Nina's Textile Trail

My OCA Textile Tales

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Part 4 – Textile Structures – RESEARCH POINT – How do you view Textile Art? Do you think about it in the same way that you would look at a painting or a piece of sculpture? How far do you feel it has been accepted as a medium for fine art by the fine art establishment?

How do you view textile art?

Do you think about it in the same way that you would look at a painting or a piece of sculpture?

How far do you feel it has been accepted as a medium for fine art by the fine art establishment?

I make no distinction between art. It is so subjective. I like what I like, I don’t always look for meaning. I am attracted to colour, texture, technique. I can admire and appreciate an artist’s ability and achievements but not like their work.   I agree with Jann Haworth’s comment in the opening page of Contemporary Textiles: The Fabric of Fine Art, who in the early sixties when studying the Slade, “failed to see the barriers between correct materials and incorrect ones – between ‘high art’ and ‘the crafts’. Perhaps I am naïve, having only been recently introduced to the diversity of art available today but I don’t feel any bias, I know what I like, regardless of the medium.

My acceptance without question of the immense diversity of art available today and my ignorance of the ‘fine art establishment’ and the inherent traditions make it difficult for me to grasp how far the profile of textile art has grown.

I had written the above and another thousand words or so and had, in my mind, completed this question, when I visited a local ‘Embroidery and Textile Art Exhibition, which was advertised as “an exciting exhibition of works created by many of the country’s leading textile artists to celebrate the art of stitch. It did indeed celebrate the art of stitch but it raised the question, where do these artists fit when considering textiles as a medium for fine art? I realised the extent of my naivety and wondered how I could possibly comment on how far textile art has been accepted as a medium for fine art by the fine art establishment when I have little or no understanding of the either fine art establishment or textile art in its wider context.

I wondered, “Who are the artists “cementing textiles’ place at the heart of contemporary art?” as suggested by Nadine Monem as editor of The Fabric of Fine Art. What is their background? Are they Art graduates who have chosen to work with textiles or did they set out to study textiles or embroidery?

I’m also questionning Rebecca Fairley’s blog post So what is Research? where she states “When your journey starts, perhaps during your first Level 1 course, the main type of research activity you will be engaged with is looking at and collecting imagery. This will be of art works made by others and the purpose of this research is to develop an understanding of what creativity is in your field.”   I appreciate that answering this question will help me to understand what creativity is in my field, but it certainly feels like a lot more than ’looking at and collecting imagery’!

So, returning to the initial question, How do you view textile art and do you think about it in the same way that you would look at a painting or a piece of sculpture? My answer remains the same, I look at all art in the same way. If I am at an exhibition, firstly I judge a piece as a whole, considering if it is aesthetically pleasing to me, I consider the materials, colours and techniques to determine if I’m attracted to it. If no interest is sparked, I will probably move on. I don’t linger to look for meaning, I’m impatient to see the next thing. If the materials or colours attract me, I will be drawn in to look closer, often to examine texture or consider the techniques used. Often, the ‘whole’ doesn’t interest me, but aspects of it do, particularly if detailed stitch, print or techniques suggest texture, real or illusory.   At this point in my learning, I rarely ‘feel’ anything, so perhaps I’m looking at the ‘face-value’ of the art, a simple approach, possibly ignorant?   Although, I may not have seen much art which has been produced with the intention of being meaningful.

How far do you feel it has been accepted as a medium for fine art by the fine art establishment?

I think here to understand how far textile art has been accepted, we need to consider what the ‘traditional Fine Arts’ encompass.’s definition of fine art is “a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness, specifically, painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, graphics, and architecture”.   The Fine Art Society have been dealing in Fine art since 1876 and specialise in 19th and 20th century British art and design and established and established a ‘Contemporary’ section in 2005. A cursory glance through the artists they represent offers nothing remotely related to textiles.

However, in Contemporary Textiles: The Fabric of Fine Art which was published in 2008, seven years ago, Jann Haworth believes we have “vaulted away from an art tied to the illustration of gods, myth, narrative and the record of royalty and patrons”.   Bradley Quinn believes textile art has been drawn into the folds of ‘high art’ and the editor Nadine Monem says that the artists “are pushing the boundaries of traditional categories of fine art practice and in the process they are producing some of the most important, inspiring and evocative work being done today, forever cementing textiles’ place at the heart of contemporary art.”   So, it would appear that there is a far greater acceptance of textiles and more experimental art. As Jann Haworth comments further “we live with the abstract, the emotional, diversified mark-making and impossible to tame materials.”   This is true and there are numerous examples within the aforementioned book of textile art really pushing boundaries in their subject matter and materials.

In the same book, Bradley Quinn goes on to comment that attempts to bring fibre arts into the world of Fine Art were ‘routinely overturned’ and that ‘textiles were traditionally dismissed as functional forms or decorative expressions”.  This view is supported in a clip of a BBC2 programme, “Contemporary Visions”, first broadcast on 25th October, 2007, where Maxine Bristow, a textile artist comments on the division between fine art and craft. “Textiles has always been relegated to the second division. Its always been seen as a minor art or a lesser art. Textiles are always used for clothing or within the home. Over the years there has been this division between fine art and craft because art was about expressing ideas, it was more to do with the mind than actual manual skill”. She infers that the traditionally feminine skills of embroidering and stitching are less valued and this impacts on the view of textiles today.  I think this is often true in society, where the immediate thought of many puts ‘textiles’ in a more domestic, functional role and relegates them to almost to ‘hobbyist level’.  So many people are ignorant of the quality and diversity of textiles being produced today which allows the historical role of textiles to perpetuate the myth that they are not the medium of fine art.

Bradley Quinn supports his argument that ‘the relationship between textiles and contemporary art is forging fresh directions today” by listing artists, such as Lucy Orta and Tracey Emin, who have ‘fused textiles with a diverse range of media’ to produce artworks, and shows how the profile of textiles as a medium for fine art has grown in the last fifty years. (Contemporary Textiles: The Fabric of Fine Art)

I conclude that there have been great steps forward in the acceptance of art in many different mediums including textiles, and that textiles have been accepted as a medium by the Fine Art Establishment.

However I would suggest that, in general, textile art lacks proper recognition.  This country’s best textile artists constantly strive to have their work valued.

Sanda Meech in her book Connecting Art to stitch refers to Mixed Media as “one of the closest disciplines to stitched textiles in the’art world’. Unfairly, ‘art’ is promoted as being very different to ‘craft’, and a fine artist who might combine some fabric and mark making stitches with paint on canvas is considered a ‘mixed-media’ artist. But, when hung on a wall, an art quilt that is a collage of paint. paper, plastics with fabric and stitch is labelled’craft’. This will continue to be an issue until quilt and stitched textile artists can have their work taken more seriously and hung in the same ‘fine’art galleries as other works of art.”

Three of the best Textile groups in England (as judged by also work towards this goal.

Prism is striving for excellence in the field of fine art textiles and craftsmanship.

The 62 Group aims to challenge the limits of textile practice through innovation and ambition. This group was established in 1962 by a small number of embroidery lecturers and recent graduates; they were determined that textiles receive wider acceptance as a legitimate medium in the context of fine art. believe this battle is still being fought today, although the 62 Group have made progress and been instrumental in the wider recognition of textile art.

Studio 21 group of textile artists formed in 1997 with the goal of challenging and extending the boundaries of traditional techniques and expectations within the realm of textiles. A number are Members and Licentiate Members of the Society of Designer Craftsmen.

This society promotes and supports the work of creative thinkers, designers and makers who continue to innovate in the crafts through their exploration of materials and skills. They are proud of their roots, were founded in 1887 as the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society with Walter Crane, William Morris and William de Morgan amongst their forbears and believe that they continue to uphold the values that they established, but it is interesting to note that they almost set themselves apart from Fine Art, stating that they “give a voice to beautiful, challenging and exciting work that is different from the traditional Fine Arts”. They actually divide their textile membership into six categories, constructed, felted, knitted, printed, stitched and woven, appearing to make a genuine attempt to recognise and promote textile artists. (accessed 11.4.15) (accessed 11.4.15)

Jefferies, J & Quinn, B, Monem N (ed)(2008) Contemporary textiles: The Fabric of Fine Art Black Dog Publishing

BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour A Celebration of Craft 6th April, 2015 (BBC 2 Contemporary Visions first broadcast 25 oct 2007)

Meech S (2009) Connecting Art to Stitch (Batsford


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Part 4 – Textile Structures – Research Point – RUTH ISSETT


I have looked at Caught Vista III 2013, Equal on all 4 sides 2013, Equal on all 4 Sides Paper 2013, Foliage 1 2013, Shropshire Tree 2011.

Some examples of her work can be seen on Pinterest here

Material paper (tissue, cartridge, watercolour, handmade cotton-rag, lokta, kozo, abaca & lens tissue), fabric, usually natural fibres (cottons, silks, hemp, jute, linen, viscose, rayon), thread (medium-weight threads, couched or stitched by hand, cotton, silk, viscose cord, gimp, unusual knitting yarns, bamboo, hemp, rayon and cotton mixtures, stitch, dyes, inks, acrylics, Markal Paintstiks, coloured pencils and pastels, resists.

Colour vivid use of colour, often contrasting, dyed, painted, stitched. In these pieces, cool primaries are dominant but often combinations of warm and cool colours can be found in her work and always vibrant. The transparency, translucency and opacity of colour is exploited to enrich and enhance the use of colour. Transparent fabrics like silk organza, silk crepeline, synthetic chiffon and silk chiffon are layered to give deeper tones.

Technique Using cloth & paper, dyeing printing, painting, collage, thread and stitch. Uses a number of sketchbooks simultaneously, some for drawing and/or painting, to document dyeing recipes, fabric samples and colour combinations.   Papers are torn, folded, crumpled, layered or collaged to create rough and smooth surfaces, numerous trials have been undertaken to establish how different weights of paper react to different media, such as inks, coloured varnishes, acrylic and wax resists. A variety of different white or neutral fabrics are layered and stitched in their original state before dyeing, to investigate and note their differing qualities and surfaces.   Others are layered and stitched after dyeing.

Imagery Abstract, reflecting her personal observations of places and times. Translation of careful observation of colour (eg in changing light, of objects).

 Consider how she has used the elements listed above to express the concepts behind her work .

Her Artist Statement on the Textile Study group indicates that “her work is anchored in her observations of different environments. These are interpreted into colour studies, noting variations achieved using collective media and process.”

Years of meticulously documented experimentation with the elements listed above in pursuit of the perfect colour have enabled her to build up a vast knowledge of how different mediums behave and colours are achieved. This thorough knowledge of materials and colour have underpinned her ability “to understand colour and its application to different surfaces to achieve the ultimate visual effect” which has always been her priority according to the Artists Statement on the Textile Study Group website.

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Part 4 – Textile Structures – Research Point – MATTHEW HARRIS

Chose 2 internationally known textile artists whose work you find particularly inspiring.

Describe their work, in terms of materials, scale, colour, technique and imagery

Consider how the artists has used any of the elements listed above to express the concepts behind their work



I have looked at his textile pieces titled Crumb Cloth, Lantern Cloth, Aoyama Window Cloth and Echo and paper works titled, Cartoons for Cloth, ‘Studies after Crumb’, Aoyama Window Notebook, Temple Notebooks, Cartoons for Cloth and Factory Cartoons for Cloth.

Examples of these found on Pinterest are as follows:

Material: cloth, paper, hand stitch, dyeing and cutting.

Scale:   Textiles : Approximately 1m x 1.5m square or a little smaller at approximately 1 metre x .5m

Colour: The works studied seem to start with a neutral putty coloured background and stitch with a combination of black, sepia and grey mark making, presumably in dye. Some pieces have the addition of red, quite bright perhaps Cadmium Red, in Lantern Cloth 2 and a Red ochre-like colour in Lantern Cloth 1. Aoyama uses darker shades, with more black and greater contrast. All have quite a limited palette.

Technique: The fabric, cotton, quite coarse, is heavily worked, it looks old, worn, but has been subjected to many processes. Michael Brennand-Wood’s catalogue essay ‘A quiet sense of the Invasive’ suggests “Cloth is slashed, cut, brushed, stamped, folded, torn, pierced. Needles pierce, stitch, suture, darn, sew, laminate areas of cloth together. Colour is stained, bled, dripped, rubbed, printed, ground into the surface”.

Technique drawing: works though different processes, referencing imagery, using ranges of tools and brushes, makes a variety of marks in a series of long ink drawings, these are then manipulated by pleating, cutting and patching until something interests him. The manipulation breaks up shapes, brings shapes together and interrupts lines, creating a discordant image, incomplete in some areas. He uses this process to bring about a visual jot or jarring.   The whole process produces a fragmented sketch, which he uses as a template to produce the textile piece. (Drawn to Stitch, Gwen Hedley page 116)

Imagery: Abstract, translation of drawn materials onto cloth. In Trace Elements by Paul Harper, he describes “The rhythm of mark making is broken up, they disappear and reappear in reverse. “. There is repetition and the eye “moves restlessly across the surface”. For me the detail is inviting, I can’t help get close to examine the construction. Some elements slightly extend beyond the overall rectangular shape increasing the visual interest.

Consider how he has used the elements listed above to express the concepts behind his work .

In his own words, Matthew Harris aims to create pieces that explore repetition, pattern and the disrupted or dissonant journey of line and image across and through the surface of the cloth.

He seems very disciplined, using a series of processes. His approach in notebooks where he draws, then manipulates the paper by pleating, cutting and patching is repeated when making the textile work, which is pieced, patched and assembled. This has the effect of disrupting the lines and allows exploration of pattern and repetition. His use of a limited palette enhances the elements of repetition and pattern. The coarse cotton used at the outset, takes the dye well and lends itself to his processes, the texture of the looser weave giving a uniformity to the whole.

Bibliography (accessed 12.4.15)

Brennand-Wood, Michael, A quiet sense of the Invasive, Catalogue Essay ( (accessed 12.4.15)

Harper, Paul,  Trace Elements, Catalogue Essay ( (accessed 12.4.15)

Hedley G, (2010), Drawn to Stitch, Batsford


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Part 4 – Textile Structures – Research Point – How you think the work of the textile artist differs from that of the designer, the designer-maker or the craftsperson?

How you think the work of the textile artist differs from that of the designer, the designer-maker or the craftsperson?

Is there any crossover in terms of approach or the way in which each uses ideas or textile processes?

What is a ‘designer’?

Oxford Dictionary definition: a person who plans the look or workings of something prior to it being made, by preparing drawings or plans.  In my mind, the term Designer suggests that the individual is only in the process of coming up with the design which might be in response to a brief or an aspiration.  Their plans would be executed by another party, they would not be involved in the making.  I would expect them to have training or a good understanding of the creative process.

What is a ‘designer-maker’?

A person who both designs and makes. Here the term implied that the process goes beyond design.  That the individual will make the prototype and make refinements towards the final production.  

What is a ‘craftsperson’?

Oxford Dictionary definition: a person who is skilled at making things by hand.  I would expect a craftsperson to have a high skill level in a ‘craft’.  The history of the craft will provide markers of quality and standards, traditions and tools will have been handed-down by a previous generation. The craftsperson will be competent in understanding all the elements of their craft.  Craft is likely to be material led.

What is an ‘artist’?

The first Oxford Dictionary definition is “a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby”, which is a little disappointing.  I prefer the Merriam-Webster definition ‘a person who creates art’.  For me, an artist is a practitioner, a person actively engaged in art, creating work which expresses their own ideas, beliefs and emotions, in their chosen medium.  Driven by creativity and process, rather than materials, although they may become associated with the materials they become familiar with.

What is a ‘Textile Artist’?

A textile artist is an artist who has chosen to create and express their ideas using textiles as a medium. Encylopaedia Britannica defines ‘textile’ as “any filament, fibre, or yarn that can be made into fabric or cloth, and the resulting material itself.

The term is derived from the Latin textilis and the French texere, meaning “to weave,” and it originally referred only to woven fabrics. It has, however, come to include fabrics produced by other methods. Thus, threads, cords, ropes, braids, lace, embroidery, nets, and fabrics made by weaving, knitting, bonding, felting, or tufting are textiles. Some definitions of the term textile would also include those products obtained by the papermaking principle that have many of the properties associated with conventional fabrics.”

Is there any crossover in the approach or the way in which each uses ideas?

Annie Warburton, Creative Programmes Director at the Crafts Council describes craft as starting with the technique or the material or the process whereas design starts with the concept and comes to the object and Designer-Makers bridge both and travel in both directions. (Woman’s Hour – A Celebration of Craft 6.4.2015)

Justin McGuirk’s article in The Guardian, (The art of craft: the rise of the designer-maker Justin McGuirk, 2011), mentions that “since the industrial revolution, the designer and the craftsman are traditionally different roles. In the world of the Fordist production line, the designer created the templates that industrial craftsmen would replicate in the hundreds or thousands.” In that scenario, there is clearly no crossover.

I think there will often be a crossover in the approach and use of ideas.  Designers, designer-makers, craftsmen and textile artists will have some understanding of the ‘creative process’.  They may have been formally educated, which could apply to all, or they may have been taught the skills in a more informal way.  If the approach and use of ideas is to take some form of inspiration, develop it into an idea, reflect on the process and refine the idea until resolution then I think this is common to designers, designer-makers, craftsmen and textile artists.

Is there any crossover in the textile processes?

This will  depend entirely on what is being created.  If textiles are involved, there will be a crossover in the processes which may include spinning, weaving, knitting, felting, dyeing, printing, manipulating or stitching.

Taking a general view, I conclude that designers, designer-makers, craftsmen and textile artists will all have ‘the creative process’ in common and there will sometimes be crossovers in the textiles processes.  However in all the above categories external factors will affect the individuals’ approaches and use of ideas.  For example, anyone working on a commission, having been provided with a brief by a third party may have to compromise their own personal process.  Costs or time constraints may limit the extent of refinement in the development of an idea. They all may need to bow to current trends to create saleable, economically viable items which may affect their creative process.  Joanne Kinnersly-Taylor interviewed for touches on this subject:

“My work covers three distinct areas and so I describe myself as a ‘textile artist and designer’, as I feel this best defines the scope of my practice. Although there are no fixed boundaries, I subconsciously adopt different mindsets, depending on the type of project I am working on. If I am carrying out a public commission, then both these roles are important. Whereas, when I create one-off works for exhibition, I adopt a much more fine art approach.” (accessed 10.4.15) (The art of craft: the rise of the designer-maker Justin McGuirk) (accessed 10.4.15) (accessed 11.4.15)

BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour A Celebration of Craft 6th April, 2015