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The long and winding thread…. thumb

The long and winding thread….

Introducing our new textiles blogger, OCA tutor Trisha Goodwin. Trisha has already produced one interesting post, with the striking image of an embroidered rusty car door in it. Now she tells us more about her life and her work.
‘My route to becoming a textile artist/designer/tutor was not an obvious one, which I feel gives me particular empathy with many OCA students. The obsession to make started early; my own clothes while at primary school with the aid of a book and a cast off sewing machine. Several aunts worked for one of the Queen’s dressmakers, so maybe it was in the blood. I also painted rather fanciful large paintings with left over house paint – but I never connected the two activities at all. My own background and the times made art as a career highly unlikely. I had no knowledge that people even studied Textiles. Somewhat reluctantly I went to teacher training college (it was either this or nursing or secretarial work).
After college I took admin jobs at the London School of Economics, then the University of Oxford. The excitement of studying History of Art with the Open University (while I was working) was enormous, I relished the intellectual stimulation and obtaining a BA was a huge ambition fulfilled. Following this I worked as Photo Archivist at the Ashmolean Museum for many years. Still stitching, I went through quiltmaking, embroidery classes, and craft guilds and was now making and selling cushions and fabric bags to local shops and beyond. But even though I saw buyers at Liberty’s, I still didn’t feel as if I had the “proper” training. A leaflet about the OCA led me to doing all the Textiles courses available at that time. I learned so much, so quickly on these courses and had some wonderful tutors. For the first time, my making skills, the painting and drawing and the thinking behind the concepts all came together.

This cushion, one of a pair was made for Textiles 2 – Indigo and natural dyes, shibori on silk

A chance email to BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art and Design brought an invitation to interview for a place on the combined postgraduate Textiles course. Most of my work at BIAD involved using found material, either from an urban environment or from nature and combining it with fabric in conceptual work. The bark pieces were a highly personal response to losing two people close to me weeks before the final exams; they are also about our being part of Nature. One of a series of pieces made with found bark, discovered in situ out hill walking. Fine silk and hand stitching; fabric manipulated around and though the bark, so that the structure “forms itself”. Commissions for bags and cushions also seem to be a constant, often utilising material personal to the user. I obtained a Pg. Cert in Textiles, Fashion and Surface Design in 2002, followed by a Pg. Dip in Textiles in 2003 and finally an MA in Textiles in 2004. I’ve been a tutor with the OCA since 2003; I enjoy seeing students’ blossom as they discover their own pathways.

The bag making took a curious turn as I was asked to design prototypes bags to house medical devices (worn by patients in hospitals).
Resisting the urge to add some decorative embroidery, this called on design skills learnt at BIAD involving Smart textiles. On a lighter note; a here’s a sample piece using plastic bags and ephemera collected from beauty counters, stitched and beaded.
When an aunt died recently, I inherited a large collection of dress fabric remnants from the 50s, 60s and 70s. My new ideas revolve around using these in new ways combined with paint and stitch. Now minimalism is officially dead, I feel set free to use these and so the challenge is on. A new direction is always exciting; so many possibilities.’
Trisha Goodwin (OCA Textiles tutor)

Posted by author: Trisha Goodwin
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9 thoughts on “The long and winding thread….

  • Fascinating to read this, because it’s a route into textiles that few people with be able to follow if they are growing up now. Schools have few resources and very little expertise of sewing of any kind, especially primary schools. Having helped out as a visiting mum with stitching projects in the local school, I don’t think a garishly-decorated Christmas stocking would inspire any future textile artist.
    Unless you have some family link, most young people are hardly likely to consider making their own clothes today as it just doesn’t fit with the cheap, throwaway fashion ethos. So how are they ever going to be inspired to thread their first needle?

  • I take your point; although I have to say that my skills were entirely self taught – from that book, we didn’t learn any dressmaking at primary school (I meant I was primary school age, apologies for any ambiguity) just how to do cutwork tray cloths, not very exciting either, although strangely, we did learn to weave as the headmistress had an interest. Secondary school was awful, a dreadful PE bag was about it. I agree about little incentive to make your own clothes though; I felt this way from the mid ninties onwards and no longer made my own, but also felt increasing need to branch out anyway.
    I do think the need to stitch (and it becomes this) can start in quite a small way though if you are encouraged by someone when quite young or are highly self motivated – there were no cheap clothes when I was young, which was highly motivating, especially for an extremely tall girl like myself, as bought clothes were not long enough anyway.
    One of my face to face students started after school classes at her childrens primary school for just this reason; she was shocked to discover they no longer taught sewing, knitting and/or basic art skills. She encouraged her own kids at home, learning new skills herself and now takes her skills to others in her spare time – a very wonderful thing to see happening.

  • Likewise for me a long and winding thread Trish. But the only motivation when I was 7 – 8 years old was an old singer machine and long boring summer holidays. So I started making trousers and skirts out of old sheets and dyeing them! My Mother was slightly perturbed but glad of the peace!
    I think todays children go for the quick fix of electronic gaming, TV and PC’s so lose out on being innovative and creative until much later on. I have no recollection of my school beingof any inspiration either at primary or secondary. When I look at the textile department of my daughters state secondary school I am green with envy!
    I think the one thing that we need to allow children (and mature OCA students like myself!) to do is observe and explore. Everyone is so much of a hurry to meet deadlines these days there is no time to catch ones breath and simply look around.
    You have taken such an interesting journey with unexpected twist and turns and it seems it is never ending! Who knows what is around the next corner!

  • The crafts council are currently putting a huge effort into teaching crafts within schools called Craft Club http://www.craftclub.org.uk. Predominantly knitting and crochet but these are great skills to teach children for both concentration and motor skills. When taught in an inspiring way I truly believe we can inspire a whole new generation of textile artists.
    I have been teaching knitting at my local primary school for the last year to children aged between 8 and 11 years old. Last term we covered the head teachers chair in knitting and we have also covered a tree, knitted with liquorice and knitted a boat. You can see our progress on my blog at http://www.bigtangle.co.uk. I see more and more people wanting to knit and crochet clothing for themselves because it creates something completely unique to them in the colour and style that they want. knitting and sewing have seen an explosion of great patterns in recent years and the choice is immense now we just need to inspire and encourage younger generations to show them what is possible.

  • So glad to hear of your experiences Liz, I’m sure I can’t be the only one to have started sewing so early. At secondary school I had to start all over with sewing a dart, when I was onto boned evening dresses – for a couple of “aunts” who holidayed in the Med. Most of my pocket money came from them, bless them!
    I like you so envy some of todays kids who study Textiles at school and are more aware of career paths open to them. In actual fact I spent most of my time in the art room at teacher training college, doing strange things with gluing straws and fabric together, rather than studying English Lit as I should have been. To teach needlework you had to go to a special college and do domestic science as well, which was not approved of at home – it took me a long time to understand to that my parents came from a time in the thirties when people starved and they wanted better for their children, which meant no hint of using your hands (too impoverished seamtress in their minds).
    I so agree that time to think and just well, feel, is so important to making any art and also to knowing what you want in life. Intuition is a very underated thing, but whenever I’ve gone against it I personally have come unstuck. Its been a fascinating journey so far, I take nothing for granted and life always surprises me. I have seen so many students flourish in a like manner and this is why I ao believe in the OCA and what we do – it changes lives and changes people, if they allow it, and I feel priviledged to play a small part in that.

  • Your life is so inspiring!
    Not sure the present stage of education of Textiles at schools is at all that inspiring. My daughter wanted to do Art for her A-levels, but because the head of department was into textiles the only artistic A-level available to her was Textiles. It did give her some useful techniques, like melting and burning fabric using a soldering iron (I have to admit I have adapted it to my work), and introduced felting … which she hated with the passion. I used to teach domestic science back in Latvia and was horror struck when my daughter came home saying they had a short lesson in knitting … and no one (excluding her) could knit in the class. They then proceeded to do potato printing! A student had to be taken to a hospital after he cut himself seriously.
    On the other hand knitting is coming back into fashion. My daughter now at University (a University that focuses on academic subjects and doesn’t have an art based degree), has joined a knitting society that meet in a pub on Monday nights to learn how to cast on etc. She stood out a bit with being able to make her own jumpers, while everyone else was still doing scarves … but it sort of gives us hope. As long as we try to inspire the younger generation and give them the necessary basics they then can follow up when they are older.
    The biggest difference studying Textiles I found was using it as a method to express ideas, feelings and thoughts. It is no longer the useful skill to make clothes, curtains and other accessories for the house. Domestic Science was always about teaching girls how to be good at domestic tasks. Only recently the curriculum in Latvia has been adapted to introduce boys to knitting etc too. There so many advantages and disadvantages about one method of teaching and the other. The best is the combination, to have the skills of knitting, sewing, cooking, and then/at the same time be exposed to the artistic nature one can use those skills.
    At a local gallery where I live artists and general public met up to produce anything with food that was artistic. Art with food! Who could of thought that cooking can transform just from looking good to being art of its own accord.

  • I have followed this dicussion with interest and some irritation – my long thread started with my grandmother teaching me to knit , crochet and sew through the necessity to stretch my budget for clothes myself and 4 children to OCA textiles (many thanks Trisha) The irritation is with all the emphasis being what is or isn’t taught in schools. Surely if we value these skills or feel excited by the challenges of creating then we are the ones as parents or grandparents to share our enthusiasms with the next generations and to value their efforts however faltering or clumsy.
    It is also important not to see textiles as a female preserve. It was my father who used the sewing machine to make home repairs and the boys in my textiles class were equally keen to make clothes for themselves as long as they could choose their own fabric.

    • I heartily agree with the passing on of skills and having a creative environment in the home.Unfortunately Textiles tends to be gender biased in schools and now D+T is no longer compulsory,children opt for exciting sounding subjects such as Law or Russian over practical subjects.Parents want their children to choose ‘real’ subjects and with the introduction of Eebac,Art and D+T are taking a back seat and recruitment for teachers in those subjects is noticeably down.Stemming creativity and skills which require problem solving seems to be such a huge mistake.Surely our kids need to have those in tandem with more academic subjects to cope with whatever is waiting for them-leaving home,budgeting,cheap and nutritious food,fixing anything which breaks.

  • Hello Carol, nice to hear from you again. I feel you’re right, its up to individuals to impart the skills they have to the next generation – the ones nearest to them. As these skills become increasingly non essential (we can buy cheaply) they are dying out and fewer have them to pass onto the next generation anyway. I agree this is not a female preserve only but basic life skills like making your own food, or cleaning your own home, they ideally should be gender free. My father could sew too, and generations before him made shoes in Northamptonshire. Some of our best fashion designers are men and many men do Textiles at college, some I was with at BIAD had learnt at home, never at school and obviously loved it. Conversely, some female students had not done any sewing or Textiles beforehand and came from Fine Art first degrees, but picked up the skills (usually from older students like me) whilst on the course.

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