A PASSION for both needlework and tattoo art has resulted in a unique exhibition following a two-year labour of love to get to the heart of the stories behind the tattoo.

Julie Wilkerson, from Staindrop, County Durham, is currently exhibiting her display of needlework designs inspired by tattoos at The Station, Richmond.

Ms Wilkerson said she has always been interested in sewing since her mother taught her the skill as a child, but it was when she was in her 50s that she joined a textiles group and really fell in love with the craft.

She said: "I have always loved tattoos as an art form, and got my first one when I was 18, and got another when I was in my early 50s. A couple of year ago I became really passionate about needlework, and after joining the textiles group I had my first exhibition in 2016, and in 2017 I did another with three pieces of needlework based on my daughter's tattoo sleeve.

"The curator of that exhibition loved my work and told me I should do a solo exhibition of the tattoo needlework – I laughed at first, but then thought, why not?"

Ms Wilkerson contacted The Station, Richmond and booked her slot – which was two years in advance.

She said: "I approached tattoo artist Red Bennett, from Platform 13 Tattoo Studio in Saltburn, as she has done one of my tattoos and I love her work. She put me in touch with some of her other clients, and over the last two years, I have interviewed them, got pictures of their tattoos, and creating the final pieces.

"The backstory to the artwork is so important – with each piece I have included the story and picture of the original tattoo to accompany it.

"Some of the stories were incredibly moving. One tattoo is of a broach that was a woman's grandmother's, so it contains a lot of memories. Another story is of taking an abuser to court, and others are to do with identity, love, family, and memories.

"I did not meet most of the people until the launch of the exhibition, so to see the tattoos in the flesh was very moving. It was an emotional event."

Ms Wilkerson said she was thrilled to have been able to hear and tell the stories of the tattoos for the exhibition.

She added: "On a personal level, this project has got me through a very difficult year with two bereavements. My family didn't really know I was working on a project of this size as I'm often doing needlework at home, I just quietly got on with it in the background.

"There was a lot to organise and I was meticulous in every aspect of it, from the design of the banners, to the framing of the artwork and back stories.

"Tattooing has become very much a form of personal expression, some of them are beautiful and the meaning behind them are completely inspirational."

She added that to have her first solo exhibition at The Station is a dream come true.

She said: "It is a beautiful building, I have always loved it so it is a big thing for me to hang my work there. I enjoy hearing what people have to say about my work, I think it has surprised a lot of people."

The exhibition runs until Wednesday, September 18.