Suzi Ashworth is a textile Artist & a painter. She lives in the Creative Quarter with her very spoilt cat Herman, she knit and paint and sew and draw and watch the seagulls and the people walking past, and generally she is quite content.
Suzi: I was born on Romney Marsh (15 miles away from Folkestone) and lived on a farm there until I was old enough to move away. After University and living elsewhere I was in a situation where I had no choice but to live in my mothers spare room. Folkestone was the only area I could afford, so the choice to move here around 2003 was made by my bank account! At first I did not like it, but I think that was more a reflection of my state of mind at the time and not the town itself. In the long run, moving here turned out to be a very good decision. I like the fresh air, the seagulls, the people, the beach and sea and the hills. I particularly like the close proximity to Europe and the idea that if I want to, I could just grab my passport and go! Travel is great, and I wish more Brits were open to the benefits that Europe can bring.
Background? I have always done both art and textiles. My mother always made clothing for herself and us in the 80’s, before branching out into making wedding/party dresses for friends, so my Sister (a fashion and film designer) and myself learned from her. At primary school we had art lessons from a professional artist (Rosemary Hignett) and sewing/craft lessons from a very thorough and old-fashioned woman who did not let us cut corners and made us unpick things if they were not perfect! It taught me about the satisfaction that comes from paying attention to the smallest detail and producing a quality finished work. She taught us everything from embroidery to knitting to clothes making without sewing machines.
My parents always placed me in schools with good art departments so I was lucky to be able to study both Art and Textiles all the way up to A level (many schools have limited options when students have to choose subjects at 14 years old). I went from school to an Art Foundation College where I experienced areas of creativity that I hadn’t been able to explore before, such as photography, sculpture and graphics but still couldn’t decide between fine art and textiles. In the end I applied to University to study a fine art/textiles blend on a course called ‘Textile Art’ at Winchester School of Art. There I added gobelin tapestry weaving, loom weaving, and historical embroidery techniques to my skill set. In the mean time I was working on costumes and sets for pop videos and theatre productions during holidays and weekends, and working on a farm!
Knitting? I’ve been stuck on ‘wool’ for a few years now and I feel I have hardly scratched the surface of all the things that can be done with it. Knitting & crochet using balls of wool is an obvious usage, I’m exploring dyeing and want to look into creating and using natural dyes and spinning yarn from raw fleece. I’m also starting to write my own patterns for making garments. Plus I feel strongly about sustainable and ecologically friendly products, supporting farmers and paying them properly, and the historical significance of wool to this area – I’m researching to write a booklet on wool and Romney Marsh at the moment!
Wool dyeing? When I started knitting again about 7 years ago, I quickly came to realise that much of the yarn on the market was made from man made fibres, which have their uses in some situations, but I didn’t want to spend hours lovingly hand making a garment (a cardigan/jumper can take 50 + hours) from what I saw as a poor quality material. I also didn’t want to be knitting from the same wool as everyone else, and couldn’t always afford the artisan dyed yarn I saw available so decided to dye my own. I try to dye colourways that aren’t available in the shops, and enjoy experimenting with different dyes and techniques. ‘Folkestone Harbour Yarn‘
Local? Environment? I worked in manufacture and retail for a number of years and didn’t always like the quality of the mass-produced products, the huge price mark ups (we used to pay 25p for something that would go on to be sold in a well known high street shop for £3!) and the environmental impact of shipping a product from China when it could be made in the UK. I also worked in Hong Kong & China for a while and saw the factory conditions for the workers (and that’s saying something as the factory I worked with audited better than most!). I got a real insight into our ‘disposable’ culture and the human and environmental impact it has, and I didn’t like it.
I think that people should be valued and paid properly for their work, and that each of us should be more aware of the global impact our lifestyle has. I also know that quality items last longer than mass produced ones, and are better value to the customer in the long run. Why use something cheap 10 times and throw it away to buy another cheap item, when paying a little bit more will get you a product that will last you 10 years? I also dislike owning/wearing the same products as everyone else. We are all individuals, why live like clones?
I like to support local producers and makers, whether it is vegetables, clothing or artwork I am buying. People always seem much happier when they are given the chance to make a living from something they love and that stimulates them intellectually, rather than working in a generic office, factory or call centre environment. I think everyone should be happy, be able to do what they love and that we should live in ways that are much kinder to the environment and the other species that live in it. Handmade, local, original items represent this for me.
Drawing? A few years back a local gallery had to cancel a planned 2 week exhibition, but as they didn’t want to leave the space completely empty they asked for people to email in doodles, which they then printed off and stuck in the window. There was stuff from children, professional artists and everyone in between all being ‘exhibited’ in the same space.
I really enjoyed doing the little drawings I sent in to them, just stream-of-consciousness type things, not thought out, planned works at all, so I carried on doing them. I posted them on a blog which I called ‘Random Thoughts of a Bored Artist‘ and people actually looked at them! Then someone asked for a facebook page, and another for a twitter account, so I started posting there too. As I’d been focusing on textiles and whatever part-time job I’d had at that time It felt good to get back to drawing, so i decided to keep it going for a year. The doodles turned into a ‘drawing a day’ project and I set myself a 10 minute time limit for each one as a challenge and to keep things interesting. When it came near to the 365th day, I had built up quite a large group of followers on my various social media pages and some of them asked me to a) not stop drawing (as checking my site had become part of their daily ritual) and b) publish the drawings as a book. I looked around at printing costs, and decided I could only print a book if people pre-paid for their copy, so I used crowdfunding and printed something like 100 copies, distributed them and thought that was the end of the project.
It took about 2 years for me to get bored of whatever else I had been working on, so one day I started painting with watercolours again, but realised that my technique was very ‘rusty’ and I needed more practice. Because I knew that the daily 10 minute pencil drawings I’d done for a year had really honed my drawing skills, I kind of thought “why not do it again?” and ‘Random Thoughts of a Bored Artist 2’ was born! I limited the size of the paper to 6″ x 4″ as part of the challenge, and to enable myself to finish 1 painting a day. At the end of the yearI crowdfunded a full colour printed book and held an exhibition/crowdfunders thank you event at Family. I don’t know if any more installments of the ‘Random Thoughts’ books will ever happen. I will continue producing zines (mini publications) when I feel like it, but i’m a bit over huge year long projects!
Folkestone ? I don’t know what will happen in 10 years time in Folkestone. Many of the planned developments such as the Harbour area housing should be complete by then, so I think that Folkestone will be a larger town, a smarter/tidier town, and probably a more expensive town, although I hope it keeps a few of its rough edges and quirks. I hope it still remains an affordable place to live for locals and the creatives who moved here years ago encouraged by the low living costs, as they create much of the vibrancy and interest that the town currently has. I’d like Folkestone to keep its own personality, and not become ‘like’ somewhere else, eg a ‘bit like Brighton’ or ‘a bit like Hastings’. Those places are great, but I’d like Folkestone to remain unique. Change is inevitable, and whatever happens will be interesting to me.
A hidden place in Folkestone: The Victorian’s attempt to dig a tunnel under the channel in the 1880’s. Or the smugglers tunnels in the old town.
A personality of Folkestone: I don’t know the gentleman’s name, but his nickname is ‘Disco Grandpa’! He is elderly in appearance but wears clothing that would usually be seen on people 50+ years younger than him, such as a neon yellow baseball cap, trainers and chains around his neck. He has flashing lights wound around his walking stick and can be found on the dance floor at an event near you! And why not?
Something you would only see in Folkestone: The shoreline of France. Only visible from a high point on a clear day.
Something very funny in Folkestone: The ‘Rat’ on the zig zag path. Always makes me smile.
Best walk: Saxon Shore way near Lympne. You walk round the back of the zoo and get to see the giraffes & przewalski’s horse in their enclosures plus stunning views of the Marsh.
Best restaurant: A hard choice, but I love Nick’s delicious whole foods at Kipp’s AleHouse. Or The Thai street food hut on Tontine.
Best ice cream:La casa del bello gelato, cheriton place. Only opens seasonally.
Best coffee shop:Steep Street. Book and coffee shop combined. Plus cake. What more could you want?
Best concert venue: Outside on the Harbour Arm on a hot summers day. Preferably Diane Dunn or Rudy Warman & the Heavy Weather playing.
Best shopping place: The bargain section of TK maxx! Full of things you never knew you needed.
Best apparel shop: Personally I’m a charity shop girl. They hold the best bargains. Try Pilgrims Hospice, The Salvation Army or any of the Cheriton or Hythe charity shops.
Best kids activity: Swimming in the sea.
Best gallery: Space, because Sam & Andy are lovely it’s the only gallery I’ve ever exhibited in where the owners will make you cups of tea. And they have an absolute dude of a cat.
Best artist: Me!