Words: Caroline Wheater Photographs: Neil Cruickshank & Antje Rook
Ever since she was a student at Aberystwyth University in Wales, Carol Cruickshank dreamed of living by the coast. ‘My husband Neil hankered after a country cottage too,’ she says, ‘so when our eldest two children had left home and our youngest was changing schools, we decided to relocate.’ That was 2007 and both of them were teachers at the time, working in Chelmsford, Essex. Job-hunting, they wrote first to schools in Cornwall, then Devon, and then Dorset, where they struck gold, enabling a move to a cottage in Portland, close to the cliff path.
‘I love the openness of the coast,’ says Carol, who walks with Neil and their dog Honey every day. ‘It frees your mind and dares you to believe in yourself. The views are ever-changing – sometimes you can see as far as the Isle of Wight, at others the Purbeck cliffs are obscured by mist.’ So inspiring has Carol found her new home that in 2009 she left teaching to turn her appliqué sewing hobby into a full-time creative venture, making textile collages to sell. ‘A collage always starts with something that I’ve seen – Neil takes photographs for me, or I sit and sketch. Often my pieces are true representations of a place with accurate details, or they can be more idealised. For example, I wouldn’t put in the cars at Weymouth Harbour but I show the fishing and sailing boats, and the quayside houses and shops, all of which catch the essence of the place.’ Other favourite locations include Beer and Topsham in Devon, the Pembrokeshire town of Tenby, St Ives in Cornwall, and most recently the Isles of Scilly, which the pair love: ‘Everywhere you turn, there’s a new view to look at,’ says Carol.
Back in her studio at home Carol begins by cutting a piece of calico to size, then sewing on background fabrics to represent sky, sea and land, building up further layers over a period of up to 50 hours. ‘My favourite part is choosing the material for each piece, it’s got to ring true,’ she says.
‘I use all sorts of fabric, from hand-dyed to new to recycled, and need to be surrounded by it all as I make the picture.’ If the weather is good then Carol sits in the garden to sew with her cotton and embroidery threads, hand-sewing in layers to give a subtle 3D effect. The finishing touch is down to Neil, who makes frames from driftwood collected on Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon that add to the charming, organic feel of each original collage.
See Carol’s collages at carolcruickshank.com. Original hand-sewn collages from £80 to £500; limited edition giclée prints from £35. Buy her work at Athay Studio & Gallery (athaygallery.co.uk) on Portland, [email protected] (art96.co.uk) in Topsham, and Seagrove Gallery in Marazion.
Find Carol on Facebook at @carolstextiles or on Instagram @cruickshank_carol
She’ll be showing at the Open for Art event, 18 May to 2 June 2019, when over 80 south Dorset artists throw open their studios to visitors (artwey.co.uk).
See more arts and crafts inspired by the coast here.