“I FOUND a brown lace top in a charity shop and thought ‘Oooh, mud.’”

There’s nothing artist Sarah Lyte likes better than to mooch around charity shops looking for fabrics, and thinking about what she could use them for.

“I knew the brown lace top would be ideal for mud and later on it made a tawny owl," she says.

Whether country or coast, Sarah's textile artworks capture the beauty of the natural world - and they are all made from materials she sources herself.

Golden buttercup fields near Wilsden, Whitby Abbey against a sky of contrasting blues, a foamy seashore at Saltburn - all make use of varied fabrics and colours in a striking way.

“I passed some flax fields near Harrogate last year - I’d never seen blue fields before - they were stunning, the textures, the colour, but especially the hedgerows that overlap and plunge into the horizontal space. I just love the juxtaposition of the vertical interrupting or breaking into the plain," she says. "Space is very pleasing to me - wide open spaces with good views - I love being high up and out in the open.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Flax fields at Leathley BridgeFlax fields at Leathley Bridge Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Dawn sky, Shay Lane, WilsdenDawn sky, Shay Lane, Wilsden

"And, of course, colour - watching the light on the moors change as the clouds pass is just gorgeous. Yorkshire is very easy to spot in its colours and textures, especially the dry stone walls. I see this every day I’m out there - I absorb all this visual stimulus and its comes out in what I do.”

Sarah, who lives in Wilsden, uses free motion embroidery, also known as freehand sewing, free machine embroidery and free machine stitching, in which the sewing needle is used as a 'pen' to move the fabric around in any direction to draw a design.

She studied at the then Bradford Art College - now Bradford School of Art - in the 1980s, going on to Bretton Hall near Wakefield to study sculpture and painting alongside teacher training.

“With textiles I am completely self-taught apart from a couple of felting workshops. I had a go on a free motion embroidery machine at college, but didn’t know what it was called.," she recalls. "I remember absolutely loving it. It wasn’t until years later I discovered what it was and found a second-hand machine - I was instantly hooked."

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Saltburn - an upcycled collageSaltburn - an upcycled collage

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: An upcycled fabric collage inspired by KlimtAn upcycled fabric collage inspired by Klimt

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Sarah works on a colourful, floral collageSarah works on a colourful, floral collage (Image: public)

Sarah loves the tactile element of her work. “Wool and fabrics are very tactile - it’s amazing what you can do with them: rip them, thread them, layer, pull, cut and so on.”

Sarah specialises in environmental/sustainable art. “I blame my parents, and Blue Peter. When I was growing up it was a rite of passage to wear your older sibling’s clothing. I remember trying on my sister’s clothes and shoes hoping I’d be big enough to wear them, I simply couldn’t wait.

“My parents encouraged us to create and make out of what we had. I spent hours making things out of old washing-up bottle, pegs, matchsticks and lollipop sticks. My dad would find stone or other bits and pieces and then make something new out of it - I have inherited this trait.

“I hate waste and today’s throwaway culture. At one time you bought good quality items that were made to last, nowadays it doesn’t feel like that. We have a lot of upcycled furniture in our house, second-hand carpets and things we’ve collected that others have thrown away. My husband is good at making things out of pallets and waste wood or stone. We try our best to be as eco and responsible as we can.”

Sarah sources her fabric from a range of places including charity shops, scrap charities such as Scraptastic in Shipley, rag events in Hebden Bridge and scrap trims from shops.

“I get a lot donated from my Facebook and Instagram followers, even from the US. I also buy through ethical recycling companies like Yarn Yarn," she says.

Wools come from a few small businesses who mostly use wool produced in the UK.


“Some sell waste by-products from the making of wool or silk, such as nepps, pre-felt waste, silk lapp or silk noil. I use The Threshing Barn in Reeth, Adelaide Walkers, Hairy Dog Crafts and Hope Jacare Designs.”

Sarah uses the fabric to create collage pieces, decorations, brooches and cards.

“My frames are made from palettes or whatever scrap wood I can find. I love the fact its all very hands on, and although it’s not 3D sculpture, I still feel like I’m building.”

She adds: “I have no patience for hand sewing - I’m all about the speed on the machine. When I’m in the zone ‘Ill just keep going at a piece from hours. I have to remember to turn the machine off to allow it to cool sometimes - I’m afraid I’ll blow it up one day.”

Sarah finds inspiration in the natural environment. “I started walking daily during lockdown and have kept up the habit. When I’m out I take photos of anything that interests me, whether it be the landscape itself, the light on the moor, the textures of a wall. My husband is used to me shouting ‘stop the car’ because I’ve seen something beautiful and want to snap it. I’ll take many photos then whittle them down to one or two.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Sarah at workSarah at work (Image: public)

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Buttercup fields, Upper Bents FarmButtercup fields, Upper Bents Farm

“I keep them in my Yorkshire folder on Pinterest. However, as strange as this may sound, I’m not in control of what gets made. I have to wait until an image floats to the surface of my mind and sits there for a bit, then I reach for the items that its needs.”

Sarah makes what she sees. “I have the ability to see the ingredients in colours - all the separate parts that make up the whole. That leads into what I use and how, as there is no such thing as flat colour.”

She loves creating artwork. “It’s like breathing for me, I find it akin to meditation. There's a great quiet whilst I’m making.”

She sells her artwork under the name Seven Hands, inspired by her love of ancient art and in particular hand stencils and paintings in caves.

Galleries showing Sarah’s work include Coles Gallery in Leeds Corn Exchange and The Bingley Gallery, with other local exhibitions planned.

“I was so proud when I first saw it on show. I was so unsure whether my work was good enough and was overjoyed that Joss from Coles Gallery gave me the opportunity. David Starley has invited me back to The Bingley Gallery several times too which is marvellous.”

Earth Spirit in Hebden Bridge sells Sarah’s upcycled pieces, plus cards. The Little Stationery Shop in Shipley and Hedgehog Organics in Bingley sell my cards.

She hosts workshops at The Little Craft House in Saltaire. “It’s such good fun - what people create in a morning or a day never ceases to amaze me.

“I love passing my knowledge and love of creativity on to others as well. I started on Tiktok (sevenhandsdesigns) a couple of years ago, even though I’m in my late fifties. I love making little ‘how to’ videos. I get some very good feedback from Facebook (Seven Hands) too, which is lovely.”

She adds: “I want to continue growing and learning - finding new ways to make my work more 3-dimensional, and developing interesting workshops.

“I am learning all the time, especially when I see other artists who I admire and I think ‘how have they done that?’”

*Sarah is on Facebook at Seven Hands; Instagram @sevenhandsdesigns