist based around the theme of collections and collecting. Of course I’ll be preparing for teaching in Australia – all very exciting.