My textiles journey starts with play. Mostly in the 1970s. My Mum, an adventurous home dressmaker and crafter, encouraged playtime with textiles; along with a great aunt who was an outworker for a cottage industry that made dolls. All the main skills were passed on for me to experiment with knit, crochet, hand embroidery. And there were loads of offcuts and inspiration – Liberty’s, Clothkits, Phildar, Rowan, Golden Hands, Blue Peter… Left to my own devices, with all the scraps and offcuts from Mum’s projects, I embraced it all – filling my doll’s wardrobe, and later as a teenager, designing and making my own clothes and accessories, and selling or gifting the overspill to friends and relatives. In the ‘80s, a brief enterprise with a friend led to our naturally dyed hand knitwear collection in London Fashion Week.
School textiles, aka ‘needlework’, on the other hand, was a total disappointment, mostly divorced from any sense of fun or creativity – delivered drill-like to demonstrate hard skills and perfectionism – a complete turn off. The legacy was that I didn’t really consider textiles as a legitimate discipline for creative study, because it felt repressive.
Art school, where I specialised in large scale ceramics, I loved; but it brought about tensions in my creative career, once I had settled down to grown-up working life as an art teacher. How to sustain a creative practice, alongside full-time work and family life: hard or soft materials, product or exploration, art or craft, work or play?
Moving back to Dorset from London, and invested as a member of an artist-run collective, my focus turned to making mostly landscape-based textile work to show and sell. It has been successful, but a treadmill of sorts – the need to fill my ‘space’ in the gallery, planning work to meet this narrow need, alongside working to a brief on commissions, designing patterns for magazines, running arts workshops – I was looking for something more…
I am thoroughly delighted to have joined seam collective – with the research residency at Andrew Brownsword Gallery imminent, it’s like an opening door, fully giving me permission to play. Permission to find new and real value in the household skills passed down, other skills developed over my working life and to explore themes about where those skills came from, as a much more open-ended form of enquiry.
I love how I can now confidently make work that subverts that prissy perfectionism of my school needlework classes, whilst recognising a debt of honour to my real teachers. I have also recently become involved with stitch activism in the form of a visible mending group, setting up to playfully educate and pass on stitching skills and an important message about sustainability.
To see how my work develops, you can follow me on instagram @jane_colquhoun or in real life at Boilerhouse Gallery, Sandy Hills, Corfe Castle, Dorset BH20 5JF and check out my website janecolquhoun.co.uk.