KEEPING BUSY: Textile artist Ann Gill has turned her hand to producing face masks, washbags, headbands and scrubs during the virus lockdown
KEEPING BUSY: Textile artist Ann Gill has turned her hand to producing face masks, washbags, headbands and scrubs during the virus lockdown

Had the country not been in lockdown, last month would have been a busy time for members of Teesdale Art Network (TAN), who host a week-long Open Studio event with members across the dale opening the doors of their studios. Instead, milliner Ann Gill has been beavering away creating washbags and face masks for NHS and key workers.

How did you get started as an artist and what is your medium?
I grew up in a family of creatives. Dad was a stonemason, fireplace maker, musician and later a watercolour artist. Mum, when not caring for us children, was handy with a sewing machine and made clothes for me and my dolls as well as household things. My brothers were also musicians (still are) and good at turning their hands to just about anything. We were never bored.
Fabric is my thing; I have a serious addiction as my family and friends are aware. I have always loved making things and drawing. I seem to remember spending lots of time drawing horses and people’s faces.
It was not until my late teens that I became interested in sewing and then after I was married, I enjoyed making things for the home and our children. Twenty years or so ago I took a fashion and design course at Darlington Tech with the intention of following on with millinery, but life got in the way at that point.
It was in 2011 that I found a course at The Northern School of Art (formerly Cleveland College of Art and Design) that was just what I was looking for. I had not really planned to go to university, but I found myself immersed and totally loved it, ending up with a first in costume and design. I had lots of new skills to add to the old with the addition of some self-belief.
Since then I have been making bespoke garments and hats for the wedding industry as well as everyday wear, as well as part-time tutoring at Higham Hall, Northern School of Art, Marlborough Summer School and workshops and sewing classes locally. I am a member of Teesdale Artists Network (TAN).

What inspires you and which other artists have influenced your artwork?
As all my usual work is bespoke to the customer I am guided by their likes, dislikes too, as well as their personalities, the occasion, their body and face shape, colours that suit are all consideration as well. I have no designer that I favour really, I pick bits from lots and draw on this for inspiration as well as other sources too.

What is your favourite style?
Again, no set favourite although for my final piece at college I favoured the influences of 1920s and 30s. My work tends to encompass elements from all styles as the bespoke nature of my business must fit around the client’s needs.

The dale has a wealth of artistic talent, what do your attribute this to?
There is an abundance of inspiration to be had from the environment, nature, and the people themselves. Rural people tend to be resourceful as they don’t always have the necessary piece of equipment to hand so they make it. It is in their blood.

What is your favourite work and why?
I like variety so like making all sorts, but I love making clothes and hats. A new customer = new project = new challenge. I never know what is coming next.

Do you have a special place where you create your work?

I am lucky to have a room set up at home where I do my sewing although I am prone to expanding and must rein back in regularly.
Apart from art, what are your other interests?
Too many to mention all but I play in Barnard Castle Band, walking my dog, cycling when I get the opportunity and to relax I love a bit of “slow stitching”.

Do you have a favourite piece of art from another artist and can you explain what draws you to it?
I like so many different things for different reasons, but I love going to The Bowes Museum textile gallery and usually gravitate towards Elsa Shiaparelli’s Serpent dress. I think I love the simple style and fluidity of the draped fabric coupled with the rope detail on the reverse.
How are you keeping yourself busy while the country is under lockdown?
Since before lockdown and for several weeks I have been making washbags, headbands, and scrubs for the NHS, both locally and further afield.
I have mixed this with getting some long-needed jobs at home done, making clothes for the grandchildren, renovating a doll’s house and painting furniture.
I recently joined an online textile group and have enjoyed dusting off my camera with the help of Hubspoke Media; I have been gathering images for inspiration ready for the future. Since the wedding and bespoke market has disappeared for the unforeseeable future, I am now concentrating on making and selling non-surgical face masks or coverings to order. I have tried several styles and have taken elements from them to design the one I’m most happy with.
I have also been asked about wash bags for when the holidays return. I always forget a bag for the dirty laundry, so I’ll be having one. So, like I said earlier, I’m never bored.

For anyone who hasn’t seen your work, is there anywhere currently they can view it?
I have a website, Facebook page and Instagram and Twitter –; @Lilyann; anniegill292; @LilyAnnCostumes.