Introducing Lydia Needle

As a very young child, I decided I was going to be either an artist or a zookeeper; it was that simple. At the grand age of 49, I became the former, and I’ve decided that zoo keeping probably just isn’t on the cards for me. Instead, I focus my passions about the natural world, and issues concerning the environment, directly into my art.

I describe myself art eco-activist because I aim to provoke questions, raise awareness and bring about change. To that end, I use waste, eco or vintage fibres, yarns, and fabric to help create a dialogue about our impact on the planet, and the environmental and human costs of the textiles industry. 

Front cover of the ‘FIFTY BEES IV’ book, 2019

I am the instigator and lead artist of FIFTY BEES: The Interconnectedness of All Things, the rolling collaborative art project that I developed in 2017. Each year, I create fifty, small individual bee art pieces using needlefelted wool, stitch and tiny vintage containers. Then another fifty artists, makers, writers, or musicians are invited to make one new companion work in response to the ecology of one of those bees. They become collaborators in this thrilling story and champions of their bee. Using paint, print, poetry, song, sculpture, and so on, they create a narrative between artworks and bees and makes clear how pollinators are completely interlinked with our ecosystem, and our role in their protection.

At present, I am working on bees 201 to 250 in readiness for the fifth iteration of the project. Which means, incredibly, there have been 250 companion artworks created since 2017, and more than 150 artists involved.

Old wool blanket ‘felts’ drying, 2021

In 2021, I completed an MA in Fine Art at Bath Spa University. My work was concerned with soil’s crucial ability to lock in carbon and its role in tackling climate change. 

For my final project I created a Perpetual Papermaking Machine and produced paper. Each component of the machine and paper formed a closed-loop system: waste paper and card were soaked in water, paper pulp created, sheets of Soiled Paper formed between old blankets, water drained, collected, filtered and reused, and finally the paper was fed to my worms who locked in the carbon. The machine was the vehicle that brought me and the collected soil data together in a collaborative process, the physical manifestation of my engagement with the climate crisis, my impotence embodied in paper, a partial answer to the question:

“What can I do?”

This work continues in my home studio, working my thoughts into experiments around reframing waste. I use scraps of cast off fabric, packaging waste and inedible food scraps. 

These experiments become pages for a Coptic bound book, 99% ‘waste’ and 1% vintage linen thread, and hours and days of stitching labour. The book I created is given to the worms, part of the composting cycle.

‘Coptic bound book – food for worms’, 2022

It’s the work that matters to me, what can be more important than the environment?

To see more of my work you can follow me on Instagram @lydianeedle, and come and see FIFTY BEES 5 at ACEarts, Market Place, Somerton, Somerset, TA11 7NB from Saturday 9 April until 14 May. 

Lydia Needle