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Jane Sanders

Published:

I gained a degree as a painter from The University of Northumbria in 1995, and I was a practicing artist for some years after, but then life got in the way of my artistic ambitions. As a single parent raising two girls, my creativity was put on the back burner. Not an uncommon story. Once my children were older, I had more headspace to start creating again and decided to return to one of my first loves, sewing.

As a child of the 70s, handicrafts were very much part of our house, and from an extremely early age, my mum taught me how to thread and use her old sewing machine. Of course, there was no health and safety then, and I soon became adept at sewing all sorts of projects from my own imagination.

So, I hatched a plan to marry my two loves, sewing and music, and stitch portraits of my favorite musicians.


Four years later, I have produced over 150 different portraits! They range from jazz singers like Nina Simone, through classic rock stars such as Keith Richards and David Bowie, to punks like Johnny Rotten and Poly Styrene, up to the present day with Gwen Stefani and Metallica. I am now fortunate enough to be commissioned by clients all over the world, yet I still create these pieces in a corner of my kitchen, but more about that later!

I am going to talk you through the process of making my work, but first I would like to introduce you to my sewing machine. She is a Singer Fashion Mate, produced in the late 1960s. I purchased her from a market in Newcastle in 1993 for £50, and this was money well spent. Many people ask me why I do not update the machine I work on, and my answer is simple: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t mend it!’ The machine is so uncomplicated, and as it has no computerized parts, can be fixed. She seems to be virtually indestructible and has been present in the house for so long she is almost part of the family! I like it that something that was designed for domestic usage can be used to create pop art.

So, I always start my pictures with an initial drawn plan, focusing on picking out the defining facial features. Next, I transfer the pencil drawing onto felt. I use a lot of felt in my pictures as it does not fray, is strong, and comes in such vibrant colours. The next stage is to start machining the key lines of the face with black, peach and white threads. I am aiming to create a 3D illusion on the felt. I use a fixed foot on the machine, so it is a slow process, but I enjoy doing meticulous things. After this is complete, I will add glass eyes, which I file to the shape of the socket and shade the felt for extra realism. I am afraid how I do this and what I use is my little trade secret!

Lastly, I complete the figure with their clothes. Clothes give me a great opportunity to experiment with different fabrics and materials. Most of these come from charity shops, or old clothes that I have saved. I think patterned fabrics or stitchable materials can help to build a narrative around the subject I have chosen. For example, in my portrait of Aretha Franklin, I was keen to explore both her strong character and her African heritage. To portray this concept, I designed her a top made from traditional African Wax Print fabric, in colours that confront the viewer.

Hair is always a challenge, as I plan it out a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, which must be reassembled once the detail has been sewn in. The most challenging yet was a portrait of Dolly Parton, in which her hair came in 75 different pieces.

Dolly Parton

I also love to sew with unconventional materials, and really stretch the notion that textile art can only be presented as fabric based. For instance, I have stitched cigarette and playing cards, book pages and photographs. Another good example would be my portrait of Elton John. I created an elaborate costume for him out of a sewn map of his home place of Pinner. I love the contrast of a suburban town Reginald Dwight grew up in, to the transformation to the glamourous stage presence of Elton John.

All the figures I create are stitched onto a colourful cloth backing, which is stretched flat, and box framed under glass.

Elton John

Above my sewing machine I have a quote pinned up, by Joe Strummer. It reads: ‘People can change anything they want to and that means everything in the world.’

Ringo Starr

As I mentioned before, all this creativity happens in my kitchen. It is for this reason that I often work under the moniker ‘Stitchin’ in the Kitchen’. I guess it is a hangover from when I used to have to be around more for the children, but it also makes sense for me financially to work from home. I also like to promote the idea of producing from a small domestic space, as it dispels the myth that all artists work in an airy white studio space. Plus, like most parents, I have to constantly multitask, and it means I can sew, make tea, and help my daughter with her homework all from the same space.

John Lennon

There is also an ever-present ‘helper’ in the kitchen. My dog, Fred, a greyhound. He is constantly photo-bombing as I record my work in progress. He has quite a little fan club in his own right!

In the last four years, I have had three solo shows, multiple commissions, features in magazines and different publications and work exhibited in galleries. I hope I can help to inspire fellow stitchers and illustrate that you don’t need lots of money and space to produce beautiful things. Being inventive is much more important.

I gained a degree as a painter from The University of Northumbria in 1995, and I was a practicing artist for some years after, but then life got in the way of my artistic ambitions. As a single parent raising two girls, my creativity was put on the back burner. Not an uncommon story. Once my children were older, I had more headspace to start creating again and decided to return to one of my first loves, sewing.

As a child of the 70s, handicrafts were very much part of our house, and from an extremely early age, my mum taught me how to thread and use her old sewing machine. Of course, there was no health and safety then, and I soon became adept at sewing all sorts of projects from my own imagination.

So, I hatched a plan to marry my two loves, sewing and music, and stitch portraits of my favorite musicians.


Four years later, I have produced over 150 different portraits! They range from jazz singers like Nina Simone, through classic rock stars such as Keith Richards and David Bowie, to punks like Johnny Rotten and Poly Styrene, up to the present day with Gwen Stefani and Metallica. I am now fortunate enough to be commissioned by clients all over the world, yet I still create these pieces in a corner of my kitchen, but more about that later!

I am going to talk you through the process of making my work, but first I would like to introduce you to my sewing machine. She is a Singer Fashion Mate, produced in the late 1960s. I purchased her from a market in Newcastle in 1993 for £50, and this was money well spent. Many people ask me why I do not update the machine I work on, and my answer is simple: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t mend it!’ The machine is so uncomplicated, and as it has no computerized parts, can be fixed. She seems to be virtually indestructible and has been present in the house for so long she is almost part of the family! I like it that something that was designed for domestic usage can be used to create pop art.

So, I always start my pictures with an initial drawn plan, focusing on picking out the defining facial features. Next, I transfer the pencil drawing onto felt. I use a lot of felt in my pictures as it does not fray, is strong, and comes in such vibrant colours. The next stage is to start machining the key lines of the face with black, peach and white threads. I am aiming to create a 3D illusion on the felt. I use a fixed foot on the machine, so it is a slow process, but I enjoy doing meticulous things. After this is complete, I will add glass eyes, which I file to the shape of the socket and shade the felt for extra realism. I am afraid how I do this and what I use is my little trade secret!

Lastly, I complete the figure with their clothes. Clothes give me a great opportunity to experiment with different fabrics and materials. Most of these come from charity shops, or old clothes that I have saved. I think patterned fabrics or stitchable materials can help to build a narrative around the subject I have chosen. For example, in my portrait of Aretha Franklin, I was keen to explore both her strong character and her African heritage. To portray this concept, I designed her a top made from traditional African Wax Print fabric, in colours that confront the viewer.

Hair is always a challenge, as I plan it out a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, which must be reassembled once the detail has been sewn in. The most challenging yet was a portrait of Dolly Parton, in which her hair came in 75 different pieces.

Dolly Parton

I also love to sew with unconventional materials, and really stretch the notion that textile art can only be presented as fabric based. For instance, I have stitched cigarette and playing cards, book pages and photographs. Another good example would be my portrait of Elton John. I created an elaborate costume for him out of a sewn map of his home place of Pinner. I love the contrast of a suburban town Reginald Dwight grew up in, to the transformation to the glamourous stage presence of Elton John.

All the figures I create are stitched onto a colourful cloth backing, which is stretched flat, and box framed under glass.

Elton John

Above my sewing machine I have a quote pinned up, by Joe Strummer. It reads: ‘People can change anything they want to and that means everything in the world.’

Ringo Starr

As I mentioned before, all this creativity happens in my kitchen. It is for this reason that I often work under the moniker ‘Stitchin’ in the Kitchen’. I guess it is a hangover from when I used to have to be around more for the children, but it also makes sense for me financially to work from home. I also like to promote the idea of producing from a small domestic space, as it dispels the myth that all artists work in an airy white studio space. Plus, like most parents, I have to constantly multitask, and it means I can sew, make tea, and help my daughter with her homework all from the same space.

John Lennon

There is also an ever-present ‘helper’ in the kitchen. My dog, Fred, a greyhound. He is constantly photo-bombing as I record my work in progress. He has quite a little fan club in his own right!

In the last four years, I have had three solo shows, multiple commissions, features in magazines and different publications and work exhibited in galleries. I hope I can help to inspire fellow stitchers and illustrate that you don’t need lots of money and space to produce beautiful things. Being inventive is much more important.