For someone who’s family has been involved with textiles in various forms over a couple of generations, it is no surprise that Brit Corinne Young formed a passion for fabrics and embroidery herself at a young age. But it wasn’t until she turned 40 that she actually embarked on a degree in textile and design. Using her background in fashion and interior decorating, her collection of vintage fabrics and skill with a needle, Corinne now works full-time as a textile artist.
I caught up with Corinne to find out more about how she started, the amazing commissions she’s had (including a Lord of the Rings stage show) and how much she is inspired by nature. Come and join me …
Your family has an established history in textiles. Do you think you were destined to one day work as a textile artist? Tell me how this evolved?
Both sides of my family are from the Lancashire area and research into our family tree shows that my ancestors have a long history of employment in the textile trade. My father was a sales manager in a cotton mill, and taught me a lot about the history of industrial textiles. My maternal grandmother, my mother and aunt were all accomplished needlewomen and patiently passed these skills on to me as a child. My aunt was also a trained seamstress and conjured up fabulous clothes without the use of a pattern. To me as a child this was like alchemy and as a result I studied fashion and pattern cutting in my early twenties. However, embellishment was always a passion and after various jobs including fashion retail, interior design and decorating, I decided at 40 to do a degree in textile design, specialising in embroidery and print.
Explain your creative process and how you work. Do you start with an idea first or is it a piece of fabric?
My creative process is quite complex and in a way starts at the end, as the first thing I decide upon is the application for the piece of work. I acquire old pieces such as chairs, boxes, old picture frames etc and then do a lot of research using books, internet searches, sampling, sketchbooks, colour studies and various primary source materials to decide how best to create a piece of work incorporating them.
You have a varied body of work, ranging from upholstery to wallpaper to artwork and panels. Has this come about from your experimenting or commissions or both?
I was an interior designer before becoming a textile artist. Therefore, I like to produce several pieces which can form part of a room scheme. I treat everything as though it is a canvas to work on and am happiest when working in 3D. During my ten years’ practice as an artist I have been commissioned to make many things including publicity panels for the Lord of the Rings stage show, pictures, embellished fabrics and even bespoke clothing pieces. My body of work is unified by the inspiration I derive from natural forms, including plants and butterflies.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
It’s always difficult for an artist starting out to balance the need for a regular income with the erratic reality of an artist’s earnings. I have been fortunate to have been able to address this difficulty with a part-time job running a local contemporary art gallery. The gallery has also given me a network of like-minded artists and creative people and a platform for selling my work. I have recently been able to cut down my hours and have now left the gallery in order to concentrate more on my own work. I have been able to retain a good working relationship with the owner and am based there for Open Studios in September.
Tell me about the vintage materials you use. Where do you get them from and have you any interesting stories to tell about them?
I have a large collection of vintage materials acquired over many years. I have always bought old furniture at auctions rather than new and enjoy making them my own by painting and recovering. I have always bought vintage linens, too and have recently been gifted several collections including a precious partly-made Edwardian patchwork quilt, a box of Victorian scraps, my maternal grandmother’s embroidered cloths and paternal grandmother’s collection of WW1 postcards. These most precious things will be used for inspiration only and passed on to my two daughters, who have also inherited my love of textiles and antiques. I regard vintage materials as much more precious than new and accordingly use them sparingly and with great care.
Where do you go, or what do you do/read/see for inspiration?
I have always found gardens very inspiring and never fail to be amazed by the variations of nature. I grow particular plants in my own garden to study and to attract bees and butterflies. I also have a large collection of creative books, and regularly borrow more from my local mobile library. I am constantly inspired by the work of fellow artists and one of my favourite places is the V & A Museum, which I visit as often as possible. I am a member of the National Trust and love to visit stately homes and historic houses and study their collections. I recently had a residency at Burton Constable Hall near Hull, an Elizabethan stately home. I had several study sessions looking at the collections, including those ‘behind the scenes’ rooms which are often the most fascinating. From the residency I produced an installation of pieces for an exhibition, collaborating with another artist. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
The major thing I can think of in connection with my work is when I put up my first proper exhibition with the Society of Designer Craftsmen at the Mall Galleries in London: Who’d have thought I would end this exhibition with a fabulous international commission for pieces for a Lord of the Rings show in Toronto? Once I had spoken to the commissioner – and he had safely left the building – I ran around the gallery whooping for joy. All the other exhibitors thought I had lost my marbles!
What are you working on at the moment?
I am just about to launch an online shop from my website and am making some embroidered plant pots, stitched pictures and butterfly brooches for this. I am also combining my love of all things garden-related with a new interior design business creating garden themed rooms. I will be using my own flower inspired work along with vintage pieces and the work of some of my artist friends to decorate the rooms. My first step is a show in the exhibition rooms at RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate, Yorkshire, next spring. A feature of this will be a joint venture with an artist/upholsterer friend, where we will work together to restore and recover chairs using my embroidered fabric. These will be ‘statement’ chairs and will form the centrepiece for an interior design scheme.
What would be your dream project or commission?
I have a great many but in connection with my latest venture, I would love to create an interior for a garden room in a big show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I will have to see if I can make this happen. I would also love to have another residency and exhibition at a stately home – if I ever find the time!
Thanks so much, Corinne, for sharing your story with us! It just goes to show it’s never too late to follow a passion and, what’s more, you never know where it may lead you.