Textile Archive – Making Marks

It wasn’t easy trying to make some observational drawing in a short space of time with 3 items from a historical archive. I was restricted to using a pencil and my sketchbook, I also had my cameras so I was able to take plenty of photographs. 

I found this article in the Craft magazine, I like the advice and the lines and marks that Nik has made but all of the drawing items look expensive to me!


So then I found another article in Cloth Paper Scissors which really caught my eye. I love the way Yukimi uses unusual items from nature as drawing tools.  The environment in the archives meant I was not able to be this experimental but I have stored this ideas for the next exercise: Line & Edges.

Drawing on the Go

With this quick sketch I was aiming to quickly draw the complicated darning. To create a feel of the general shape and the lumpy quality of the stitch over laying the linen fabric.

In Helen Birch’s book freehand she says you can use ‘the drawn line to show what is in front of us, or to depict an idea that is in our mind’. I would highly recommend this tactile little book. It is very contemporary and full of great photos and guidance.  The artists are are very accessable and most can be found on Pinterest


It can be very daunting looking at a large object, like a smock coat and it can be so much easier to handle in bite sized pieces as described by Gwen Hedley’s book Drawn to Stitch.  In Chapter 3 she tells us ‘ It is the nature of the line that you are trying to capture, and not the entire object. If, for example, you are observing a complex linear marking on a shell, isolate an area and study the lines out of context. We are looking simply at a line. 

I took Gwen’s advice and started drawing stitches, folds and textures on the bodies of the garments.



I find it incredibly difficult to draw with complete accuracy, it left me feeling very inadequate when I was at school. Drawing a portrait or a landscape would bring me out in a cold sweat. So after 2 years of being demoralised and just scrapping through with a C in my O’level Art exam I accepted my art teachers prediction that I would just not be good enough for art school and left my art aspirations behind. 

Over the last 20 years views on art and creativity have changed considerably and thank goodness they have. Mick Maslen and Jack Southern’s book Drawing Projects explaining this very eloquently. 

When completing the observational drawings I found these old insecurities resurfacing and I almost found myself limiting myself to drawing some elements of the garments. But then I remembered that is not just about reality; a drawing is ‘an approximate attempt at depicting a perceived truth’ (Maslen & Southern)

This drawing gave me a little panic, it shows the gentle flow of the fabric but without the label you would have no idea what it was a drawing of.

So I loosen up, dropped my sholders and reverted back into a doodle style that I am more comfortable with.



For me the bible of observational drawing is Helen Parrott’s book Mark-making in Textile Art, she explains in very clear and simple terms how to gather visual information to be developed and used later in considered designs. 

I used her methods for a sketchbook I prepared after my first trip to the desert in Morocco. I particularly like Gwen’s advice about keeping enough information to enable you to recall what you have observed and to add written notes alongside your observational drawings. 


I am fascinated by the construction of the sleeves on the 2 smocks so put my best foot forward and made a more accurate drawing of the sleeve of the smock shirt.


The next exercise will enable me to explore and experiment further with these drawings and my photographs. Maybe I will use my new handmade/altered notebook from Manchester.


6 thoughts on “Textile Archive – Making Marks

  1. I thought your ‘doodle’ (if that is what it is) of the smock cuff and sleeve really gave me a good idea of what you were observing. Really helpful post for me – sometimes drawing becomes a difficult maze. Simplicity and cutting out a lot of the detail can be hard to master. Thanks! I got a C in my o-level exam, too. I am actually glad I did not go to art school way back then because the system was so hidebound compared to now!

    Liked by 1 person

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