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Extraordinary Textiles

The everyday is a theme that links three artists from The Whitworth’s Creative Practitioner Team: Elizabeth Couzins- Scott, Colette Gilmartin and Vicki Wheeler.

They use everyday objects/materials/images/ references and creatively transform them into extraordinary, extra ordinary objects through artistic intervention and creative processes. The TACTILE series of samples demonstrate the individual methods, processes and stages of creating a textile work.

How does the ordinary become extraordinary?


Elizabeth Couzins–Scott

The work I have created for the contemporary textiles handling collection has developed from my interest in the dark side of experimental fashion design. These designers explore the symbolic, conceptual and cultural meaning of consumer textiles and contemporary anxieties. I use articles of clothing and accessories in my work to express these ideas that embody notions of mythology, identity and gender in the consumer culture of today. I am intrigued by the tradition of the surrealist object, ‘to suggest a purposeful meaning of things seen and things dreamed.’ I try to be innovative in my use of materials and follow the Japanese aesthetic of ‘boro boro’, which suggests a process of ruination to achieve a particular beauty. Traditional garments and accessories are corrupted by distressing fabrics and are reassembled to illustrate a new history. The purse I have made embodies these ideas and processes.


How does the everyday influence your work? I search for accessories, usually, bags, purses, gloves, shoes and items of clothing to alter and change. I express my ideas about contemporary anxieties within consumer society and explore its impact on us all.

I am interested in process, materials, recycling and the transformation of inexpensive, everyday materials by using distressing techniques i.e. processes of ruination. I also enjoy the unexpected. My samples evolve through experimentation, just to see what happens. I discovered the Japanese aesthetic of ‘boro boro’, which means finding beauty in the worn, fragile and tattered. Nuno Corporation of Japan uses this technique in the production of their beautiful fabrics. These fabrics are heat treated, burnt, soldered, torn, shredded and generally cruelly treated. I also dye and use simple print techniques onto the fabrics so that they are unrecognisably transformed. I use uncomplicated equipment that can be found in domestic environments. I like the idea of rich organic surfaces created from man made fabrics like nylon and polyester I enjoy using unusual combinations of materials like steel wool with torn silk or steel tacks with organza. I am also interested in the construction of textiles. I have recently been thinking about different ways of stitching and piercing fabric. In this way, a pin might actually become the stitch and hold everything together. I also use tacks, paper fasteners and staples.

Do you use sketchbooks? I use a sketchbook to make notes and drawings to remind me of things that I have seen. How do you document your work? My work is documented through experimental samples and photographs. I keep them in loose-leaf folders that I update as ideas develop. These folders become a growing record of my obsessions with certain effects or colours


What is unique about The Whitworth Art Gallery? The Whitworth Art Gallery is unique to me because of the variety of works it collects. I especially like the textile and wallpaper collections. I also love the special textile exhibitions that are always thought provoking.

Which pieces in The Whitworth Art Gallery do you find inspiring? I am drawn to the child’s tunic from Egypt in the Textile Collection. It has poignancy for me because it was worn by a child all those years ago. The fact that it was remade from an adult’s garment interests me because of how a garment’s history can be changed. It is a worn and threadbare piece that still holds a strange beauty for me. I also like the ‘Pavement Fragment’ by Hazel Bruce because of her use of block printing onto layered silk. She cuts and burns the fabric to give a distressed but beautiful surface. The newly purchased work by Norma Starszakowna is inspiring. I like the use of rust dying to achieve colour and build up printed surfaces. Her work explores the expressive possibilities of printed textiles through extensive experimentation.


WhITworth LINKS shows how the works in TACTILE link to the Whitworth’s collections that are either on current display or on the Whitworth’s online collections database. Search the online collections database and find other related works by using the following words: gloves, purse, child’s tunic Access the online collections by going to: http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/collection

Elizabeth Couzins–Scott

Hazel Bruce Pavement Fragment II 1992 Machine embroidered hanging

Norma Starszakowna Shadow of the Wall, Gaza 2007 Digital and screenprinted hanging


Colette Gilmartin

Polyp has been inspired by the idea of cysts/ growths/ cells/ seeds/ and vegetable pods. Images of the growth of blistering skin from within have also been influential. I have used an everyday malleable material – ladies hosieries – to trap and envelop marbles. I have experimented with the surface of the two-dimensional flat nylon (skin), manipulating it into a more sculptural three-dimensional form.

Binding and knotting are techniques I have explored. I have bound the marbles into black opaque tights and thinner skin tone nylon tights, dipped bound marble textiles into glue to create more structured forms and also dipped the samples in PVA and glue. My sources of inspiration include biological and microscopic images, seedpods, shibori and tie-dye methods.


How does the everyday influence your work? As an artist / designer it is essential to keep your eyes open and extract inspiration from everyday objects, landscapes, sounds and smells. I am constantly sifting through information and making visual connections on a conscious and sub-conscious level. The everyday has always been stimulating to so many artists whether the outcomes are a literal or abstract representation, e.g. Van Gogh's ‘Sunflowers’ still life painting. The benefit in the everyday is that one doesn't have to travel too far to find it.

Do you use sketchbooks? No, unfortunately I very rarely get the time to explore ideas fully in a sketchbook format. As a freelance artist / designer I am often working simultaneously on a number of shorter timescale projects so I tend to jump straight in and experiment with the materials and techniques.

How do you document your work? Photography.

Which pieces in The Whitworth Art Gallery do you find inspiring? I couldn't narrow it down further than the entire textile and wallpaper collections! They really are something special.

What is unique about The Whitworth Art Gallery? It houses the most impressive combination of textiles and wallpapers held outside of London. If you peer behind the scenes there are huge archived collections that are rarely on full display. The eclectic collections represent a wealth of eras, cultures, religions and social history.


WhITworth LINKS shows how the works in TACTILE link to the Whitworth’s collections that are either on current display or on the Whitworth’s online collections database. Search the online collections database and find other related works by using the following words: head covering, foil wallpaper, knotting, sphere, shibori Access the online collections by going to: http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/collection

Colette Gilmartin Sally Greaves-Lord Banner from the Lavendar Grey Series 1988 England Silk hand-painted with dyes and discharge agent

Sally Freshwater Blue Pewter 2004 Lycra stretched over studded board, laminated with pewter foil and stitched with wire.


Vicki Wheeler

Wooden ladder, nylon and cotton webbing, electrical tape, viscose fabric and ribbon, netting, velcro and acrylic paint.A ladder can symbolise optimism and confidence. Its shape also embodies strength and simplicity; I was attracted to these qualities but also to its physical beauty through its wear and tear and the notion of a previous life. I was keen to use and maintain the recognisable compositional structure of the ladder yet alter its form and identity through arrangement and intervention. The ladder adopts new characteristics that are playful and inviting. It is possibly a little mischievous and is reminiscent of a theatrical prop or a child’s toy. Approaching the work very much like a painting or a textile collage I added and subtracted elements considering colour, composition, texture and form. Wrapping being the primary technique within the work, I wrapped the textiles, ribbon and tape to apply colour and texture in a thoughtful yet instinctive manner. The tight wrapping and overlaying of the coarse textile webbing and the smooth electrical tape contrast with the softer appearance created by the wobbly line of the velcro. The use of the whimsical netting also contrasts with the solid wood. I have used materials specifically for their visual qualities rather than their intended use. The line drawn with velcro refers back to the notion of play; raw colourful emotions and ideas wrapped around the rungs. Each material is in conversation with the next. ‘Ladder Composition’ is unusable as a ladder yet inviting as an object. It is graphic but painterly, simple yet complex.


How does the everyday influence your work? The everyday can influence my work in that my work can seem very much part of a basic instinct to run away a little bit everyday. This is the kind of escapism we all yearn for during the day. Do you use sketchbooks? Not generally, I tend to just hoard objects, notes, small drawings and found images in piles everywhere. Sometimes I will put them in shoeboxes often titled 'work ideas'. How do you document your work? I document my work through photography mainly. However, lots of my work tends to be created for exhibitions so I may have catalogues. I'll often write a profile or a statement to back up the work and keep all of this material as a record. What is unique about The Whitworth Art Gallery? The Whitworth Art Gallery is unique from other arts venues I have worked in or visited due to: A) Its link with research and the academic community. The link to the university somehow makes the gallery have a slightly more academic feel. B) The education team do not work in isolation to the curators and other roles within the gallery. There seems to be fluidity. C) There's a huge drive to use the collections as a resource to learn. The gallery never really feels like just an art gallery. You could imagine a science class or a sports event happening near/alongside the art. D) The collections; especially the contemporary textiles on display. You really don't see this in other galleries outside the big London galleries showcasing leading textile artists. The Whitworth displays and promotes fantastic leading textile artists all year round; Shelly Goldsmith springs to mind. Which pieces in The Whitworth Art Gallery do you find inspiring? I find the paintings in the Gulbenkian gallery inspiring. The faces and expressions are wonderful. I also love the Howard Hodgkin painting very much. In the south gallery the big expressive paintings and Architectural Relief Construction by Victor Pasmore make me think about space and time. I also find the building inspiring and I love to work in the south gallery with the fantastic windows. Incorporating them in the workshop can be fun and I really enjoyed working in the tents outside recently.


WhITworth LINKS shows how the works in TACTILE link to the Whitworth’s collections that are either on current display or on the Whitworth’s online collections database. Search the online collections database and find other related works by using the following words: digital print, Turnbull and Stockdale, architecture, ladder Access the online collections by going to: http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/collection

Vicki Wheeler

Barbara Brown Precision (1966) Décor (1967) Construction (1970) Manufactured by Heal Fabrics Ltd. Screen- printed on cotton and cotton satin

Norma Starszakowna Shadow of the Wall, Gaza 2007 Digital and screen-printed silk organza, heat reactive pigments, various print media and oxydisation


Tactile fact-file: Extraordinary Textiles  

TACTILE is a contemporary textiles handling resource that encourages students to look closely, handle and explore specially commissioned sam...

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