Roslyn Mitchell: Heritage is where her heart is!

On the 27th of February 2020 Glasgow City Heritage Trust launched “Glasgow: One Stitch at a Time” – a fantastic exhibition displaying the works of textile artist Roslyn Mitchell, who combines her love for the architecture and people of Glasgow with her love of colour and embroidery to produce bright and tactile pieces of textile art. 

The launch was a big success and our visitors were in awe of Roslyn’s works…

…Two months (and counting) have gone by from that night, the world and everyone’s lives have changed dramatically: our office and exhibition space is sadly closed until it will be safe to open again and we are all working from home.

We kept thinking about Roslyn’s amazing and colourful works shut in the office and so we created a little virtual tour of the exhibition for you to enjoy.

We’ve also asked Roslyn a few questions so read on to find out why she loves a doer-upper and how the ‘Cornish pasty rabbit’ encouraged her to start using architecture in her work. 



How did you start?
I’ve always been creative but despite studying Interior Design, I ended up working in Finance. By September 2010, I was itching to start making again but with 3 boys aged 12, 4 and 11 months, I couldn’t justify a hobby so had to do something that paid.
I dusted off an old sewing machine and started making personalised cushions and bunting. I taught myself how to do free-motion embroidery, talk about learning the hard way! I’ve always said “If I can draw it, I can stitch it” but this made for some very ‘interesting’ commissions. Let’s just say the request for me to make a cushion featuring a cuddly rabbit on a bike with a Cornish pasty was the final straw for me! Thankfully, instead of stopping making altogether, I started drawing and stitching buildings and made my first of many home portraits in 2013.

What inspires you? What are your influences?
My inspiration is the architecture and people of Glasgow and the west. I love social history and this is where the idea for the Windae Hingers came from. I’ve only just scratched the surface with these and would love to create more work with them. I’ve also always had a fascination with lost architecture and have spent many hours lost in the Urban Glasgow website.
I’m mostly influenced by photography and illustration. There are wonderful Oscar Marzaroli images I would love to recreate in textiles if I had permission to. I would also love to be able to draw in the style of GCHT’s own Niall Murphy as his drawings would look amazing free-motion embroidered.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the technique you use and how did you learn?
Hand free-motion embroidery is really just painting with fabric and drawing with thread. Appliqued fabric is cut, ironed down and stitched over to hold in place. The best way I can describe free-motion embroidery is to imagine you’re drawing a picture by holding the pencil still and moving the paper. The first part of any project is the drawing. After the drawing is complete, the work is turned over and traced in reverse onto bonding material/paper, breaking the image down into all the different shapes in each colour/fabric type used. The bonding material that holds the work in place until it is stitched is ironed onto the back of the fabric, which is why it is done in reverse. After all the various shapes of bonding paper are cut and ironed onto the required fabric, the fabric pieces are then cut. This is my least favourite part of any project, so you can imagine just how much fun I had cutting approx 800 bits for my ‘People Make Glasgow’ piece! The cut pieces are then ‘jigsaw’ed in place and ironed down.  After the monotony of cutting, seeing your picture come to life is brilliant. The final part is free-motion embroidery. Sometimes my work has to go back on the drawing board for perspective lines to be redrawn before stitching. The stitching part is relatively quick but there can be hours, days and sometimes weeks of work in a piece before you get to the part that people see. As for how I learned, I’m very much self-taught. I know it would have been so much quicker learning from someone else but I must admit to feeling really proud of what I’ve managed to achieve on my own.

What is your favourite building in Glasgow?
Now you’re asking! That really is a hard question. It used to be James Salmon’s British Linen Bank in the Gorbals. I’ve always loved that building, being the sole survivor of so much change in the area. And I must admit, I do have a soft spot for neglected buildings.
Another one I love is the Hat Rack but my real favourites are probably buildings that no longer exist: St Enoch Hotel and Railway Station, the UCBS bakery and Alexander Thomson’s Queen’s Park Terrace.

Why do you use buildings for your embroidery?
I use buildings in my work because that’s where my heart lies. As a wee girl, I was always drawing buildings and have always loved ‘do-er uppers’ and poor neglected buildings. I just wish that my parents had taken photos of some of the now long-demolished buildings that we explored. When I was close to closing my business as my heart was no longer in it (especially after the Cornish pasty rabbit!), I decided to go back to what I love. Buildings. Home portraits sprung from there and although these became my bread and butter for a few years, my heart has always been in recreating the buildings of Glasgow and the west.

How do you choose which buildings to embroider?
Often the buildings are chosen for me – a commission, a suggestion or even just one I think I should do. But I must admit the ones I love are never the ones I thought I would. I also love a challenge, so I love making pieces that are either really complicated or have lots or teeny little pieces, despite the cutting!

Is there a building in Glasgow that you’d love to embroider that you haven’t yet?
There are lots! But I’ll narrow it down to 3. First is Templeton Carpet Factory. That building is just screaming out to be pieced together in little bits of fabric and I must admit to having it on my drawing board twice over the years but have never got past the sketching stage. Next would have to be Alexander Thomson’s Egyptian Halls, Thomson was an absolute genius and the detail in this building is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Lastly, an Art Deco building: the old ABC cinema on Sauchiehall Street and the shapes around the foyer would be brilliant to recreate. It looks deceptively simple but there’s so much detail there that would look brilliant in fabric.

What is the first thing you will do once this lockdown is over?
After all I’ve said before, you’d think it would be either Glasgow or architecture based but no! My eldest son, Kyle, lives in Paisley and I’ve not seen him since Mother’s Day in March so it will definitely be a drive to see him and get a hug. We’ve been talking about going a cycle together so maybe a wee trip on the bikes from Paisley to Glasgow. That would be magic!

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