Monday, 30 January 2017

An Interview with Emily Wilkinson

Deborah Wynne asks Emily about her practice as a poet and artist.
DW:  You use text quite often in your art, do the words inspire the artwork, or does the art inspire the words?
EW: They usually evolve at the same time, I find that making visual work evokes a mood which then informs the language I am attracted to, and vice versa. Having said that, I sometimes write words inspired by a visual piece or a photograph, but don’t often come up with artwork based on pre-existing words.
DW: How do you source the materials in your textile art and collages?
EW: I collect magazines, second hand books, postcards and bits of ephemera. It helps to be a bit of a hoarder! I also save scraps of nice paper and offcuts of fabric. Most of the fabrics I use are second hand; either finds from charity shops or old things I cut up. I also create my own surfaces by putting papers and fabrics through processes to make texture and alter colours. Scrapstores are a great resource too, and luckily we have one locally in Church Stretton. 
DW: The natural world seems to be a considerable inspiration for your work – why is this the case?
EW: I’m a country girl at heart and feel happiest when surrounded by nature or not far from wild places. By working creatively with or in landscapes I think we explore our inner emotional worlds. I suppose that for some people that might be cities or urban environments, but for me it’s mountains and oceans. I also find our connection as humans to the natural world fascinating, and care about protecting the environment. 
DW: What are the challenges of creating 3D artwork?
EW: Some of my 3D work is actually quite flat so in a way it’s not so different to working with collage, just in relief. With items such as my paper shoes it’s more like creating a garment from a pattern, these are quite fiddly to make however! I haven’t worked on a large scale in 3D which is where the real challenge would probably come in. 
DW: What are your favourite textile fabrics to work with?
EW: As mentioned earlier I like to work with second hand fabrics to give them a new life, I also like the sense of history and stories they carry. Wool is lovely to work with and I enjoy other natural fibres like linen, bamboo and silk which is one of the reasons I am really looking forward to working with you at Macclesfield Silk Museum next April.
DW: What inspires you to create book arts?
EW: I’ve always loved books and have read a lot since early childhood. I love them as tactile, comforting, intriguing objects and am not draw to kindles or e-books in the slightest! 
DW: How did your film poem, Lines of Flight develop?
EW: It came out of a series of conversations with a friend (and other writer of the piece) Jeppe Dyrendom Grauggard who I met through the Dark Mountain Project ( At the time he was living in Berlin and I in Scotland, and after talking about subjects like home, nomadism and belonging we started an exchange where we filmed clips from the environments we lived in and started writing from them. We were very pleased indeed when it got screened at the Antwerp Filmpoem Festival about three years ago. 
Emily Wilkinson will be running a creative workshop at the Story of Silk event at Macclesfield Silk Museum on 1st April 2017. To find out more about this event, see the previous blog post or email:


Monday, 5 December 2016

The 2017 Textile Stories Study Day: The Story of Silk

This study day will be held in The Silk Museum, Park Lane, Macclesfield, SK11 6TJ on 1st April 2017, 10.00am-3.30pm

The event will explore the magic of silk, its uses and its histories. This study day will involve talks by a textile artist, Yvette Hawkins; a historian of luxury textiles, Dr Katherine Wilson, who will talk about the colourful history of the luxury textile trade in Europe; and a practical workshop organised by Emily Wilkinson, an artist and writer.

Included in the cost of the event is a guided tour of the Silk Museum, a fascinating place which reveals the importance of silk manufacturing to the history of Macclesfield and shows how silk is made, from cocoon to loom. Additionally, there’ll be some hidden gems from the collection on display. The Museum will be closed to the public on the day of the event.
Here is the Museum’s website link:

If you would like to join us for this 5th Textile Stories Study Day, please book a place by phoning: 01625 613210 (to make a credit/debit card payment) or by visiting the Museum (where you can pay with cash). Tickets cost £20 and include lunch, refreshments and a tour of the museum.
This event is jointly organised by the University of Chester and the Silk Museum, Macclesfield. We’re looking forward to seeing you in April for what looks to be a really interesting day. If you have any queries, feel free to contact Professor Deborah Wynne at or Sue Hughes, Museum Director of Macclesfield Museums, on 01625 613210.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Story of Wool: the fourth Textile Stories Study Day, 23rd April 2016

The fourth annual University of Chester Textiles Stories Study Day took place on the 23rd April 2016 at the Guildhall, University Centre Shrewsbury. ‘The Story of Wool’ was the focus of this year’s event and the diverse schedule of talks, displays, and stalls offered something for everybody, whether a knitting novice or spinning expert!
   Jean Huff, spinning in the foyer               Woollen items made by participants at the event
                The talks got off to a fascinating start thanks to textile artist Fiona Nisbet. Fiona talked us through the steps involved in the creation of her beautiful textiles, which begins with sourcing the ideal sheep. Once she has found the best fleece, Fiona explained how she starts the process of spinning the raw material into thread, using the techniques of carding or combing depending on the design she hopes to produce. She then talked us through the various dyeing and weaving techniques, before explaining how she transforms the end material into her stunning designs. Fiona very kindly brought in some of her pieces, so we were lucky enough to see (and even buy) some of her original work.

 Fiona Nisbet talking about fleeces

                Next up were Dr Graham Atkin and Professor Deborah Wynne, both English lecturers. Their talk: ‘Woolly Stories: From Shakespeare to the Brontës’ focused on the importance of the pastoral, wool, and the wool trade within the literature of Shakespeare and the Brontës. Graham discussed his interest in the pastoral literature of the Renaissance by taking us through images from Edmund Spenser’s The Shepeardes Calendar (1579). We were also given examples from several of Shakespeare’s plays where pastoral imagery can be found including As You Like It (1600) and The Winter’s Tale (1611). Deborah’s talk centred around examples of the wool trade in the work of the Brontës, especially their childhood experiences of the Yorkshire woollen mills. Deborah explained how both Branwell and Charlotte took inspiration from the mills near their home in Haworth, an area where the spinning and selling of wool was an essential part of the local economy. Deborah focused on Branwell Brontë’s The Wool is Rising (1834) and Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley (1849) in her talk.

 Graham Atkin talking about Shakespeare.         Deborah Wynne with some members of the Shropshire Spinners and Weavers Guild
                After a delicious lunch, everybody was ready for the third talk of the day from the local sheep farmer, Thelma Thompson. Despite a successful career as a solicitor, Thelma decided she had had enough of her office in the city. After heading to a sheep market with her friend, farmer Henry, Thelma had a chance encounter with a small but feisty ram named Tinker. Before she knew it, she had purchased Tinker and the rest was history! Thelma’s fascinating talk detailed the highs and lows of being a twenty-first century shepherdess. Though she has had to deal with financial pressures, long hours, and never-ending administrative work, she is also able to spend every day in the great outdoors, breeding and rearing her sheep with Henry’s help. Thelma’s talk included some beautiful photographs of her new lambs, while her stall provided some more opportunities for retail therapy!

Thelma Thompson with some useful leaflets from the Wool Marketing Board
                The final talk of the day was given by Professor Sandy Black from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, at the University of the Arts, London. Sandy has enjoyed a varied and fascinating career as a designer, a researcher and an academic. Her talk, ‘Wool in Knitting and Fashion: From underwear to couture’ focussed on the important role knitting has played in fashion throughout the ages, from beautiful examples of early knitting in the fifth century, to couture pieces from the modern day. Sandy explored in detail how wool has maintained its cultural importance in domestic terms, especially throughout the nineteenth-century, when knitting was used to make extra money, and as an educational tool in schools. She transported us through history, up to the twenty-first century, when wool strengthened its importance as an art form for modern designers whose work graces catwalks, and can be seen amongst the pages of Vogue magazine.
One of our participants holding a 'Sandy Black' jumper she knit in the 1980s. Her friend holds the original pattern,
Minnie and Bryony, University Centre Shrewsbury students who kindly helped out on the day.

The fourth Textiles Stories Study Day provided a wonderful opportunity to hear expert speakers talk about wool and knitting in original and fascinating ways. We do hope you will join us next year for the story of silk at Macclesfield Silk Museum on the 1st April 2017. 

Report by Katie Baker, PhD student, English Department, University of Chester

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Textile Stories Study Day: ‘The Story of Wool’ 23rd April 2016

The fourth Textile Stories Study day will be devoted to the 'story of wool', from fleece to fashion. The event will be held on 23rd April at the new University Centre Shrewsbury and there will be talks, demonstrations and displays. 
The programme for the day:
9.30-10.00am: Registration (tea/ coffee) (demonstrations/ stalls/ displays)
10.00-10.50am: Fiona Nisbet (textile artist), ‘Spinning: from Fleece to Fabric’
10.50-11.30am: Tea/coffee (demonstrations/ stalls/ displays)
11.30-12.20: Deborah Wynne and Graham Atkin (both University of Chester), ‘Woolly Stories: From Shakespeare to the Brontës’
12.20-1.40pm: Lunch (demonstrations/ stalls/ displays)
1.40-2.30pm: Thelma Thompson (sheep farmer), 'It All Began With Tinker... Tales from a Shepherdess under Wenlock Edge'
2.30-3.20pm: Professor Sandy Black (Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts), ‘Wool in Knitting and Fashion: From underwear to couture’
3.20pm: Closing remarks
Tickets cost £15 and can be bought via the University of Chester's Shopfront
Alternatively, you can send a cheque for £15 made payable to 'The English Dept, University of Chester' (put your contact details on the back), and send to Prof D. Wynne, The Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ
The event will take place in The Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ
A view of the Guildhall from across the River Severn. In the foreground is the 'Quantum Leap', a memorial to Charles Darwin.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Textile Stories: Quilt Stories, The Study Day on 25th April 2015

Our third Textile Stories study day was devoted to the topic of quilts and quilting. Quilts come in many forms and have a long history; the stories they tell can be obvious or hidden. Textile historians have done much to reveal the fascinating stories hidden in quilts. At the University of Chester many of us have been rather preoccupied by the idea of quilting because the Anniversary Quilt, celebrating the University's 175th anniversary, took shape over the course of the previous year. It seemed fitting that we explore the history of quilts and the stories they tell for our 2015 study day.

We listen to some thought-provoking and informative talks from our speakers; some were experts on quilts, their histories or the art of quilting. Other speakers shared knowledge and experience in restoring and preserving quilts and organising a quilt project involving a group of sewing enthusiasts. 

Our first speaker was Christine Garwood and she talked about ‘Painting With Stitches’:

Christine, an artist, teaches textile art.  Her work combines cloth, stitching, colour and texture to evoke the landscapes she loves. Her talk focused on the techniques she used and her own personal journey as an artist inspired by the natural world. She brought examples of her work, from projects she had done as a schoolgirl and work she had done at art school, as well as the 'stitched' paintings she had exhibited as a professional artist. The audience found the diversity of material she used, paint, thread, even plastics, intriguing, and Christine was asked lots of questions about how she used her skills with each project.

Christine has a B.A. (Hons) in Fine Art / Textiles, from the University of London, Goldsmith’s College, School of Art and an Art Teacher’s Certificate from the University of Sussex.

Above are some examples of Christine's work displayed during the day.

Our next talk was given by Jacqui Hyman on ‘Conserving Quilts’

Many of us remembered Jacqui's talk in 2014, when she discussed the exciting discovery of medieval Egyptian clothing hidden away in a Leeds museum, and her research and restoration of these fascinating objects. A textile historian and experienced conservator, Jacqui offered expert advice on caring for quilts. Jacqui emphasised that the quilts made today will be of interest to future generations and that we should think about preserving them, as well as enjoying them now. Her talk ranged from restoring historic textiles in museums to ways of cleaning and storing the quilts handed down within families. 

She set up her stall of textile restoration products, and showed people how to use them. She was busy throughout the day, as members of the audience visited her stall and found out more about protecting their lovingly-made quilts for future generations. Jacqui runs the Textile Restoration Studio:

Claire Smith (Researcher for the V&A exhibition, Quilts: 1700-2010) gave a talk called, Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories from the V&A’s Quilt Collection’

Claire was involved in putting together the major quilt exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2010 and her talk was based on the pleasure of researching a number of fascinating quilts from the eighteenth century to today. She talked about what for her were the highlights of the exhibition, and how the research team set about displaying over 300 years of quilt history. Her talk was well illustrated and we saw the rich history of quilts unfolding, from the beautiful work of well-born ladies in the eighteenth century, to the domestic creation of bedspreads in the nineteenth century, to the stitching of individual stories by prisoners in the contemporary 'prison quilt'. Claire emphasised that each quilt had its own story to tell, and that the challenge for textile historians is to uncover and make sense of each story about each quilt's moment in time.

Pat Salt's talk, ‘From Quilt to Quilt’, expressed her sense of how one quilt leads to another and that each marked a stage in her creative journey.

Pat Salt has developed courses on quilting for the City and Guilds qualification and has taught quilting for many years. She brought along many examples of the beautiful, often intriguing, quilts she had made and she invited the audience to examine them closely. We felt privileged at being allowed to handle such beautiful objects. Many people spent quite some time examining the fascinating designs and discussing how they were made. Pat’s talk covered a range of topics, from techniques and sewing strategies to design and the importance of using your imagination. 

Here are some examples of Pat's quilts on display:

Fiona Roberts and Liz Johnson, both from the University of Chester, ‘The Story of the Anniversary Quilt’

Fiona and Liz, on either side of the Anniversary Quilt, gave the final talk. They discussed the pleasures of working with a team of keen quilters, the discussion of ideas, sharing of materials, the problems of design and how they were overcome, and the excitement of seeing the quilt emerge over the course of many months. 

Many people attending the study day brought along some of their own quilts and the hall was packed with a colourful display which made the event a visual feast! Here are a few of them:

Our helpers, Katie Baker, Hannah Brady and Grace Woodger are taking a well-earned break:

Here are some comments from participants:

Inspirational, ideas flowed like running stitches – binding all together. Thank you.
Liz Leech

Such an inspiring day – full of variety.  Talented artists (textile) with so much to offer.  Most enjoyable day – food was great.
Jacqui Hyman

Very successful day!  Every talk interesting and inspiring.  Looking forward to the next one.
Clare Dudman

Excellent day.  Interesting and inspiring speakers.  Wonderful quilts old and new.  A really well organised day and the catering was excellent.  Very enjoyable and educational day.
CG Fairclough

Thank you so much for arranging such an enjoyable day and with marvellous speakers, all on a variety of subjects but all on quilting and stitching.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my day.
Mandy David

A great day – really interesting, inspirational talks, great food, lovely company.  Please add me to your mailing list for future events.  I enjoyed the mix of academic, intellectual material and practical hints and tips.  Symbolism in textiles would be an interesting theme – runaway quits from the underground railway and in weavings as in Lady and the Unicorn by Tracey Chevalier.  So lovely to get up close and personal with real items – particularly in Pat’s talk and from participants.
Debbie Marais

This has been an amazing day which fulfilled all my expectations.  Every speaker brought a new aspect of the world of textiles to our attention.  One could not help but be encouraged by their enthusiasm.  The day was very well organised – timings, catering etc. were excellent.  Thanks to you all for organising such an inspiring day.
Hilary Watmough

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Textile Story by Grace Woodger

by Grace Woodger

'Millie!' Frances exclaimed. 'What ever have you done?'
            Mildred looked up from the drawing room floor, gesturing helplessly to the quilt on the ground before her. One corner was badly burned, a good few inches of fabric eaten away, and the surrounding squares were singed and stained with soot.
            'Grandmother's quilt, Fannie. Look at it. Mother will never forgive me.'
            'How ever did it happen?' Frances asked. Mildred shifted uncomfortably, avoiding her sister's eye. 'How did it happen, Millie?'
            She sighed. 'Well, if you must know, I was using it as a cape.'
            'A cape?'
            'Yes. And as I turned around the corner flew upwards and landed on the grate, and the edge caught alight. I managed to stamp it out, but I'm afraid it's quite ruined.'
            'Why on earth were you using Grandmama's quilt as a cape?' Said Frances, incredulous.
            Mildred raised her head defiantly, her cheeks flaming. 'I was re-enacting Lancelot and Elaine.'
            'And does Elaine require a cape?'
            'No, but Lancelot does.'
            They stared at each other for a moment, the ruined quilt on the ground between them, before Frances' shoulders began to shake, no longer able to contain her laughter.
            'One day, Mildred,' she laughed. 'You will begin to act like a woman of eighteen, rather than a boy of twelve.'
            'When that day comes, Frances, you have my permission to put me out of my misery.' Her sister retorted, her eyes shining in the dim light from the fire. Sighing heavily, Frances knelt on the floor beside her, picking at the burned edge.
            'Oh, Millie. Look at it.'
            Mildred nodded. 'And she was always so proud of it.'
            'Who, mother?'
            'No, grandmother. She sewed it herself, remember?'
            Frances smiled. 'Yes. No wonder it's quite so threadbare, poor old thing.'
            'Wasn't that a part of her wedding dress?' Mildred pointed to a square.
            'Yes, I think so. And this was one of grandpapa's old work shirts. Quite a lot of these things were his.'
            'And now I've ruined it.' Mildred said, her voice wavering. Frances took her hand.
            'No, not at all. Grandmama made it to tell the story of her and Grandpapa. That story will always be there. Every square is a part of them, as long as we're here to remember.'
            Suddenly, Mildred looked up, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand as she scrambled to her feet. 'Fetch your sewing kit.'
            'Does mother still have the old baby blankets?'
            'Why, yes, but...'
            'I'm sure I can find some of mother's old things. She must have lots we can use.'
            Frances stood up. 'Use for what, Mildred?'

            Mildred beamed at her. 'We can repair it, Frances. Add our own squares to replace the ones I burned. You're right, I haven't ruined their story. I've merely added another chapter.'

Friday, 15 May 2015

Patchwork Pieces By Debra Roberts

As a collector of fragments of old fabrics, I am inspired by material values that enable narratives of the past to be visible in the present.  Cloth holds aesthetic and functional values; however, it is preserved for many other reasons, not least the emotional values that are invested in it.  Cloth connects us physically with both tangible and intangible histories, and patchwork quilts are significant objects of history, legacies of fashion, design, process; that tell of family connections and cultural values.

The illustrations below show a small collection of patchworks, all works in progress, pieces that remain unfinished.  Sourced from Antique Fairs, they hold no personal history or connection.  It is what the pieces were originally, that interests me, clothes, furnishings that are no longer useful or fashionable, as pieces of fabric, they are still worth recycling. 

They form part of a research project, to analyse the fabrics, to understand the dates or period when they were produced, and how the designs were printed.

However, whilst a lot of information can be gleaned from the surface of the fabric about the design process, the patchwork pieces are rich in narrative – in this instance – there is much information held on the reverse of the patchwork.

The first image is taken from a patchwork that is in 2 parts – you can immediately see the quilt pattern, on the reverse, the template papers are still in tact.  The papers are cut out of Journals, Catalogues, Hand written notes and letters, dating from 1864-74.  There are references to agriculture (details of calving breed lines), investments, Church records, medical forms, and laundry lists – all quite commonplace.  There is also a reference to Dyrham Park, Gloucester.
There are snippets of handwriting, such as: “…for…sending with….is to resume….it will come…my dear thing…..” Words crop up such as ‘fatigue’ ….

The scraps of information are frustrating, as you instinctively want to know more, but the information has been cut off.  There is the dilemma – the papers should be left intact, as part of the history of the patchwork that should not be removed; however, there is also a strong temptation to take the papers out, and piece together the snippets in an attempt to discover more.

Questions arise – are the paper fragments of the same historical period as the fabric?  Who made the quilt? What do all the agricultural references indicate? 

The second quilt is also unfinished; it shows simple squares of cotton and cotton chintz.  

The fabric is in good condition, there is a developing quilt pattern, and the paper used is largely thick brown paper.  Interspersed between the brown papers are random squares of writing, beautiful copperplate.  There is a postmark, Worthing 67, and an old red stamp, the letter is addressed to Linfield, Wescott, Dorking.  There is a reference to ‘Georgie’.  There are a number of clues to be resolved. 

The final patchwork piece is in quite poor condition, the silk fabric is beginning to split.  There is a clear quilt pattern.

The paper inserts are a mixture of handwritten notes, postcards, journals.   There are references to Chorley Hough, Chorley, John ….of Preston, Birmingham.  There are 2 postmarks, one barely legible but the word Leeds is quite clear.  The second postmark is very clear, Kettering 9:45pm, Au 20 96.  Another date is discovered – 1899.

This may help to date the fabrics and quilt; alternatively, this may be a store of discarded papers that have been used at a later date. 

There are mixed values evident here, the backs of the quilt pieces, ostensibly of no aesthetic value, hold significant clues, key to deciphering the history and constructing the narratives.  Fabrics are reworked to form new patterns, and the material has a prolonged and useful life.  More so if the quilts had been completed. 
Also evident is the skill and craftsmanship  - each piece is carefully cut and pieced together with exquisite hand stitching.  We become aware of another existence, another hand; we see evidence of decisions being made, choices in colour, fabric.  We become aware of a specific point in time, an event. 

These pieces have been kept, perhaps as reminders of the makers.  They have been preserved in drawers, boxes, suitcases, waiting for the next stage.  The next chapter will reveal more information, helping me detect and analyse the origins and authenticities, delve into the past to reconstruct the history and construct new narratives.    

About the author: Debra Roberts is Senior Lecturer in Printed Textiles & Surface Pattern Design, and on the MA Creative Practice at Leeds College of Art.  Her research interests lie in collections, archives, history and narrative of cloth.  She collects fragments of cloth as inspiration for surface design, and to understand the various processes involved in the production of the design.  As an 'archaeologist' of cloth, she uses the collected fragments to inform the design process, but also to enable a reconstruction of history and narrative, a connection to the past, and an insight into values of production.  Her practice encompasses natural dyes, silk screen print and hand stitch, and these methods are used alongside digital technology, as a means to respond to, interpret, and analyse.  Through these reconstructions she enables