A prizewinning life of colour...

A prize-winning artist is sharing her secrets of success. Virginia Mason reports on a new Calderdale gallery

GILLIAN Travis's new studio is like one of her stunning canvases – exploding with riotous colour, magically sparkling, unique and innovative.

Stepping through the doors of Chapel Field Works, in Ripponden's Elland Road, it is this blaze of creativity that greets you.

The walls are adorned with fabulous pieces of textile artwork and every surface is covered with works in progress.

Recently, Gillian added to her cache of awards by scooping a first prize with the prestigious national Festival of Quilts and the newly-opened studio will now allow her to showcase not only her work - but the work of her students too.

"I've always dabbled," she says, referring to her passion for textiles.

"It took off more so when the children were little. Being a mum of three, I needed something to keep me sane," she laughs.

"I started doing a City and Guilds embroidery course, doing some cross-stitch, buying these kits.

"And then I thought, actually I can design my own and before I knew it people were asking'will you teach me?' and it just took off.

Gillian reveals she originally trained as a landscape architect, working on a self-employed basis but eventually her love of art – and textile art in particular – took over.

"Friends would call at the house and I'd show them how to do various techniques.

"Then from the 1990s I was running classes from home, mainly still for friends and friends of friends."

Gradually she began to teach adult education classes in Calderdale before becoming a tutor of City and Guilds courses in Huddersfield.

"I taught for several years and they were huge classes but when the government funding dried up, that was me out of work," she explains.

"I was determined the classes wouldn't stop, that I was not going to give up for the sake of the students, so we rented a succession of rooms which one by one came to a natural end and then the idea of setting up the gallery here in Ripponden came about. The space is ideal," she adds.

She demonstrates by opening cupboard after cupboard, each one revealing a treasure trove of goodies that keen students can get their hands on – fabric, ribbons, beads, braiding, thread, buttons, all in myriad colours and textures.

"I am a bit of a hoarder and I'm always buying things – a lot from charity shops because I love the idea of recycling. I put them away, thinking that will be perfect for something some day."

One of the eye-catching pieces taking pride of place in the gallery is a bouquet of three-dimensional, quilted flowers, each one painstakingly dyed, screen-printed and wired using a sewing machine.

These are the prototypes for the ultimate finished pieces that won Gillian her first prize at the Festival of Quilts, at Birmingham's National Exhibition centre back in August. The prize winners are currently touring the country in various exhibitions.

"I do like to come up with something different, something quirky," she says, pointing out a captivating collection of mittens, inspired by her many travels around the world.

"There was a stupid amount of work went into these but I really enjoyed myself doing them," she says of the 12 beautifully crafted pairs, each one representative of a different country – Finland, Latvia, Lithuanian and Estonia included.

Another stunning collection comprises a dozen pairs of beautifully bejewelled slippers. These have also been the inspiration for some of Gillian's work in local schools.

She says many of her gallery students are over 40 and would like to attract some younger ones.

"I suppose younger people don't always have the time, especially if they have young children.

"But they would find that we're not a bunch of boring folk sitting here with a cross-stitch on our knees. We are definitely not slow or tedious," she laughs.

"We like colour and excitement and we like to work fast.

"Students want to be able to complete a project quickly and be able to show it to someone and say Look what I've done today – as a result we do a lot of machine embroidery which is terrific."

Gillian also refuses to believe that only certain people have the ability to be arty.

"Not at all. Everyone has something to offer. People are often surprised what they are capable of," says Gillian, whose gallery is now a hub for City and Guilds courses.

"Students don't have to feel they need a qualification though. Many just come for fun."

When she is not teaching, Gillian likes to travel to untapped corners of the world in search of beautiful textiles and inspiration.

"Ultimately I'd love to do some work abroad. Maybe one day I could get funding to do it. If only," she laughs.