Maria Walker: Taking inspiration from the past

Maria Walker is a contemporary textile artist experimenting with a variety of mixed media and textile, often using the computer as a tool in her work. However her inspiration definitely comes from the past and her work has a nostalgic, sentimental and a definite feminine feel about it.

As a practising artist, she has been working on refining her practice with the aim of making it more personal to her. The breakthrough for her came when she decided to base her current body of work on dresses. As usual she kick-started her creative process by researching the subject using books; visiting costume museums and doing lots of drawing. However although the work she was producing was visually attractive, she felt that her work lacked something. At this time she was given the family's collection of old photographs to scan and she started looking at the clothes her ancestors were wearing which triggered off a way of thinking which was completely new for her.

sketchbook page
Maria Walker sketchbook page

Using the combination of the shape of the dresses in her old photographs and thinking about her memories of the person wearing them, Maria started to create a body of work which celebrated the lives of her female ancestors, using the garment they wore as a metaphor for their lives. Each of the garments represents one of her relatives.

Mum's Dress started its life as an inspirational page from her sketchbook based on a photograph of her mother, to which she added words, text and ephemera that sprang to mind. She remembered that her father used to make the dresses her mother wore and how her mother always paid great attention to how she looked, often taking hours to get ready beforehand, making them late. The emphasis in this work is the iconic shape of the dress. The detail is added to the background by adding relevant words from a 1950s dressmaking book. For example she felt the the opening sentence of the book epitomised her mother.

"It is the duty of every woman to look her best, and she cannot do this unless she knows she is well dressed."

mixed media textile
Mum's Dress

Her tribute to her grandmother, Eveline Rose, used a fabric Maria designed on the computer using Adobe Photoshop. The fabric of the dress consists of multiple small images of a photograph of her grandmother on holiday in Jersey in 1950, wearing a new look style dress. Having created the design for the fabric using the computer, Maria transferred it to a fabric through a process of digital printing. (This has since become popular with her friends who have commissioned similar dresses to record their weddings).

mixed media textile
Evelyn Rose

She also uses papers and text which have a specific meaning to the person she is commemorating, such as old letters, birth and marriage certificates and text taken from old books. She had always collected old papers, stamps and wrappers and this new way of working, which she felt had developed from her excursions into altered books and collage, gave her collecting a purpose as she could now use up her stock of papers.

Her final piece in this series ended up not as a dress but a corset. She had already created work that celebrated her mother and her grandmother, but then realised that she knew nothing about her great grandmother. She created her Paper Patterns Corset to represent her great grandmother and all the previous generations of women in her family. The design for the corset developed from a simple line drawing of a pair of stays. It is constructed from a 'material' made from old dress making patterns to represent her working class origins. Since then the corset often appears in Maria's work to celebrate its rich iconography.

mixed media textile
Paper Patterns Corset

The process of creating two dimensional garments from photographs and images is still very much an integral element of Maria's practice and the 'Dress Picture' workshops Maria offers have proved to be very successful. Participants are asked to bring in an image of the dress they want to use as inspiration. This can be either a family photograph of an image from a book or magazine. Wedding dresses are a popular topic for a textile dress. People can also bring in copies of old documents, letters, etc. The first stage is to create a template of the dress, with Maria's help, if required, which will then be used as the basis of the artwork. Then participants are asked to spend a few minutes jotting down any memories associated with the garment, such as colour, setting, occasion, name of person, things about the person etc., etc., as all these will feed into the finished piece. It does not matter if the image has no person connection as you can always used an imagined narrative or just take inspiration from the materials themselves.

Having assembled a range of materials the final stage is to work onto the template to create a surface which reflects some of this narrative. This can be achieved either by using paper and glue or fabric and stitch, or a combination of both. Further embellishment such as buttons, ribbons and lace can be added to give the garment definition.

The result of the workshop is a two dimensional dress panel, inspired by a dress which is part of the history of the participant.


Maria Walker offers workshops and courses designed to allow participants to create a piece of art which is inspired by their own memories.