Textiles and drugs

Introducing new member Helen MacRitchie

Art and science were never subjects that coexisted in my Scottish school curriculum.  One had to be picked over the other. Creative subjects sadly slipped away when I chose the direction of high school chemistry, then pharmacy, in university and beyond. Those arty pursuits were relegated to an occasional hobby in the evening although I often wished for more. A change of country and language turned out to be just the chance to rethink my career.

Working in studio

In 2000 I relocated to Switzerland and, looking after 2 small children at home, the opportunity came to study once again. This time I chose textiles and embroidery. It kept me sane in a non-English speaking environment, and I loved it. After a further move four years later to Australia, I discovered the world of wool felting and never looked back. Fast forward fifteen years, I am back in the UK with an art practice founded in wool, developed from my home studio in the countryside of Oxfordshire. There, I hand dye and felt a variety of wool types, before I hand and machine embroider, incorporating other fibres and materials to achieve texture and detail.

My current work explores the themes of belonging, home, ancestry and personal connections with the landscape. After the light and colour of Australia I am, perhaps, more attuned to the subtle hues of the countryside here, and it inspires me.

Abstracted Oxfordshire series 1 / 10 (naturally dyed wool and yarn, recycled map) work in progress

Since 2016 I have exhibited my art with Untethered fibre artists in Australia and more recently with Prism Textiles in UK. After my experience in the pharmaceutical industry I often consider scientific or medicinal connections in my work, using motifs and symbols as metaphorical representation of wider issues. A scientific representation of the indigo blue pigment featured in Aniline, looks at the fragility and complexity surrounding mental health issues.

‘Aniline’ hanging (100 x 70cm approx): merino wool, recycled denim, latex, cotton embroidery thread (photography by J Tavener)

Breathtaking examines air quality and the associated recurring health issues such as asthma. 

‘Breathtaking’ detail (75 x 60 x 6cm) merino wool, silk organza, wool and cotton embroidery thread (photography by J Tavener)

Atherosclerosis (the hardening and narrowing of arteries which can restrict blood flow) is the subject of Searching for a way through made using wool yarn dyed with hawthorn, a tincture of which was a medieval treatment for heart conditions.

‘Searching for a way through’ detail (90 x 70 x 10cm) naturally dyed wool yarn, beads, cotton embroidery thread

It feels like I can combine science and art after all!

If you’d like hear more about my work and upcoming exhibitions do check out www.helenmacritchiedesigns.com or follow me on Instagram @helenmacritchie.

Helen MacRitchie

Photography is credited to artist unless otherwise indicated.