Beautiful creature

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Recycled fabrics become a canvas for wildlife-inspired artworks

With a lifelong passion for drawing and a textiles design degree under her belt, it was a beginner’s falconry course that made Emily Smalley realise she wanted to focus her embroidery work on the natural world.
‘I spent a lot of time studying birds of prey and realised they each have their own character,’ she says. ‘In fact, my most adventurous piece was a bird of prey-themed embroidered canvas I created for Melbourne Festival’s Emerging Talent Award in 2014; it was the largest embroidery I’d ever attempted and I started it only three weeks before the deadline! My work featured the peregrine falcons of Derby Cathedral and the three stages of a peregrine’s life. Amazingly, it won runner-up prize.’

Working at Banks Mills Studios in Derby, where she also runs workshops, Emily uses free-motion embroidery and hand screenprinting to bring her illustrations to life on both paper and textiles, tackling everything from an elaborate Japanese-inspired peacock wall hanging to pet portraits.
A love of fabric comes with the job and she admits she’s become something of a hoarder.
‘I often recycle old clothes, and as a way to keep my work more individual I buy fabric from end-of-roll sales and charity shops,’ she says. ‘It means my work is genuinely a limited edition or a one-off piece, and that just adds to the specialness of it. My aim is to produce beautiful quality items that will hopefully be treasured for a long time.’

She’s also sourced materials in some unexpected places. ‘Umbrella fabric is probably one of the most unusual materials I’ve used. It’s very hardwearing and you can find some lovely prints on broken brollies that would otherwise go in the bin. I would normally use this fabric for things like purse linings – the pattern makes a nice surprise when you open the bag.’
• Emily is opening her studio doors for Derbyshire Open Arts event (26–28 May) and will be exhibiting at The British Falconry and Raptor Fair in Helmsley, North Yorkshire (23–24 June). For event details or to visit her Etsy shop, go to www.emilysmalley.co.uk.

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