By Mollie Mansfield
Picas-sew! A young woman has taken her sewing machine around the world – creating amazing portraits one stitch at a time.
Harriet Riddell, from Watlington, Oxford, has travelled to TEN different countries with her solar-powered sewing machine.
The 27 year old has visited India, Denmark, Canada, Switzerland, and only last May, did she return to the UK.
After finishing her Mixed Media Art degree at University of Hertfordshire, Harriet was able to take up sewing as full time job.
She is now contacted by communities across the world to share her skills with them.
Harriet is also now able to sell her artwork and display her pieces in galleries in a bid to continue her sewing passion.
Harriet said: “I have some amazing photographs of myself with my sewing machine across the world.
“It’s really cool how you can interact and become part of their community thanks to art.
“Although we may not have spoken the same language, we could communicate through our stitches.
“When I went to India, I would just take my sewing machine with me wherever I went and would stitch anything that inspired me.
“The locals loved watching someone do something different, they found it very inspiring that I was there with my machine and were very positive with amazing reactions.
“But when I was stitching in Kenya their lifestyle quickly became very real to me, and this made me stitch the reality and general day-to-day life, which wasn’t always great.
“While I was here I realised I was part of a team and community of artists, I felt like I belonged somewhere, which is very special, as I usually work independently in the UK.”
Harriet started sewing five years ago, after she graduated – she began by taking her sewing machine to laundrettes, pubs and on the tubes in London and stitched anything that caught her eye.
Whilst in the UK she sold her portraits at festivals, and used this money to fund her travels.
However, during her travels, her sewing progressed and she found herself sewing at international weddings, and across communities all over the world.
She added: “I was invited to come out to a variety of different communities in Kenya and India to help teach them my art.
“I worked with a range of different people and taught them how to sew, but also did other crafts.
“When I was in Kolkata I helped a community make dog collars out of the inner tube of a bike tyre and they now sell these to the UK.”
Despite stitching numerous pictures and scenes whilst on her travels, Harriet does have a few that she calls her favourite.
Harriet added: “One of my favourite pieces is a panoramic view of a slum by a train track in Nairobi.
“I was sat by the edge of the slum, looking over it and stitching as I was glancing up and down.
“It was a very lively scene and I thought that it really captured the charm and character of the place.
“I love the piece for its aesthetics, but it’s just such a tiny keyhole into another world.
“Sketching the slums in detail really opened my eyes so much to what life is like elsewhere.
“By going out there and fully submerging myself into the communities I feel as though I really threw myself into the lifestyle.
“It was crazy coming back to England, because I got really used to staying in the slums, and coming back I couldn’t really get my head around everything – the transition was shocking.
“Whilst I was in India I became part of a religious procession, and stitched upon a float.
“I met the Babaji whilst I was out there and spent the day with him and in return for me helping him decorate his float, he allowed me to stitch aboard it for seven hours.”
Although Harriet is currently stitching in the UK, as her full time job, she is still itching to get back out there and see, and stitch, more of the world.
Harriet said: “I’m still hoping to go back out again, I get itchy feet if I have been in England too long.
“I’d really like to go back out and keep interacting with different people and seeing different parts of the world and ways of life.
“Once I went to Holland to illustrate someone’s wedding and that was amazing.
“It was great to be part of someone’s special day and to supply them with artwork that is unique and that they could keep forever.
“I also took part in a sewing show in Denmark, and after that travelled to Kopenhagen and the free-town of Christiania.
“It was amazing being there as they have no rules in their community, so I was able to stitch a loop hole in the city.
“When I was in Canada I was mainly creating family portraits, because of my family coming from Toronto, but I also stitched the Niagara Falls.
“I’d also really like to stitch some more global weddings and keep experiencing different things with my sewing machine.”
Harriet now has a sewing studio in East Dulwich, London, to create and house her ‘InStitchYou’ artworks.
She currently uses a pedal-powered sewing machine, where she recruits members of the public to pedal whilst she sews.
Harriet added: “When I’m stitching it tends to take roughly 25 minutes to create a portrait, but with landscapes I usually go back sand visit them over several days and keep adding to the piece.
“The size of them tend to average out as one metre by one metre, but they vary depending on the piece.”
Harriet has currently taken her sewing machine to:
ACROSS THE UK