Featuring designer, embroiderer, tutor and textile artist
Helen Cowans whose work encompasses an intriguing mix of ideas,
influences and styles, which constantly evolve as Helen Cowans
works her magic with needle and thread in cross-stitch, freestyle
embroidery and creative textile art!
Helen with son, Richard
Helen was born an only child in the West Midlands almost
in the centre of England. At school she took an interest in most
subjects and loved art and needlework. She still retains a pair
of cushions that she embroidered when she was about 13 years
old and which she actually still uses.
Helen's art teacher in school was wonderful. She emphasizes,
"He gave me all the encouragement I could have needed, both
in pure art and in photography. When it came to choosing subjects
for further study at 16 years old I was persuaded to drop art
and concentrate on biology and science. My art teacher couldn't
believe that I wasn't going to continue studying art at college.
I wish that I had continued with my art studies now there
are so many opportunities to take combined degrees but
when I took mine you couldn't be an artist and a scientist. Ideally
I would have studied both art and biology."
Helen graduated with a Biology degree and had very little
opportunity to engage in stitching for several years. Her scientific
training has proved a great asset and has provided her with the
ability to look at the natural world and to be inquisitive and
question everything! She adds, "It also helps when I write
up my instructions as I was trained to write scientific reports."
She still loves to draw and says, "I have always drawn.
Once upon a time as a child I would have said that I wanted to
be an artist (is that where I have finally got to?). I also love
pastels and watercolours. Photography is a big part of my life."
One Thread Kit
After University Helen moved to London and worked as a scientist
in research laboratories. After marriage and living in London
for 5 years, she and her husband decided to move 350 miles to
the northeast of England -- out to the countryside and almost
to the Scottish border. It was a place where they had often spent
holidays to escape the daily grind of city living. Helen declares,
"This was a dream come true. After the move I worked for
5 years in sales and marketing traveling throughout northern
England. Two and a half years ago, after much searching we found
the house we had always wanted: a Victorian railway cottage,
with the original signal box in the large garden. After altering
the property to make a larger kitchen and three extra rooms we
moved in just 2 weeks before the birth of my son Richard.
After Richard was born I gave up full time work and worked occasionally
as a wedding photographer (something I was doing part-time whilst
working full time). However after the end of 2002 I have decided
not to take any more wedding bookings and concentrate on my son
and my needlework."
It was while Helen was pregnant with Richard that she began
to stitch again. She needed something to make her stop, sit down,
and be still! She soon found out that although there were lots
of kits that she wanted to stitch, that she also wanted to design
and stitch her own. Helen enjoys both cross-stitch and freestyle
embroidery and happily swaps between one and the other. She purchased
cross-stitch design software and a very large tin of coloured
pencils. Following Richard's birth she grabbed what spare moments
she could to stitch and design. In June 2001 she sold 5 designs
to Coats Crafts, which are for publication in 2 UK magazines.
Even though she's still waiting to see them in print, these sales
provided the incentive to continue designing and in February
2002 Helen attended her first trade show -- the International
Craft and Hobby Fair formerly known as "Stitches."
When queried about how Helen comes up with her design ideas
and what inspires them, her reply is simply, "Everything!"
Her One-Thread Kits have been inspired by Turkish rugs, patterns
on china, the colours of the threads or simply by playing around
with patterns on the computer screen. Her Cross-Stitch Charts
are inspired by the countryside around her: Rose Cottage is based
on her own house (before the extension), Margaret's Sheep was
inspired by the sheep she sees dotting the countryside all around,
"Almost everyday I go for a walk through my friend's farm
and this is what I see." Her Freestyle Kits are also inspired
by her surroundings: the flowers at different times of the year
and the changing colours of the seasons. Helen says "My
kits and charts are a little 'different;' there are few freestyle
designers and even fewer that work with pure silk threads. Variegated
threads are still a novelty in the UK to lots of embroiderers."
Helen remarks, "The biologist in me is fascinated by
the natural world." Beautiful threads and fabrics also furnish
inspiration, She loves the vibrant colours of the Caron Collection
and the feel of silk threads. Helen insists, "I do know
that I fell in love with them straight away and I have a huge
collection! Indeed, without the Caron Collection threads there
would be no One-Thread Kits. The whole idea of the kits is that
only one thread is used making them especially suitable for beginners
or whilst traveling: no colours to sort out, only one symbol
to follow. I also use the Caron collection threads in my charts
as they add that extra special touch." Helen's design style
is fluid and constantly in a state of flux, varying from opulent,
bohemian styles to country charm and cute sheep! She admits,
" I am still evolving, learning and being surprised by my
Currently Helen is studying for City and Guilds Embroidery
and is learning many new techniques as well as amassing novel
design ideas. She elaborates, "I love the loose creative
needlework that City and Guilds teaching encourages. This has
inspired me to design a new range of kits using a variety of
threads and dyed fabrics. I am a part-time adult tutor and I
teach a variety of embroidery classes from one-day workshops
to courses of 10-30 weeks." Helen has since discovered that
by teaching is another great way to learn -- from ones' students.
Helen's work can be viewed in a few shops in England and at
Willow fabrics (www.willowfabrics.co.uk) and Sew Exciting! (www.sewexciting.com),
as well as on her own website. The One-Thread and Freestyle Kits
will be exhibited on the Sew Exciting Stand at the Knitting and
Stitching Show at Harrogate from November 21 to 24th, 2002.
One Thread Kit
She has recently been awarded a bursary (scholarship) to further
her City and Guilds studies. The bursary is awarded to only about
4 students in the UK each year. Helen has been invited to exhibit
her work at the Fashion and Embroidery Show in October 2003,
billed as the UK's most exclusive textile and embroidery event.
She states, "Although this will be a showcase for my creative
embroidery and textile work it will no doubt influence the kits
I produce. After this show I intend to work towards a local exhibition
of my work." Additionally Helen writes magazine articles
and will be published in Quilting Arts (www.quiltingarts.com)
in this upcoming winter issue (December 2002).
So what does Helen see in her future? "The future looks
busy! If I could wish for one thing it would be more time! But
I don't want to do too much so that I miss out on my son's first
few years. When he is at school (2 years time) I will be able
to devote more creative energy to designing. In the meantime
I have plans for several new kits - both Cross-stitch and Freestyle
and the new range of creative kits. Oh yes, as well as completing
Part 1 of the City and Guilds Course and going onto part 2 (the
Purple Moon Designs
The Crossing, Haugh Head, Wooler,
Northumberland, NE71 6QS, UK
Phone: + 44 (0) 1668 28393
Fax: + 44 (0) 1668 283194
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