Life is better by water – Textile Art

As part of the Our Space Project which was run in partnership with the Canal and River Trust, we wanted to highlight that the canal network can be a place of great creative inspiration.
Alongside the photography competition we worked with two different textile groups – Wolverhampton Creative Embroiderers and Sisters Of Stitch – to look at how the canals can be the starting point for creative work in thread and stitch. The theme, as for the rest of the project, was “Life is better by water”

We hope to display these pieces later on in the year as photographs really don’t do them justice, but for now please click on the links below to see the amazing work that was inspired by the network of canals right on our doorstep!

A short presentation showcasing our embroideries

 Wolverhampton Creative Embroiderers was formerly the Wolverhampton Branch of the Embroiderers Guild. It has a large membership of dynamic stitchers whose interests cover all aspects of embroidery and textile art. A talk on ‘using the canals as inspiration for art’ was the start of the process for this project.  Each member then created a piece of work based on what they find inspiring about the canal network and it’s environment.   A diverse range of pieces have been produced, highlighting many different aspects and using lots of different techniques and processes.  

Anne Holyhead: Single Dandelion Clock. 


Hand dyed wool felt and silk with hand embroidery. Botanical name: Taraxacum officinalis. The bright yellow Dandelion, flowers March to October and grows in waste ground such as towpaths. It has many herbal uses and is a source of nectar and

 pollen for insects. The flower head matures into a spherical seed head commonly known as a clock. These filamentous achenes then easily disperse in the wind. Children often count the number of puffs required to release the fluffy white ‘parachutes’ from the dandelion and this is supposed to tell the time.

Palbinder Mann:

This free motion embroidery image was inspired by a photograph taken in 2020 of Staffs/Worcester canal Bratch Locks, Wombourne. 

 Elise Stewart: The photograph was taken at the start of the 21 locks going through Wolverhampton.  I printed it out to investigate what stitches might work for the final piece – but liked stitching into paper so much that it became the final piece. 

The embroidered photograph was then stitched to thin card in order to turn it into the cover for a hand-made book. 

Judy Higginson:

Happy memories of walking my dogs at Bumble Hole and Warrens Hall Park in Dudley, many years ago. Appliquéd fabrics with free machine stitching and a little hand stitching. 

Margaret McQuillen: I was inspired by the pool at Bratch locks. I used hand dyed scrim and fleece, embellished onto a hand dyed background.

I then used layers of machine embroidery and finished with dyed, cotton covered wire and machine embroidered leaves.

Gail Tutcher:

Herons can often be seen on the side of canals. They stand perfectly still, waiting for lunch to come along. I used scraps of recycled fabrics to build up the body of the heron and then added hand embroidery to provide the details. 


Helen Elder: 

I loved the architectural nature of the stems with the soft ‘fluffy’ looking flowers. It gave me an opportunity to use many different threads and stitches, many of which I had to learn for the piece. I also included some crochet slips and a tiny bit of applique. 



Dawn King: This piece was inspired by mosses growing on Bridge 7 along the Shropshire Union canal.

Lit by the morning sun, they appeared as a landscape in miniature. Stitches: Seeding, Lazy Daisy, Fly, Turkey Rug and French Knots. Threads: Silk and stranded cotton threads, and dyed Shetland wools. The hanging ribbon represents a sentence found on the Canal and River Trust website – “We care for a 2000-mile long ‘green-blue ribbon’ that connects hundreds of wildlife habitats.

Linda Bell: 

The photograph was taken at the flight of locks at the Delph, Brierley Hill which was the inspiration for my piece.  It was worked on canvas using a variety of stitches and threads to try to create the colours and textures of the individual bricks, some of which were handmade at E J & J Pearson, a brickyard which sat alongside the canal at the Delph.  I worked there when I left school in the early 60’s  

Maggie Finney: The “towpath” is based on a photograph of autumn colours with colours of the trees reflected in the water.

It is a scarf made using the wet felting process – where wool fibres are bonded together using soapy water and friction

Karina Male: The first (heron) is titled ‘Going Fishing’. It is applique, machine and hand embroidery using scrim and cotton, on a cotton and chiffon base. Inspired from a photograph taken at The Dock, Wordsley, Stourbridge. 

The second (kingfisher watercolour) is titled ‘Got it’ and is inspired from various images, which were adapted and put together.

Roberta Maxfield: I took the logo of the Canal and River Trust as my inspiration for this piece. I used a piece of cotton that had been left to rust to suggest a bridge over a canal or river. 

The blue fabric and thread picks up on the logo again to suggest water and I’ve stitched grasses, flowers and a butterfly to show how the waterways have become a haven for wildlife.

Debbie Rosser: The inspiration for the slippers came from a walk by the canal in early winter when the undergrowth on the canal banks had faded into the soft colours of the dying season. 

They are made from space dyed felt lined with painted silk noil and embroidered with perle and variegated cotton thread.  The stitches used are French knots, chain stitch, stem stitch, fly stitch and couching.

Joy Griffiths:

The embroidery ‘On the river bank’  is on painted canvas with various weight threads, felt, wool etc.

Saskia Poller:

The fish were inspired by a piece I saw in an exhibition when I was a student many years ago but it took until having lockdown for me to have the time and inspiration to create this. The fish are made from commercially bought fish print fabric, the weed is painted pipe-cleaners and the box is from recycled packaging. 

The three birds were inspired by my walks along the canals during lockdown. Prior to lockdown, I had never appreciated the beautiful green spaces we have within our city. They are made from  embroidered home dyed wool blanket with painted pipe-cleaner legs, standing on bark found along the canal side.

Sisters of Stitch is a collaboration of four local textile artists, who come together to share ideas, inspire and encourage each other and develop their portfolios, as well as creating a joint project every year. They have exhibited in the Wolverhampton Art Trail and often use walks in the local environment as inspiration for their work.

Maggie Finney: ‘Felt bag’. The bag is based on the colours of a demoiselle, which is large metallic damselfly with fluttering, butterfly-like wings found along streams, rivers and canals.

The photographs show the bag being modelled by the canal, as well as a close up of the detail. Rusty piece – Inspired by a piece of rusty metal found along the canal. Both these pieces were made by a wet felting technique. 

Elise Stewart: I saw this Pyracantha growing on a fence along towpath. It’s a great example of how a “garden plant” (usually grown as a hedge) can also help wildlife, as many birds eat the berries.

I also think the bright berries are quite jewel like in tone so it was fun to reproduce them using beads.  The base, fence and leaves are made from paint dyed old face wipes.  Face wipes are made of non biodegradeable plastic and if they get in the environment they don’t degrade. 

Anne Painter: A friend mentioned that she had been sketching along the canals. When I saw the photos the sketches really appealed to me, so I printed two of them off at a reduced size.

I ironed backing fabric onto the paper and then stitched directly into the prints with a fine thread and needle. I wanted to keep the effect of the sketching so I tried to follow the existing lines and aimed for a simple look, just trying to emphasise various points.

Roberta Maxfield: I lived by water as a child and played in brooks, rivers and on canals in our rowing boat. The words sum up some of the things I think canals and rivers mean to people. I have “hidden” some words – can you find them? 

The work is on a dyed cloth wipe, mounted on dyed muslin and then the whole thing mounted onto a canvas. There are various threads used and they have been couched down. The rusty nails remind us of the reason the canals were originally built – for the Industrial Revolution.