Making Meaning Podcast Episode 26 with Gillian Lee Smith

In this final conversation of the series, I am talking to Gillian Lee Smith, a Scottish painter based in Northumberland. Gillian and I first met as members of a designer-makers group in the English midlands but we reconnected over Zoom during the pandemic and have had some wonderful conversations about our practices, our mentoring work and our creative ideas. In this conversation we focus on mentoring and talk about how both supporting others and being supported ourselves helps our practice. We talk about the zigzag journey of creative practice and how reflection and talking things through with others really helps to clarify things, to open new doors and to inspire. 


Gillian Lee Smith is a painter living in Northumberland. Her ongoing work is inspired by maritime history – fishing communities, the stories of the ocean and the man made structures of harbours that mark the boundary and often create sheltering spaces from the storms.

Gillian is embarking on a new body of work called The Lost and The Left Behind which will explore themes of the ongoing resonance of history, loss and memory. The process of painting (creating, burying and excavating) allows an image to reveal itself over time and can connect to a particular story, memory or experience in surprising ways. Gillian is exploring ways of taking this approach into other media such as printmaking and mixed media for her new work. 

A practicing artist for over 15 years, Gillian teaches in person workshops and creates online courses such as her signature programme Building a Body of Work as well as working closely with other artists through mentoring. Exhibiting locally and nationally, Gillian recently won a highly commended award with her portrait Through dust and darkness (The Miner) at Woodhorn Mining Museum. 

Play here


Other links

Solo exhibition November 2022 to February 2023 at Newbiggin Maritime Museum


Artist Mentoring

If you are feeling a bit at sea with your creative practice, I’m here to help. I’ve created my mentoring programmes after years of working with and supporting artists and really understanding the challenges of creative life. I’m on your side to help you figure out the meanings and the reasons behind your creative practice and how to move forwards. Find out more here.


Maker Membership

My Maker Membership is now open for all makers wanting to explore their motivations and to build meaning and research into their practice and be part of a supportive creative community. We meet once a month and I share resources, tips and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.

My Creative Retreat

What I learned from taking a week out to just be an artist again

It makes me laugh when I get comments saying how nice it must be just to stitch all day in my lovely studio. I think it would be nice too, but that isn’t quite the reality of making a living from my creative practice. I spend 90% of my working hours online and sometimes it feels like 90% of my entire life in front of the computer! Time spent actually making stuff with my hands is only a small part of what I do. But I’m not saying that to make you feel sorry for me. I chose this working life and on the whole it suits me. I love the work I do on the computer from 1:1 mentoring to writing resources for my Maker Membership to recording the Making Meaning podcast to writing blog posts like this. It’s all creative practice and it’s all stuff I love but I also love the artist studio bit too. It’s all too easy for that to get squeezed out by the challenges of making a living, delivering projects and running a complex multi-stranded business pretty much singlehandedly.

Moving house last year and settling into my new studio has proved to be an excellent decision. The new space is inspiring and I have access to country walks within minutes of my home which really helps me with thinking and reflecting on my creative work. I haven’t however, got into a good routine of using this space for making / studio work on a regular basis. I have only just over the last 6 months or so got back into making new work after lockdowns which sapped pretty much all of my creativity.

I’m winding up a lot of projects at the moment and looking forward to the autumn and winter of getting back to some things of my own that have been on pause for far too long – a book I planned in 2018 for a start – and finishing off several pieces and groups of work that have been waiting for me. To kickstart this I took myself on an artists retreat in early September and I’m going to share a bit more about that and why it worked so well for me.

A few years ago I started taking a few days in autumn or winter to reflect, focus on my practice and basically get away from the computer for few days. It seems like a real indulgence, spending money to go somewhere else to do what I could be doing in my own studio. And yes it is, in some ways, but also it is an acknowledgement that my artist practice doesn’t get the attention it deserves in an average week. Also I tell myself, I have a home studio so I am not paying rent for it every month, so I can save it up and go away for a few days of space to think and work.

Drawing and printing materials, plus cups of tea set out on a table, one pair f hands with sketchbook
Gillian’s printing and drawing set up outside

This time I invited my long-time friend and collaborator Gillian McFarland to join me. We used to share a studio in Leicester but she now lives back in Scotland so we met in the middle, near Barnard Castle. We also co-mentor each other so have really got to explore our practice together in the last few months so this was a perfect time to reflect and get moving with some new things.

Collection of found objects and natural materials including acorns and old broken pottery, feathers and twigs
Our nature table and found items

We walked and talked, gathered and drew. We did some printing and some natural dyeing and lots of reflecting on our own practices and where we were going. There was lots of reading and sharing ideas, and listening and suggesting.

I made a start on some ideas that have been brewing for years, stitched paths on fragments of cloth and printed paths on lino.

Long narrow textile with fine pink stitched line along the length, displayed on a rugged stone wall
Stitched paths in thread
Black and white artist prints laid on a table. Prints are wiggly lines travelling across the print plate.
Experimental prints

I also visited a lot of medieval sites, churches, abbeys, castles – returning to my roots as a medievalist! This has been a powerful reminder of just how much I want to revisit with the eyes of an artist rather than an academic history student.

I did two research visits to museum collections as well, looking at corded quilting which was absolute heaven! And spent some time just browsing for fun at the Bowes Museum. Museum browsing is probably my top choice for inspiration and idea-nurturing.

Broken roman and medieval pottery display from the Bowes Museum
Broken roman and medieval pottery display from the Bowes Museum

So what have I learned from this trip?

  • Creativity needs space to thrive. I can find that space at home in a normal busy week but allowing myself the space to expand into a bigger creative space was really useful
  • Time to think and reflect is fundamental.
  • Talking to someone about your practice helps you figure things out yourself
  • There’s always a lot of unknown with creative practice. You have to learn to be comfortable with not knowing if what you do will be good or useful or what you intended.
  • Experimenting and releasing some of the self-imposed restrictions on what you do can be joyful as well as scary
  • And I learned that the ideas that are bubbling away under the surface need to rise up and get the attention they deserve, whether or not they turn out to be good.

So that’s what I’m doing over the next few months. Allowing my creative practice some space. Pausing and ending some projects to allow the capacity for some others – my podcast is pausing over the autumn and will restart some time in the new year and my community projects are all coming to an end. I’m going to try spending one day a week properly focussing in my studio and not turning the computer on at all. I am going to take drawing and writing out on my walks and do a lot more visiting inspiring places and just see what happens.

Cloth scraps and threads in beige and purple dyed with natural dyes
Cloth scraps and threads dyed with foraged natural dyes during the week

If you would like some support and nurturing of your creative practice, wherever you are in your career, I would love to help. I really do love mentoring, being trusted to travel alongside a creative journey and help you figure things out. I would love to grow this side of my work and help more people so I have created some new mentoring package – 3 or 6 months of 1:1 support via monthly Zoom calls. You can find out more here. If 1:1 isn’t right for you at this time, you might like to look at my Maker Membership which is by far the most affordable way to work with me and get feedback on your creative practice, as well as be part of a supportive community. And finally, my Find Your Focus course runs in January – this is a development from my Gentle Goal Setting workshops / workbook which involves reflection, finding your own criteria for success and creating guiding light principles and activities which will take you forwards. Find out more here.

Artist Mentoring

Support and guidance with your creative practice with experienced artist & mentor Ruth Singer

My 1:1 mentoring sessions are back! I took a break in August and September to get a few other things finished and to have time to figure out what I wanted to do with my mentoring practice.

I’ve been mentoring since at least 2014 (according to my oldest testimonial!) but I am sure I was doing it more informally before then too. And I really do love it! It’s so energising to feel like you are making a difference to someone’s creative practice and to see the change and growth in your clients.

The two episodes of this series of Making Meaning Podcast are with two of my recent mentees and both talk about how useful and nurturing it is to have support in your creative practice. Mandeep’s podcast episode is here and there will be a new one out 29th September with guest Gillian Lee Smith reflecting on mentoring.

Here’s what Mandeep said on Instagram

“Today involved a moment of reflection within my practice – looking back, looking at my present stance, and looking ahead. 

It’s been a few months now that I’ve been working with artist and mentor @ruthsingertextiles to help articulate my creative thoughts, and today’s session was as fruitful as always. I’ve come to think of each session together as a series of layers gently building towards the bigger picture. 

The biggest and most important factor in choosing to work with Ruth is her holistic approach – having the capacity to engage, listen, provide space and show a genuine interest in bringing out the potential of my professional practice in line with my own holistic way of working, through inner and outer care. I’m felt understood in my visual language; the exchange of conversation never fails to inspire or encourage my wider ambitions.

This isn’t a push to gather more clients for Ruth nor is it a paid partnership; more an open sharing of thoughts, of how the idea of togetherness contributes to raising one another, of how what we can learn from one another organically weaves into our individual practices. 

This linocut was a print I began last year which went miserably wrong, yet taught me a lot about technique and about myself. But most of all it invited conversation of all kinds to take place with printmakers and non-printmakers, influencing the developmental direction of my practice. It was an eye-opener, much like mentoring is – expansive; your hand held, with soft focussed guidance in finding your footing in your practice, and individual seat in the big art world.”

I’ve realised over the last couple of years of online mentoring that figuring out your creative practice isn’t something that can be achieved in one session! I now offer 3 or 6 session packages which give the mentee time and space to figure things out and move forward.

Find out more about mentoring here. If what you are looking for is community and a lighter touch of support then you might find my Maker Membership is the right space for you. I share loads of resources in the online space and we meet monthly on Zoom for group chats where you can ask for advice or feedback on your work. You can find out a bit of what it’s like by listening to Maker Membership episode of the podcast here.

What kind of things do you struggle with in your creative practice? What kind of support or help might take you forward into doing your best creative work? I’d love to hear from you, you can comment here or on my Instagram page.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 25 with Mandeep Dhadialla

Mandeep is a printmaker and workshop leader who works under the brand The Laughing Cactus Print Studio. She’s also local to me and we’ve been working together a lot over the last year or so on community projects and sharing thoughts on our respective creative practices. In this conversation we talk about the themes Mandeep is currently exploring around stillness and displacement, about belonging and moving between two countries. We talk about community practice and the impact it has on our work and the benefits of the collaborative work we are currently involved in. 


Mandeep Dhadialla is an artist printmaker living and working in Leicester. Her work revolves around linocut printmaking, including on textiles, and making handprinted and hand-bound books. Spending her formative years as a child in Kenya and migrating to England in her early teens influences her practice. She explores concepts of home, place, safety and comfort within her printmaking practice, experimenting with combined monoprint, linocut and collagraph print techniques – more recently on the idea of Stillness in Displacement, of how landscape provides the constant anchoring between inner emotional displacement and outer physical displacement, a parallel in narrative between migration, the pandemic and landscape.

Mandeep has sixteen years’ experience of teaching with museums and arts organisations. Her own printmaking practice continued to develop exhibiting widely in shows including Society of Women Artists. She achieved the Runner Up award at Sock Gallery and Highly Commended in their recent Summer exhibition. She received an Honourable Mention Award with Circle Foundation for the Arts, Kenya, and achieved Commended in Teesside Print Prize 20. She is a member of Leicester Society of Artists. 

Play here

Other links

Mandeep runs a print club – members receive four original prints a year through the post. 

You can sign up to her mailing list here


Maker Membership

My Maker Membership is now open for all makers wanting to explore their motivations and to build meaning and research into their practice and be part of a supportive creative community. We meet once a month and I share resources, tips and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 24 Highlights from Making Meaning Live.


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. This episode includes Ruth Singer in conversation with Maker Membership participants talking about their research and reflection process. The second part is a discussion between Ruth Singer and researcher Charlotte Bilby about working with women in the criminal justice system. There’s also an extended introduction talking about two of the sessions which, although brilliant, aren’t included – one because it was so visual that it just doesn’t work on a podcast and one which wasn’t recorded on the request of the speaker. Those presenters were Sharon Adams who you can hear on Episode 14 and the other was Lucille Junkere – find her website here.

You can also watch the rest of the event recordings for free here including Sharon’s drawing activity.

Play here


Session descriptions

Maker Membership : Research and Reflection

Maker Membership is Ruth Singer’s group for creative people who want to build more research and meaning into their making. Members will join Ruth in a discussion and share their work, focussing on the research they do and the reflection work guided by Ruth that has helped them develop their own creative practices.

Maker Membership is Ruth Singer’s group for all creative people who want to build more research, meaning and reflection into their work. It is open to anyone who makes and we are a sociable community from around the world. You don’t have to be a professional maker (though you are welcome if you are) and you don’t have to work in textiles, there is a wide range of other practices involved in the group. Ruth produces resources, workbooks and blog posts to inspire you to think about your making practice and we meet monthly on Zoom for group mentoring and sharing our work.

Members sharing their work in this session include Alison, Marianda, Amy, Ann and Julie

Ruth Singer & Charlotte Bilby, Labelling Ourselves
Charlotte will give an illustrated talk about two creative projects; ‘Free but not free’ in a community probation setting, and her current work, ‘Keeping in touch’. This project asks women in prison and women outside the prison community to make small mixed- media objects. One of these is a label that explores aspects of their identity. She will explain the processes and reasons for working with criminalised women, show some examples of the outputs and discuss the impact of the work on participants. Charlotte and Ruth will consider the differences and similarities in the work that they have done in exploring the stories of criminalised women over a century apart. While they are chatting, you will be encouraged to think about what you would include on your own label.

Charlotte researches creativity and making in criminal justice systems. She used to work in university criminology departments, where she taught about punishment and rehabilitation and did policy evaluations for the government. She became interested in how creative activities could change prisoners’ behaviour and identities, and incorporated making activities into her research. She is now based in Northumbria University’s School of Design, where she is running a mixed-media making project with women in and outside prison. The pieces explore (changing) identities, relationships with emotionally important people and whether our environments have an impact on the things we make.


Maker Membership

My Maker Membership is now open for all makers wanting to explore their motivations and to build meaning and research into their practice and be part of a supportive creative community. We meet once a month and I share resources, tips and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.

Community Spirit of Leicestershire launch

My project celebrating the Stories of pandemic volunteering in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is going on tour

I’ve been working on this project most of the year and even longer in the planning and development. It’s finally almost out in the world! Back in 2020 when volunteering to help run a local foodbank, I realised just how important volunteering was to me and other volunteers. We felt useful and engaged and were making a real difference. I wanted to capture that energy and celebrate it and make sure that volunteers got a proper thank you for their incredible work.

Eventually I turned this into a funding application and created Community Spirit of Leicestershire with support from Arts Council England and Leicester city community funds.

From 5th September the resulting work, created by volunteers, will be shown in libraries and community centres as well as the foodbank where it all started for me. And you can also see the project film here.

There’s details of the tour venues here and a press release here.

I’ve worked with Mandeep Dhadialla as associate artist while I’ve been both lead artist and project producer (plus marketing, admin, funding, workshop-leader!). It’s been a real joy to see this come together and to be able to use a creative project to say THANK YOU to all volunteers for your amazing work.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Sanctuary Stories and Research Resonance

A couple of weeks ago Mandeep Dhadialla and I concluded our summer community project called Sanctuary Stories. I wrote a little about the project development here. The work made is now on show at Leicester Central Library until 31st August. Sanctuary Stories was part of the city-wide Journeys Festival run by ArtReach and we worked with participants from Roots Group who are all Leicester-based but from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds.

Mandeep created the project concept and ran most of the workshops while I worked on the behind-the-scenes project producer work. But delightfully, she also invited me to be part of the creative workshop side. The project focussed on print and book making exploring stories of nature, wellbeing and belonging. My part was to introduce slow stitch on the papers and books with the idea of a meditative stitch practice.

The previous week the group made collograph-style collages which Mandeep blind embossed onto heavy white paper to create beautiful textured, simple pieces. We stitched into these pieces and Mandeep later made them in to folded forms.

I created my samples around a theme I’m working on for myself on borders, boundaries, paths and journeys. The stitches represent a border, a path, containment and freedom. That’s where the research resonance of the title comes in – making the samples for this workshop created all kinds of connections with my own work. Talking to Mandeep about her work and the meanings behind this workshop programme also sparked ideas for both of us. She and I will be talking more about this in a podcast due out in mid-September. It was a real pleasure to work with this group and to collaborate with Mandeep on this project and the results are so lovely. I hope plenty of you will be able to see them in Leicester Library in the next week.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 23 Highlights from Making Meaning Live with Amy Twigger Holroyd, Claire Wellesley-Smith, Lokesh Ghai and Charlie Birtles.


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. The next three episodes of the podcast are highlights of the programme – the bits that work without images and video. This episode includes Amy Twigger Holroyd talking about Fashion Fictions with participants Wendy Ward, Ruhee Das Chowdhury and Kate Harper, a conversation Claire Wellesley-Smith & Lokesh Ghai and artist-maker Charlie Birtles talking about thinking practice. There’s more background and images about their sessions below. You can also watch the whole event recordings for free here.

Play here


Other links

Listen to Claire in Episode 16 of Making Meaning Podcast.

Watch the Fashion Fictions film here.


Session descriptions


Amy Twigger-Holroyd, Fashion Fictions
This session will focus on a particular Fashion Fiction: World 54. In this world, production of new textiles has been severely restricted, leading to the development of a resourceful yet opulent fashion culture in which sheets of cloth, ingenious straps and random objects are used inventively to dress the body in different ways. Amy will present a short film showing a participatory enactment of World 54 and host a panel discussion involving three Fashion Fictions participants: Wendy Ward, Ruhee Das Chowdhury and Kate Harper. Together, they will discuss the ways in which making and embodied material exploration have been intertwined with storytelling in the development of World 54, and consider how such activities can help us to bring alternative fashion systems to life.

Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd is a designer, maker, writer and researcher. As Associate Professor of Fashion and Sustainability at Nottingham School of Art & Design, she leads an international participatory project, Fashion Fictions. Launched in 2020, the project brings people together to generate, experience and reflect on engaging fictional visions of alternative fashion cultures and systems. Participants can get involved in writing outlines of fictional worlds, creating visual and material prototypes, and enacting practices from the imagined worlds.

Common Threads: Lokesh Ghai and Claire Wellesley-Smith in conversation

Common Threads: Lokesh Ghai and Claire Wellesley-Smith in conversation

Claire and Lokesh will discuss commonalities in their textile practices through examples of projects delivered alongside communities in the UK and India. Stories told through cloth, memory and making will be illustrated with images from their working lives.

Lokesh Ghai is a textile artist and researcher working with traditional craft practice. He is interested in cultural-making of craft and clothing. He has showcased his textile art at V&A Museum of Childhood, London. As a designer and associate curator, he presented ‘India Street’ exhibition in Scotland. Lokesh is currently a design faculty at UPES, Dehradun. Claire Wellesley-Smith is an artist, author and researcher based in Bradford. She works on long term community-based arts, health and heritage projects which often explore textile stories. Her most recent book is Resilient Stitch: Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art (Batsford, 2021). Claire and Lokesh met in 2016 at a community textile garden in Bradford and are currently developing ideas for future work together.

Charlie Birtles

Thinking Spaces

With a view to open out a discussion, during this session Charlie will share her own personal reflections on thinking spaces, inevitably told through objects and stories, and will invite the wider group to share their own strategies around integrating space for thinking and questioning into their own lives and practices.

Charlie’s practice is about bringing people together, learning from each other and creating an environment for others to explore their own creative thinking. Whether through making artwork, facilitating spaces, or sharing skills, what is important to Charlie is the wider conversations and impact that is generated when we make way for creativity; process is just as important as a finished article. Increasingly, Charlie values the importance of reflective thinking within her own creative practice. The reflective process shows up for her in a variety of ways: reading, writing, talking, walking, making, collecting, questioning, or sometimes just sitting and embracing silence.


Maker Membership

My Maker Membership is now open for all makers wanting to explore their motivations and to build meaning and research into their practice and be part of a supportive creative community. We meet once a month and I share resources, tips and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 22 Highlights from Making Meaning Live with Michaela McMillan, Wendy Ward and Kathryn Parsons


Making Meaning Live was a fantastic online event which I created and hosted in July 2022. The event brought together creative people to talk about the meaning behind what they make with a live audience. The next three episodes of the podcast are highlights of the programme – the bits that work without images and video. This episode includes Michaela McMillan, Wendy Ward and Kathryn Parsons and all involve interaction and activities which the participants really got into. There’s more background and images about their sessions below. You can also watch the whole event recordings for free here.

Play here


Other podcast episodes

Listen to Michaela in Episode 21 of Making Meaning Podcast.

Listen to Kathryn in Episode 5 of Making Meaning Podcast


Session descriptions


Michaela McMillan, The Naming Ceremony
My entire making process starts with notes and stories. These have been shared with me at shows, found in books I’ve read, are from issues happening in the world around me and from events that have shaped my life. This session will be an introduction to the beginning stage of putting a collection together. Tying materials to names and stories, thinking about how to tell a visual story through collected recycled objects – naming pieces and giving them a brief history. Everyone attending will be invited to offer their own associations with materials I present, or show their own piece of treasure and share their own connections and names with it.

Michaela creates individual handmade sculptures that are thoughtful and vibrant objects for interiors. Her work is playfully serious, and made from recycled and found objects with decoupage, assemblage and stitch. The pieces are visions of her imagination mixed with historical and contemporary realities, depicting scenarios of animals, people and nature.


Wendy Ward, People’s Wardrobe
The People’s Wardrobe invites you to wear (or have to hand) a well-used, well-loved garment for this participatory event. As a group we will share the stories of our garments by writing love letters to them and describing them in just three words. This is an activity I am running with lots of different groups of people and from these collected responses I want to start building a library of the public’s best-loved garments which might help to answer these questions: Why do we keep and use some garments for much longer than others? What can we learn from these garments to help us better appreciate the rest of our clothes and keep them for longer? ‘Big Fashion’ has made us believe that we are simply consumers of clothes, but more importantly we are users and wearers and we all need to find new creative ways to build more enduring relationships with the clothes we already own.

*note – Wendy would be delighted to hear from you with your Love Letter to your garment.

Wendy Ward is a PhD researcher at Sheffield Hallam University investigating product attachment, craft and broken-ness in fashion. Prior to her PhD she taught sewing to adults and wrote five best-selling sewing books. Wendy has long had an interest in sustainability within fashion, she worked at both extremes of the fashion industry: as a designer in fast fashion and for a small sustainable brand, then went on to explore novel ways to recycle textiles for her MA. Wendy got her love of making from her dad and a pair of his leather gloves helped to inspire her research.

Kathryn Parsons, The Naming of Moths
Moths are utterly fascinating creatures, and last year I started learning fly-tying so I could create miniature moth sculptures. In this session I’ll talk about my work and show you some fly-tying. There will also be an opportunity to join in a mini creative workshop, and make an ephemeral moth collage from natural treasures. It’ll be a gentle amble through stories of materials, techniques, local history and wildlife conservation, while we sit and make together.

I create artworks that weave together tales of place and people, history and nature. My work is research-based and multi-facetted. The materials I use depend on the story to be told – from miniature moths made of feathers found on nature reserves, to tiny porcelain lichens planted in a poet’s garden! I have created site-specific artworks for Derby Museum, Langdyke Countryside Trust and the University of Leicester, and exhibitions for the National Centre for Craft & Design. I also love to run creative workshops, nurturing people and their creativity while inspiring deeper connections with the natural world.


Maker Membership

My Maker Membership is now open for all makers wanting to explore their motivations and to build meaning and research into their practice and be part of a supportive creative community. We meet once a month and I share resources, tips and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more here.

Stories in Cloth

Commissioned artworks in response to a family textile collection

This project has been one of my slowest ever, but it’s finally coming together. Months ago I was commissioned to make a new piece of work inspired by a family collection of textiles and clothing. It’s been tricky all along because the client wanted the textiles back intact so I couldn’t cut and stitch the cloth into something new so that limited my options. Intriguingly, the client also doesn’t want an artwork back so I suggested creating works which could be scanned / photographed so she can have a digital version. In many ways an open brief is harder to work with than a very tight brief. Too many options can be quite overwhelming so I struggled for a while to work out what to make. But it’s up and running now and nearing completion and I’m very happy with what I’ve done.

I decided to make a series of small pieces presented like museum prints or drawings in an acid-free box. The client has worked in archives for many years so the connection made immediate sense. I’ve used print, drawing and photography techniques to create an archive of the collection without using any of the textiles in an irreversible way. As time has passed, the client is actually happy for me to use the textiles as I wish but I’ve gone down the route of preserving them so although I’ve done a little stitch work with some smaller textile pieces, no scissors have been involved and everything I have done is reversible, like in textile conservation – a regular source of inspiration to me.

Until I decided to stitch a few of the textiles, this project was more like a museum project – creating work inspired by but not using this collection and that’s been enjoyable and challenging for me. I’ve never done anything like this before, using a personal / family collection of treasures and stories which have huge importance as a group. I think find it particularly fascinating as I don’t actually have a family textile collection of my own. The museum / archive / stories aspect of this project has given me a lot to think about and a lot of reflection on my own future work in collaboration with museums, and maybe with other family collections.

This project forms part of my research and development for my new long-term creative work around evidence and absence, looking at histories and objects, movement and loss. I’m hoping to show the finished work in an exhibition next year. All along, I’ve been sharing the development of this work with my Maker Membership group over the last year or so, as an example of how I go from idea to finished work. This project has been particularly relevant to our earlier theme of Objects where I shared my experience of working in museums early in my career and now working with museums (and old things) as my inspiration. These resources are still accessible for all members of the group too. Find out more about membership here.

What family archives / textiles collections do you have? Do they inspire your creative work? Or don’t know where to start? I’m open to similar commissions with other family collections of textiles and clothing, it’s been so much fun to explore new ideas.