FROM traditional patchwork quilts to abstract wall hangings, the Cork Textiles Network exhibition, at Triskel Christchurch, running until September 22, will be varied and colourful.
And to mark the network’s 20th anniversary, the artists’ work also features in a photographic book.
Frances McDonald, an advisor in art, craft and design, opened the exhibition last week.
As Chairperson of the network, Mary Palmer says: “This is an opportunity for us to showcase what our members do.
“Over the years, our members have made significant inroads in bringing fibre art into education for both adults and children, in the classroom, libraries and public spaces.”
Mary, an American, whose US husband was offered a job in EMC in Cork, originally worked in automotive design, which she says is glorified drafting.
“It is quite technical and it’s also about precision and being able to visualise. All that works with what I do currently.
“I was always doing craft and making things, even as a child.
“I started making patchwork quilts when we moved to Cork because I wasn’t allowed to work as at the time, only one work permit per family was allowed.”
With time on her hands, Mary learned how to knit from a friend.
“Then I taught myself how to make quilts and it went from there.”
The popularity of quilting “ebbs and flows,” according to Mary.
“I’ve seen a couple of resurgences in the last 28 years and I’ve seen a couple of dips. But there’s always a cohort that have an interest in it as a hobby.
“As for professional quilters, there’s a handful, mostly like myself, running a quilting service. Some make art quilts for exhibition spaces and some teach quilting as well. I think of it as a portfolio career because we end up doing four or five different things in our job. I have a quilting service. I also do commissions.
“I’m in a couple of art quilt groups and I’m on the board of the Irish Crafts Design Council. I’m also making a quilt with the Traveller Women’s Network on the northside of Cork city. It’s a pictorial quilt which will hopefully be launched in the autumn.”
Quilting is a long-term project.
“I use a machine and it’s still labour intensive. You’d be hard pressed to make something in less than 40 or 50 hours.”
Mary is always collecting bits of material.
“I get a lot of it in Ireland and also from the UK and the US. I have accumulated quite a collection over the years.
“I have two bodies of work. One is very much art quilting. It’s about emotions and trying to express something. I love doing those pieces.
“I also quite like doing traditional quilts. They’re two opposite ends of the spectrum.
“I probably get more satisfaction making art quilts. They are pieces of art that need to be hung on a wall. They’re 3-D and are not necessarily quilts as you would imagine them.”
Kim- Ling Morris, whose mother is Chinese-Singaporean, was brought up mostly in the UK but also in Africa and the Far East. She is married to a Cork man and works in textiles, having had a career as an engineer.
Growing up, she was interested in arts and crafts.
“I started doing night classes in art in the UK and carried that on in France while I was working as an engineer. I don’t think engineering is that far apart from textile work. In the Cork Textiles Network, there are a couple of engineers. There is something about the nature of structural work (in engineering) that you need to make a textile piece.
“Painting allows you to be a bit more free-flowing whereas with textiles, you almost need to know where you’re going and you have to plan ahead to get there.”
Kim-Ling started working in textiles in Cork quite by accident.
“Before I came to Cork, I used to do a lot of painting and ceramics. Then I started night school in the Crawford under Caroline Smith. She’s just brilliant. She got me so enthused about what she was doing. There were no places on the stained glass course that year so I said I’d give textiles a try.”
And that was the beginning of a love affair with textile work.
Kim-Ling runs Sample Studios, now based in Churchfield, having been located in the former FÁS building on Sullivan’s Quay.
For the Cork Textiles Network exhibition, Kim-Ling is exhibiting an art piece made out of found objects — computer cables and a filing rack.
“I’ve slashed the cables, opened them up and stitched the skin of the cables so they form a portrait. You see it when you stand back from it. It’s almost like pointille (a decorative technique whereby patterns are formed by manually punched dots.) It’s a bit like Impressionist paintings where you have to stand back to make sense of them.”
Kim-Ling says some people think textiles “is somebody sitting in a corner, just darning socks. But actually, it’s a lot more than that. It’s 3-D in the way sculptures are. Sculptures tend to be rigid. The interesting thing about textiles is that the materials you use can be made to change and transform. You can make a firm or a soft piece, depending on how you manipulate your material. That’s what makes textiles so changeable and interesting.”
English mother-of-two, Amanda Hogan, has been living in Youghal, where her husband is from, for about 18 years.
Originally, she worked as a nursery nurse in England. While living in Youghal, she had time on her hands when her children, now aged 17 and 18, started school.
“I got into arts and craft design. That developed into fine art textiles which I studied at the Crawford. I had always sewn and made items out of fabric. Through the Crawford course, I discovered I could do a lot more than just make tea cosies. I could actually make art. I got stuck into that side of things.”
Amanda does a lot of free motion embroidery using a machine.
“Basically, I drop the feeder teeth in my machine so I can move the fabric in all directions.
“I don’t have to go in straight lines. I can draw with the needle. I layer in fabrics into my drawing which gives me tones and different shades of colour.
“I do it on found fabric using a lot of vintage linen. I like working with existing clothes and creating a story behind the clothes by putting drawings onto them. I also work onto canvas bags.”
Amanda’s “bread and butter” is her sewing school, ‘Sew Happy’ in Youghal.
“I teach people how to sew. Sewing has been cut right back at primary school so that it’s really non-existent. Now I find that adults and children want to sew. I think it’s because they want to get back to what they used to do.
“I teach very simply and people go home every week with something they’ve made. That’s the appeal of my classes.”
For the exhibition, Amanda is showing a piece of work that was made in response to “all the empty houses around the countryside”.
“Houses have been literally just locked up and left. I’ve embroidered nine little houses, 15cms cubed, in off white. I’ve put the embroidery onto different things which reflect these houses. So there’s cow pat, barbed wire, foliage and some graffiti, all sorts of things that represent what I found around some empty houses.
“I feel strongly about these houses. Some of them have been turned into animal dwellings. You can see all the furniture but there’s nobody looking after it. They are missed opportunities with people building something better next door,” says Amanda, who astutely saw an opportunity for her unique textile art piece.
For more about the network see http://www.corktextiles.com/
20, the new book, is a celebration of twenty years of CTN and its 20. It contains a great selection of work from past and present members showcasing traditional, contemporary and experimental textile art worked in a myriad of media.
It is available for sale at Barbara Hubert Hand Bookbindery on Tobin Street, Cork City. Cork Craft & Design Shop, Douglas Woollen Mills, Douglas.