Artist Spotlight: Hayley Mills-Styles


Hayley is a Yorkshire based artist who works with embroidery and textiles. As well as working in her home studio in Leeds, Hayley also runs four textile-based workshops at Workshop. We sat down with Hayley to find out a bit more about her work, artistic practice and upcoming projects.

Tell us a bit about your artistic background. What made you want to become an artist? What drew you to working with textiles?

I’ve always been creative, my parents were both really practical people so I was taught how to sew, bake and do woodwork. I always wanted to work in the arts, I took a test at college and every answer said some sort of designer. During my degree in textile crafts, I found myself being drawn to art installations rather than design, using textiles to tell stories. My mum had a love of textiles, she had drawers of embroidered tablecloths and she was always knitting cardigans or mending clothes.

I work with a range of traditional textile techniques like hand embroidery, appliqué and English Patchwork, combining them with the digitally embroidered drawings using my Pfaff Creative 3.0 sewing and embroidery machine.

My work has been exhibited in museums and heritage sites throughout the north including Whitby Museum, Sunny Bank Mills and the Thackray Medical Museum. I have created site specific installations that explore museum and heritage collections, allowing audiences to explore the history of objects in an innovative way.

What are the main inspirations behind your work?

My work is inspired by objects and stories, these stories often have an autobiographical theme, exploring mental health and my childhood memories. I’ve made pieces that talk about my experiences of living with depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

You utilise digital embroidery in your work. Would you mind telling us a bit more about what digital embroidery is/entails? What drew you to it as a medium?

I was introduced to digital embroidery at Manchester School of Art during my MA in textiles as a way to shake up my practice. I’d only ever worked with hand embroidery and some free motion embroidery so this was a totally new challenge.

I use an embroidery machine which works like a sewing machine apart from the fact that there’s an arm that moves the embroidery hoop around to create designs. It allows me to create designs from my drawings and photographs and stitch them onto fabric, you can also easily embroider text.

After several years of working with digital embroidery I’ve developed a distinctive style. I love working with this technique and it’s helped me to create some pieces that I wouldn’t be able to do by hand.

Pincushions are a repeated element in your exhibitions – what drew you to them as a thing to make and include in your work?

The first piece of patchwork I made was a pincushion, it was made of hexagons in a variety of blue fabrics, since that first piece I’ve loved making pincushions. They’re really easy to make and very portable so I can stitch them on the train or in Workshop while I’m enjoy a latte and a piece of tiffin.

I’m really fascinated by the history of pincushions too. Pin pillows and unmounted pincushions emerged in the 15th century but it wasn’t until pins were widely affordable during the 1800s that cushions were commonly sold as trinkets or commemorative gifts. I’ve made pincushions that commemorate different events in my life for several exhibitions.

As well as Workshop, you’ve also exhibited at the Leeds Central Library and Sunny Bank Mills – what is it like working in Leeds and being part of the Leeds art scene? 

Leeds has some amazing creative spaces and organisations; I love living and working in such an inspiring city. I’ve worked on community projects with other creative practitioners and organisations like The Seacroft Tapestry and Outing the Past exploring the history of Leeds using fabric and thread.

I’ve been lucky to work with Leeds Museums & Galleries, The Tetley and Leeds Playhouse on their creative engagement programmes. Running textile and visual art workshops alongside their exhibitions and events, inspiring both children and adults.

When I’m feeling uninspired, I can visit museums and galleries in the city and go to talks by other artists. We have some fantastic events like the Love Arts Festival and Light Night that inspire our communities.

Would you mind telling us more about your site-specific installations? Does your artistic process change when having to make work for a specific place?

My work is often site responsive, spending time in a location helps me decide what I want to make. For my exhibition Archive & Other Stories at Whitby Museum, I spent a few hours each week in the museum exploring the collections. I take lots of photographs and make notes in a journal, I’m not that great at drawing!

I always want to find a new way of presenting my research, creating textile drawings and objects that look at things differently. Textiles give me a great opportunity to present work that people resonate with. We all know what fabric feels like against the body which makes my work feel more personal.

How are you keeping busy during quarantine? Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re currently working on?

I’m really lucky that my studio is at home so I’ve been able to keep creating during lockdown. As we’re only walking and staying near to home I’ve been inspired by graffiti and the routes we walk. I’ve created some hand embroidered route maps using data I recorded on Strava.

I’ve also been commissioned by organisations like Woven, as well as private commissions for pincushions and visible mending. I’m also teaching virtually for Artlink West Yorkshire and Arts & Minds Network, helping people to find their creative voice.

Obviously everything is very up in the air at the moment, but what are your plans post-lockdown? What are your hopes for the future?

After lockdown I’m hoping to start my research for Flock North, a collaborative project with visual artist Louise Atkinson. We’re exploring textile production and migration in Yorkshire at Leeds Industrial Museum and Sunny Bank Mills Archive.

As much as I love working at home, I’m looking forward to teaching face to face again at Workshop, Leeds Libraries and Leeds Playhouse. Teaching is such a wonderful job, passing on the skills that I’ve learned and sharing my passion for textiles.

Check out Hayley's work here, and follow her on Instagram here.

Hayley teaches a variety of classes with us from Hand Embroidery and Appliqué to Visible Mending. Hayley is running her Visible Mending workshop online on 25th July, click here to find out more about the class.

Liked our interview with Hayley? Why not check out the interview we did with abstract artist Abigail Aaron?

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