From working in the Science Museum, to becoming an Egyptian dancer, textile artist Cathy Needham is now appearing on TV

York textile artist Cathy Needham is taking on two other artists to bid for a commission on TV next week. Catherine Scott reports.

Tatile artist Cathy Needham from York is appearing on the BBC programme Home is Where the Art Is next week
Tatile artist Cathy Needham from York is appearing on the BBC programme Home is Where the Art Is next week

Today Cathy Needham might be a textile artist with her work exhibiting across Yorkshire and even in London, but that’s not always been the case.

Cathy started out as a scientist, first studying geology at the University of Leeds where she met her husband, and then working in the Science Museum for 17 years.

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“It was an amazing place to work,” says Cathy, who now lives in York.

Cathy Needham with one of her nature in spired pieces

“I started at the bottom as a curator and then worked as an exhibit developer before ending up as an education interpreter. It was there I got the chance to work with actors to really bring some of the drier areas of science to life. I loved it.”

But after 17 years Cathy and her husband wanted to a change and had a desire to move back to Yorkshire, initially settling in Harrogate.

It was here that Cathy got to pursue another of her passions – Egyptian dance.

“While I was at university I had a friend whose family was from Persia and we attended a number of Persian New Year’s Eve parties in Manchester where her parents live.

Cathy was inspired to become a textile artist after spending a year in Peru

“A lot of the dances are similar to Egyptian dancing and I was hooked.”

She attended workshops and training courses and became an Egyptian dance teacher, as well as making many of the elaborate costumes.

“I’d always been into crafting and my mum taught me to sew and knit from an early age. I only ever saw it as a hobby, though.”

It was spending a year in Peru with her husband’s job that really made Cathy realise that she really wanted to pursue her love of textiles more seriously.

One of Cathy's works of art

“Peru was amazing. Their textiles are incredible, both the historic designs from the Incas, up to the textiles of today which combine the old and the new.

“They are so colourful and textured which is what I love.”

On their return to the UK Cathy decided that she didn’t want to pursue Egyptian dancing professionally any more.

Instead she embarked on the City and Guilds three-year Creative Embroidery Certificate and Diploma in Design and Craft in York, which she completed in 2012.

Cathy's work is inspired by the natural world

“My style varies, from abstract to more representational depending on the source topic and feel I want to evoke, but it is always characterised by a strong use of colour and texture,” she explains.

Cathy uses a variety of techniques including felt-making, hand dyeing and appliqué combined with hand-embroidery and embellishment.

“I love experimenting with wool, fabrics, fibres and non-textile objects like pebbles and semi-precious stones. I create framed and unframed 2D pieces and more sculptural 3D pieces in a range of sizes. My aim is to capture colours, shapes and textures to evoke the feel of a place or object, so I chose the textile medium to suit the project, exploring the inherent properties of the materials.

“Though I have a clear idea of the end in mind and plan a project carefully, I tend to work intuitively, often adapting a piece as it progresses, thus keeping a freshness and vibrancy in my work. Ideally I try to create different levels of interest in a piece, bold and eye-catching from afar, with more details revealed on closer inspection.

“I keep returning to themes from the natural world such as landscapes, leaves, bark, the sea, water or beaches. But equally sometimes inspiration starts with a beautiful fabric or interesting yarn.”

Cathy sells most of her work through exhibitions and taking part in York Open Studios, but she is now considering selling on her website.

Three years ago she saw an advert which was looking for artists to take part in a new BBC programme, Home is Where the Art Is.

“I decided to apply and they asked me to send some photographs of my work but I never heard any more and I forgot all about it, in fact I didn’t even watch the first series when it was on television,” she admits.

“Then last September I got a call out of the blue from the BBC, saying they had started planning for a second series and would I be interested.”

Cathy sent some more recent examples of her work and was interviewed about her life and passions. “They said they loved me and wanted me to be in the show, they were just deciding which episode to put me in.”

Home is Where the Art Is, which is presented by Nick Knowles, sees three artists compete to get a commission for a unique piece of art. Every day a different three artists go into different homes and they are then whittled down to two before both making their designs, one of which is eventually bought by the home owner.

“I cannot say how I got on but I really enjoyed the process,” says Cathy. “Even though I am only in one episode it still took a lot of time and filming. I haven’t even seen it myself yet so I am looking forward to it although I am a little apprehensive. They film so much and come to your home and studio and I know most of it will end up on the cutting room floor.

“I also really enjoyed raising the profile of textile art. So many people just see it as a craft, which it is, but so is painting. It is a valid art form and I really welcomed the opportunity to show it to a mainstream audience.”

You will have to wait until Friday July 10 to find out how Cathy gets on and whether she gets to make her design.

Home is Where the Art is starts on Monday on BBC ONE at 3.45pm and Cathy will be on Friday July 10