Q & A with Jennifer


What are your inspirations?

The papers themselves serve as both the inspiration and the media for my work, with the narrative of the books and papers suggesting the forms, for example a sewing machine made from dress making patterns, or a camera out of vintage photographs. I tend to find papers, by scouring charity shops and flea markets, then investigate a way in which they can be reused and transformed; giving new life to things that would otherwise go unloved or be thrown away. Whenever I am really stuck for an idea I seek inspiration from literature or poetry. The original concept for the dresses and shoes came from the novel ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ by Jeanette Winterson, which I used as the basis for my degree show at university.

Would you say that your work is based on the idea of nostalgia?

This has not been a conscious decision, but due to the nature of materials I use they always spark memories for the viewer. People tend to attach their own nostalgia to my work by recognising a place on a map, a book they have read, an item they have used. I believe that the work should not have to be explained too much and that the audience can construct their own meanings and narrative.

When and where did you study, and has your work changed much since then?

I did a BA (hons) Textiles, at Manchester Metropolitan University, which was a traditional textiles course specialising in print, knit and weave. Toward the end of the course I started experimenting with different materials, weaving with orange peel, melting fruit bags etc. Most of the techniques I use in my work now are things I have taught myself since graduating by experimenting with different media and techniques.

What techniques do you use in your work?

By bonding, waxing, trapping and stitching I produce unusual paper ‘fabrics’, which are used to explore the ‘remaking’ of household objects. The papers are treated as if cloth, with the main technique employed being stitch; a contemporary twist on traditional textiles. I use both hand and machine stitch in my work, and where possible try to use traditional embroidery techniques. I use resin to embed objects to make my coat hangers. The papers are rarely ‘treated’ in any way, as most people think, it is just the paper itself that I use, but through years of practice you get a feel for how far you can push it, and when it is going to tear, and which papers work best for what job. Some of the shoes are formed over a mould, using a moulding medium, but the Stilettos and Brogues are made from a flat template I have designed, then constructed into a three-dimensional shoe shape and the Ballet Slippers are hand stitched to form the shape.

How long have you been working as an artist?

Since I graduated in 1999, and have been completely self-employed since 2002, as before this I had part time work to support my practice.

What are the best and worst things about being an artist?

The best things are that I am able to produce my own work and be my own boss. I have luckily got to the stage where I only undertake the workshops I enjoy and am able to say no to those that I don’t. The worst things are no sick pay, no holiday pay and VERY few days off. I may be my own boss, but my boss is a slave-driver! It is very hard to turn down paid work, so I really struggle to fit everything in. I am trying to sell work, whilst trying new ideas, to run workshops, do exhibitions and undertake commissions, residencies and all the massive demands of running a gallery. Also there is a lot of paperwork to be done, which I didn’t expect when I started out. Tax returns, updating the website, replying to emails (I probably spend an average of 2 hours a day just on this!), producing publicity material , updating social media etc. And I had such romantic visions of sitting sewing all day!

How easy is it to find work/ make a living?

I have been very lucky, and have had some amazing opportunities, such as getting a place on the North West Arts Boards ‘Setting Up Scheme’. This gave me a free studio, as well as maintenance and equipment grants, so I had money and time to set up my business when I was starting out. You do have to be really determined and pro-active in finding work and opportunities. You also have to get used to getting rejections, which used to really upset me, but now I realise most of the things you apply for you probably won’t get to begin with. Luckily, I have got to the stage where people approach me for exhibitions and workshops, as most work I undertake now is gained through word of mouth and recommendations.

Where do you work?

I have a studio in Stafford, which is where I am from. Before this I was based in Manchester for 10 years, where I had a studio in Stockport. My first studio was at the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester, as part of my setting up grant.

Which other artists inspire you?

Lucy Brown, Betty Pepper, Claire Coles, Janet Ledsham, Cas Holmes, Zoe Hope, Sara Fanelli, Susie Freeman, Su Blackwell, Julie Arkell, Magie Hollingworth and Jane Lennard.

What is the biggest piece of work you have made?

The largest to date is a dress that is 4 ½ m long. I tend to make work that is both extremes of scale, either really big, or really small (which sells better) to get across the fact that my work cannot be worn, that it is fine art textiles rather than fashion.

How would you class your work?

I am not too worried how people choose to class me and my work; whether I am classed as a textile artist, crafts person, maker or simply an artist. For this same reason I do not title my work; it’s called whatever it is made from.

Why don’t you date your work?

I don’t date my work as it is not fine art but contemporary craft, therefore I may have made many similar, but never identical of each item. Some items that I expect to be a complete one off, such as the Paper Knife Set have been really popular and I have sold many since to commission. When a customer commissions a piece of work they know that all of my work are handmade one offs, so what they will get will be similar to those they have seen pictured, but never identical, therefore always unique.