Harrogate Convention Centre, Harrogate from 16 – 19 November 2023
Interview and text written by Julie Parmenter, from the Knit and Stitch publicity team.
Mandy, your textile collages rescue and rework disintegrating textiles, breathing life into old fabrics. Where did your desire to work with fragmented fabrics come from and what can visitors to The Knitting & Stitching Show expect from your exhibition?
I have always been interested in old things and how they hold stories. This started as a child when my mother showed me the “best” dress of my great grandmother. I was fascinated with the fabric itself which was silk which I don't think I had ever seen or touched before and the size of the dress which revealed the size of the woman who wore the dress. I have been buying and collecting old garments and textiles all my adult life but in the last twenty years have had the confidence to actually make my own mark on them through cutting them up, unpicking to reveal the workings and then reassembling into collages and embellishing with stitch. The work done by other women long ago becomes more mine. In my exhibition, you will see collages using very old printed fabrics, bits of quilt, French fabrics. Everything is well worn and then worked into with my own hand.
You use locally made quilts, garments and textiles in your work. What does this bring to the experience of the work and also to your own relationship with your home environment?I taught for many years in an art college and when I left, I knew that I wanted to work by hand and to also relate what I did to local textile traditions. My studio is just a few miles from the site of Joe the Quilter’s cottage and I am close to County Durham which many believe was the best quilting area (the Welsh may say different!). Beamish and the Bowes Museum hold large collections of quilts. I had made proper bed quilts in the past but wanted to use quilts rather than make more and started to source very worn and scrappy quilts to use. Not the sort that you could proudly put on the bed. Collecting the quilts over the years has led to many interesting contacts with people who have stories of their making or patterns. I keep my collection of old quilts in my studio which has always been moth free. It is important to me that I can see them in a pile in the corner to remind me of what my practice is about. I do have some at home too but these are the ones I would never cut up.
By reworking and preserving discarded cloth into new patchworks, you wonderfully revitalise and carry on the life of these worn down textiles. What is the story you want to tell through this process?
I want to draw attention to what I call the tender details - a raw edge, a stain, a beautiful print, a lovely texture created through unpicking. I want to give others the confidence to cut up and use what they have. To me it is all about the process and having the cloth in my hand and making my mark on it and giving the cloth a new life by collaging it next to something maybe of a different vintage.
How do you decide when a piece is finished - do you start with the full vision or tweak as you go?
That is a hard question! I think sometimes I have overworked pieces and actually prefer the pieces where I have held back and let the fabric breathe a bit more without the surface decoration. I never have a vision of what something will look like though. Once I have finished putting the collage together, I never change it. Of course, like many artists, there are pieces which the public never get to see. If I have really fallen out of love with something, I often physically throw it away. It is cathartic.
With so much experience as a textile artist and teacher, what advice do you have for emerging textile artists who maybe feel a little intimidated to begin?
Find your own visual language and stick to it. I don't feel the need to innovate and change or move on in a new way as I love what i do and feel confident about it. I don’t believe in collecting techniques. Stick with something you love doing and just keep trying to make it better. Think of what you do as a job. I am lucky that I have a studio I can go to where there is no washing to do, plants to be watered, soup to be made. Carve out a work routine and don’t get distracted. If you can afford it then getting a studio where there are other artists to bounce ideas off, I think, is invaluable. I like sewing at home too but I need other people around in the background. It can definitely supplement your income to teach if you feel confident about it, and you always get lots back from students as well as giving.