For May’s Manc of The Month we have Angelika Denis, also known as Modern Woven. Angelika is a textile artist who works with yarn to make textured and dimensional tapestries and artworks. We were lucky enough to speak with Angelika about her work – keep reading to hear about her art process, her advice to other textile artists, and much more!
Cotton on MCR: Please introduce yourself and your art to our Cotton On MCR readers.
Angelika Denis: ‘My name is Angelika, I’m 25 years of age and I’m a fiber artist. Originally I’m from Poland, but I have lived in Manchester since I was 11. I feel very lucky because I always knew I wanted to create art and surround myself with beauty. Since I can remember I have always been drawing, painting and sewing dresses for my teddies from my grandma’s fabric scraps and dish cloths. I studied Graphic Design, Fashion, Textiles, Fine Art and Photography, but I truly found myself when I finished University and discovered tapestry weaving. The love for yarn followed swiftly and I haven’t looked back once.’
COM: What inspired you to start working with yarn as a medium?
AD: ‘I have always been drawn towards textiles and fibre art, I even got into UCA to study Fashion Design but two weeks before the start date of my course I had a bit of a lightbulb moment, asked myself whether I actually wanted to study fashion or if I just liked the idea of me doing fashion. From there I went to study Visual Art at the University of Salford, which really opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of different mediums, and truly taught me to think outside the box. Towards the end of my studies I was working with rope, creating macrame landscapes and other knotted creations. I stumbled across an amazing fibre artist on Instagram in 2019, did some research into weaving, got an old canvas frame and turned it into a DIY weaving loom. I wove my first piece using cheap acrylic yarns, rope from my macrame and scraps of fabric, from the moment I started weaving it I knew I had found myself. I started researching new, exciting fibres, alpaca wool, banana silk, felted yarn, art yarn, recycled sari silk ribbons, single twist cotton, the list goes on and on. The more I learned about how versatile weaving is a medium really is, the more I threw myself into it head first.’
COM: Do you have any particular references that influence your work, or is your work quite intuitive?
AD: ‘My work is very intuitive, my biggest inspiration comes from the fibres I use. The variety is immense, each fibre is unique and gives a completely different effect to a woven piece of art. A lot of my work is born through experimentation, seeing how each fibre will behave in a different circumstance, how it will knot, how it will drape, whether it’s a fibre that can be brushed out, how thick the fibre is etc. The colours of the fibres I use are crucial to my design process too, sometimes I have a clear image in my head of what I want the piece to look like simply by looking at all my fibres together. Those pieces always turn out to be my favourites. Sometimes however I have no clue which fibres to go for or where to start at all, and when I feel a little stuck I will start doodling very abstract shapes and forms. These small studies help me every time, and ideas start flooding in.’
COM: Have you found that the pandemic has affected the way that you work?
AD: ‘I feel very fortunate because the pandemic hasn’t really affected the way I work, if anything it has given me more time to grow as an artist and explore new practices I didn’t have time for before. I have always worked on my weavings from home, I don’t have a studio I have to travel to, and with no outside distractions I have been able to dedicate so much more time to my art, and I am very grateful for that. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of spinning my own yarn since I started weaving, before the pandemic I was working in a vegan cafe, which sadly closed its doors two weeks before the pandemic hit the UK, so I was out of work even before lockdown happened. With the extra time I had I started researching how to spin yarn, what art yarn was, which tools I needed to start etc. In January of this year I purchased a drop spindle, is it a straight spike tool used for spinning, is it an extremely old device, records of drop spindles date back to the Neolithic times, they are also very affordable, especially compared to a spinning wheel. Since then I have been spinning my own art yarn, and if it wasn’t for the pandemic and lack of distractions I’m not sure if I would have had the courage or the time to do so.’
COM: We’re really loving this piece (below) on your Instagram. Tell us more about it – what is the general process behind making a piece like this?
AD: ‘This is my largest piece I have ever woven, it was the first piece I made on my XXL loom which is 1.5m x 1.2m and takes up a whole wall in my bedroom. It was an absolute labour of love, I wove it as a birthday present for my mother in law. The process of weaving something so large is very similar to a small piece, there are however more things that can go wrong, especially the tension of the warp. The warp threads are the foundation of a weaving, and if the foundation isn’t perfect, neither will the weaving. It is most common to weave from the bottom up, I like to start somewhere in the middle and just see what happens, see where the yarn takes me because I often don’t know how I want to finish the piece, weather I will just leave the bottom straight, if there will be fringe or maybe tassels. I had no idea what this piece would look like, there was no plan, it was completely organic and intuitive. The key for me is to have a selection of fibers with different textures and properties so I can create depth and interest in the weaving even if I am using similar tones. How the piece will be mounted is also very important when weaving something this large. I had found the lovely branch this piece is suspended on prior to starting the piece, so I knew roughly how wide and how heavy the art work could be. The wonderful organic shape of the branch also influenced me to create this piece with natural shapes and forms in mind, especially the negative spaces which I feel really helped finalize the design.’
COM: What is your favourite piece that you’ve made?
AD: ‘I have a lot of love for quite a few of my pieces, but my absolute has to be this quite recent one Climbing Garden. I had spun a couple of yarns for myself, one of them was a beautiful mix of greens with a touch of sparkly pink angelina fibre, I had just got a delivery of new fibres in the most amazing spring colours, it was a beautiful, sunny day and the words ‘climbing garden’ appeared in my mind, I had a clear image in my head of what I wanted to create. I did a quick pen drawing of what I had in my mind and started weaving. Since I finished this piece I have created 3 more ‘garden’ inspired weavings, each one with some of my handspun art yarn and I think I’m going to do a whole Garden collection.’
COM: Do you have any advice for other textile artists who are looking to set up their own online shop?
AD: ‘My biggest piece of advice is do your research and don’t undervalue yourself. Fibre art is usually very time consuming, whether it’s weaving, embroidery, felting or macrame. Invest in good quality products, it makes a massive difference. Don’t be put off if you don’t get many sales, up until the beginning of 2021 I had only had 7 Etsy sales, currently I’m on 26 and I have also taken commissions in between. It will take time for you to find your creative voice but yarn is a very forgiving medium, don’t be afraid to experiment and think outside the box.’
COM: Outside of your artwork, what are your other interests and hobbies?
AD: ‘Other than art I absolutely love cooking and baking. As I mentioned before I worked in a vegan cafe, I was a chef there and also did a lot of the baking. I started to get interested in cooking when I turned vegetarian at 16, my whole family ate and still eat meat, so I had to start cooking food for myself. I really enjoy watching cooking shows and getting inspiration for fun and exciting meals, the more colourful and beautiful I can make the food look the better. If I can make it look like a piece of art, I will certainly try. I really love nature, animals and being outside too. I have around 30 plants in my tiny apartment, fish and a gerbil, but my dream is to have a house with a big enough garden for a sheep or two so I can have an unlimited supply of wool.’
COM: Do you have any plans for your work post-pandemic?
AD: ‘I would love to start teaching workshops once the pandemic is over, as well as markets and craft fairs.’
COM: If you could live in any piece of artwork, what would it be and why?
AD: ‘If I could live in a piece of work it would have to be Cornelia Parkers ‘Cold Dark Matter’. It is one of my absolute favorite pieces of artwork, I had the privilege to view it at the Whitworth Art Gallery and I honestly don’t know how long I stood there in the room taking it all in. It took my breath away, even though I had seen pictures of it previously online and read about Parker, her work and processes excessively. The way she captures the explosion of the shed is captivating, how she manages to turn such a destructive couple of seconds into a still, tranquil oasis is simply remarkable. I don’t think any other piece has ever made me feel so much peace and content.’