Student stories: Sophie Devereux, Textiles. | The Open College of the Arts
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Student stories: Sophie Devereux, Textiles.

Learning the hard way, and enjoying it.

When I started out on the BA (Hons) Textiles degree with OCA I did so in the hope that I’d learn to think about textiles in many new ways – academically and practically – and that I’d be pushed beyond my ‘safe’ world into something more creative and adventurous. Now that I have just sent off the last of my level one modules for assessment it’s a good time to reflect and share my experience. I hope these thoughts help any student (and tutor) who might feel that learning is something that always comes naturally and without effort. 

I have enjoyed all of my level one modules, but it was the second of the three level one modules, Mixed Media for Textiles (MMT), that really made me a university student, and not simply an interested learner. And that’s because I had to resit this module. Of course I was disappointed to have to do so, but it forced me to reflect on how and what I was learning. With the help of the course leader, Rebecca Fairley, I learnt how to use critical thinking skills to notice things I hadn’t considered before: especially composition and marks. This made me able to focus my research efforts and to look at artists’ work and not simply the artists – see, Tim Knowles and Claire Wellesley Smith as examples. I became able to extract and record what was needed to develop my practice. My drawing improved and became meaningful, and (of course) importantly I then passed.   

Now, the determination to learn and to succeed that I applied to passing MMT, has transformed me. I feel like a real university student. I know how to research and to use that research to develop my voice. So, I have applied my new way of thinking to my latest module: Ideas and Processes (IAP). For this module I took my realisation that drawing is a means of exploring a theme and deliberately added hand stitching as a method of research. I decided to use my journey to work as a basis for exploration. You might think that boring, but I start work at 4am and my journey is through open, dark (and scary) countryside. I wanted to record the intangible movement of the road surface; the bends, the bumps and the brakes and the scary bits. So, I used my body as a human seismograph. After experimenting with conventional ‘drawing’ (is there such a thing?) I decided to record these feelings by using a traditional technique – embroidery – in an unconventional way. I stitched the journeys in real time. I didn’t control where the needle would pierce the surface. The car and road did that. My body was simply a tool. These direct textile visual records come in the form of a mark- stitching log as well as a line-stitching map, both compiled over thirty-five journeys. It was exciting to use different fabrics, stiches and colours to capture the event. It almost made going to work fun; and don’t worry, I wasn’t doing the driving.

My body of work for IAP takes traditional techniques out of the confines of the home and far away from obedient domesticity. It turns the conventional techniques of decorative embroidery and functional stitching into forensic investigative tools. Stitching becomes an efficient technique to record the subject under investigation. And, do you know what? Had I not had to resit MMT I wouldn’t have had the knowledge, skill and confidence to do it. 

So what’s my conclusion having got to the end of level one? I’d say; enjoy learning, learn how to research and find opportunities to apply your learning in everything you do. I have developed a voice and have now the confidence to have started an Instagram account of my work: sophie_textiles01 (feel free to follow me). Thank you Rebecca! And, one last thing – failing a module is not the end of the world – it’s the start of being a real student.  

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Posted by author: Sophie Devereux
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