Saturday 2 July 2016

Maria Walker & The Lightfoot Letters

"A woman's work is never done" uses screen printed images of Maria's grandma - Maria Walker
Recently Maria Walker came to talk to the City of York Embroiderers' Guild.  Maria is a artist who works primarily with textiles and her talk was about her work based on The Lightfoot Letters.  This bundle of letters, about a working class family from Widnes in the 1920s, was discovered by Maria in an antiques shop in Cheshire.  They are writen mainly by the mother of the family, Ada Lightfoot, but also the father, Peter, to their daughter, Frances, who had moved to live with an aunt near Oldham.  They provide minute details of everyday life and gossip.

An extract from the Lightfoot Letters - Maria Walker
Work based on the Lightfoot Letters - Maria Walker

Initially Maria's work involved picking out particular phrases from the letters and combining these with old photos from her own family to make textile pieces that brought the phrases to life.

"I will have to use a knife and fork but I would rather have a spoon" - Maria Walker

In one letter, the Father, who was going to a hotpot supper, bemoans that he will have to use a knife and fork.  Maria has expressed this through a piece featuring disposable wooden spoons painted with a crackle glaze to look like old enamel with the text collaged on top.  Maria comes originally from Sheffield where her father worked in a cutlery factory and so the links to her own life resonate in the way she has interpreted this piece.  

"Make me a dress the colour of the sky just after a June sunset" - Maria Walker incorporating poetry by Angela Topping

During an artist's residency in Cheshire, Maria met Angela Topping, a poet, who it turned out was the granddaughter of the letter writers Ada & Peter Lightfoot and the niece of Frances.  They collaborated on an exhibtion inspired by the letters which incorporated some of Angela's poetry and actual pictures of the Lightfoot family.  

A hanging depicting one of Angela Topping's poems about her father (Frances' brother) skating, originally exhibited coming out of a typewriter - Maria Walker

"...the iron made it hurt very badly" - Maria Walker

A lot of the content of the letters relates to the difficulties of getting the laundry done and so much of the Maria's work is expressed through text and items of clothing made with fabric and to patterns contemporary with the period.

"... and would not be dressed without it" - Maria Walker

The techniques Maria uses in her work include screen printing, the layering of fabric backgrounds using vintage and modern fabrics and drawing vintage items she has found, in stitch, creating reverse applique with her fabric layers together with a lot of stitched text, which is sometimes cut out.

Various works - Maria Walker
Altered book - Maria Walker

It was fascinating to hear about the letters, their content, the coincidence of Maria and Angela's meeting, their subsequent exhibition and all about the work that came out of it all.  Thank you, Maria.

Maria Walker

Maria's more recent work has involved large scale textile pieces using old sheeting, stitched with an overlocker and looped exploring the concepts of memory, decay and continuity.  Some of this was exhibited recently at the Saltaire Arts Trail.


  1. Are you thinking about publishing the letters so we can all enjoy them?

    1. They certainly sound like they'd make interesting reading. You'd have to contact Maria Walker about publishing though -

    2. There was a great article in Be Creative with Workbox magazine a couple of months ago about Maria and this project, well worth a read and lovely to see some more pictures in this blog post.