A large part of my adult life was spent in Southern Africa, and part of this time was lived in the kind of poverty unknown to most in the Western World. It was a time of piecing together fragments of fabric and stitch to furnish the home, to clothe and feed the body. Making and mending, selling and trading; a time that has passed, but now informs my work, as I use antique silk and lace in combination with humble fabrics and traditional needle skills to create things of beauty, which may in turn inform and act as a point of reflection for others.
I returned to England in 1995 and spent the next 8 years working and building up a home once again until the arrival of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which led to yet another change of direction.
I wasn’t able to commit to an employer, so I established an internet business selling vintage clothes and textiles. This fuelled my passion for textiles, and also art, so I decided …at the age of 58, to fulfil the desire I had as a teenager, and go to art school!
I achieved my national Diploma in Art over two years, which led on to the successful completion of a three year BA (hons) Degree in Fashion and Textiles in which I achieved a First/Distinction. I also have a love of writing, and won the Graduate Fashion Week First Word Journalism Award in 2010, and the ArtSchool award of a bursary and studio, rent free for a year, culminating in a solo exhibition this year entitled Exquisite Poverty, Fragments: The Song of the Shirt.
Poverty is not exquisite, but that which emerges from it can be. The beautiful work of women’s hands throughout history, the lace, embroidery and stitching on a simple seam which we treasure today were often created in poverty as a means of survival. It is this, combined with a time of personal poverty but richness of faith which inspires my work. Reclaimed and unexpected fabrics join with vintage artifacts and antique lace in garment shapes to tell personal stories in cloth and stitch. Contrast of the exquisite and the poverty are shown by variations in the stitching, materials and embroidery; these combine both the right and sometimes tangled threads of the wrong side of the work, and just a little irony to make a beautiful whole....just as it is with life.
The combination of saved fragments from the lives of others, and my own work unites the past and present, blending them into one; bringing something new and beautiful into existence which will once again be treasured. Conserving these handmade pieces enables me to reverence the work of other hands from times past, whilst creating something new and meaningful.
My textile work is usually art based and is a visual narrative of events, emotions or subjects which carry message and meaning...stories worked mainly in cloth and stitch, often, but not always as garment shapes. I use the traditional hand skills of stitching, embroidery, felting and knitting in a contemporary way, and prefer always to work on reclaimed and natural fabrics. I have recently started to incorporate antique wooden fragments into the work and am hoping to take this further.
My camera is a precious tool for recording. It enables me to play and create by arranging materials and artifacts, rather than drawing or designing the idea that is in my head. For me, something would be lost if I drew it first...the joy is in the birthing of the idea and in seeing it evolve and grow..
For Between the Lines! Ellen's textile based artwork continues to be inspired by Thomas Hood’s poem from the Victorian era “The Song of the Shirt”, which highlighted the poverty of 19th century seamstresses who worked from home, often for a pittance.
“Hope Chest” is a three dimensional piece which combines textiles with paper from an antique tailors ledger. The covering and contents of the drawers the hopes, faith and reality of such a woman’s life, as a home based seamstress.
In 2016, Ellen was made E.A.S.T Chairman.
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