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Sarah Collier and Mary SchoeserBursary students display

Textile Society 30th Anniversary Conference and AGM

2 Nov - 4 Nov 2012

Wellcome Collection Conference Centre

The conference started out with a Society first, a keynote ‘In Conversation’. This was followed, on Saturday by a day of papers.

In between talks, delegates had the opportunity to view work by past student bursary award winners, who were available to chat. There were also visits to Central St Martin’s and the William Morris Gallery.

In Conversation: Mary Schoeser and Sarah Campbell

‘Practice makes perfect’ as the adage goes, but is that really desirable? Designer Sarah Campbell, formally of Collier-Campbell and now embarking on a solo career following the death of her sister Susan Collier, thinks that maybe perfection is sterile. There is certainly nothing sterile about her body of work, as revealed in this entertaining discussion with Mary Schoeser which was illustrated with slides of her work. Through a survey of her collaborative work with Susan, we learned how Sarah is inspired ‘by everything’ and that painting is at the heart of all her work. Over and again, the textiles revealed their painterly origins with birds, flowers, buildings and animals in a variety of lively colours.

We also heard about the ups, downs, and restraints of working in the business of producing furnishing fabrics - the modification of colours to suit the latest fashions, for example. Throughout, Sarah showed an impressive ability to recall the names and production details of each design shown. But it all came back to the painting and so set up the next day’s papers on the theme of practice.

Threads of Practice

To articulate and critique a textile process or artist at work we must first indulge in the practice: we must have experienced it first hand in order to make sense of the journey an artist makes. We must look beyond the final outcomes of a textile and see before our eyes the artist’s journey at work.

Mary Schoeser opened the day’s discourse from the perspective of the writer, writing about makers and making and asked ‘do you need to explain the world of an artist to understand something in context?’ Do you need to understand the technique and practice of fashion and textiles to understand their history? This idea was explored further by Gavin Fry, an artist/PhD student interested in the relationship between material and practice. His research involves making an object, whilst documenting the making and learning process.

Anthropologist Dr Myriem Naji has spent time living with the women of Sirwa in Morocco in order to study their interaction whilst weaving carpets. The weavers have no drawn design but use patterns from memory. They also introduce variations by imitating each other’s work. Interaction is also important to Kay Swancutt and Liz Harding, who gave a joint presentation about their current work, which explores relationships of making and doing. Both are undertaking practice-based doctorates and share studio space.

The experience of solo artists was explored by embroiderer Professor Anne Morell and quilter Elizabeth Brimelow. Anne explored how she looks and thinks when she is stitching whilst Elizabeth discussed the notion of art and whether or not it was overused: is it art because we call it art, or it is assigned art by the viewer?

Jennifer Sturrock discussed her work since completing her degree at London College of Fashion. Jennifer tackled big issues and sees that the fashion industry can have a huge influence on events, as it is such a large global force.

In a brief overview Mary Schoeser identified the gesture as the single identifying motif of the conference. The significance of hand and brain in one's practice was mentioned as was the suggestion that there was non-verbal conversations going on between the cloth and the maker. Mary also noted the range of experience represented in the conference presentations from those just starting out on their textile journeys to those with 50 years and more behind them.

The Textile Bursary Group Exhibition

The Textile Bursary Group was invited to exhibit at this year’s AGM. This first group exhibition was a great success. It was busy throughout the day, giving opportunities for group members and delegates to converse. Delegates discovered at first hand the bursary winners’ progression since receiving their awards and how the Society’s support has furthered their individual practice. This was extremely positive for the bursary group and the delegates’, as they exchanged their range of expertise and experiences.

All members of the group felt the experience was very educational as well as extremely enjoyable. Meg Held said ‘How nice it was to meet the Textile Society members and how encouraging they were, offering positive feedback and advice as to what and where to go next. I think the contacts I made will be very useful as I start out in my textile career.’