Interview With Jane Thistlewood – A Creator of Beauty

Here’s an example of the power of social networking – I first saw Jane’s work on Facebook. Her niece is a friend of mine and there was a photograph of Shannon wearing the most intriguing outfit. Of course, I had to ask about it and Shannon put me in touch with her aunt to find out more about her incredible designs. Here, Jane answers my questions about the creative process, fabric, studying and photoshoots.

I hope you’re sitting down, because you’re about to experience objects of great beauty.

First of all, please could you explain what is going on in your designs? Is it felting? Fabric manipulation? I’m intrigued! Your makes have the delicacy of spider webs and I’d love to know how this is achieved.

The clothes are all nuno felted, and there are as many different nuno effects as there are different fabrics! The word nuno means cloth in Japanese, and you can work wool and silk fibres into any open-weave cloth, creating a dizzying range of outcomes, some of which you are guaranteed to fall madly in love with! Some fabrics, however, can be really hard work to felt into, and this can be telling when you want to create a quantity sufficient for, say, a jacket, so you really do have to experiment and make clever choices.

I spent last year working with fine Habotai silk, which has quite a dense weave, and trying to felt it very lightly with mostly silk fibres – it was hard work! Eventually I did achieve those lovely, delicate silk shifts – I was so thrilled with the final results!

Could you tell us a bit about the pink felt bolero with the cut out design? It’s so pretty and dramatic. 

The pink felted bolero is a result of my attempt at making a jacket in one piece – my first go at this, and it went horribly wrong in so many ways! I’m a great believer in retrieving my disasters, though, and felt is a very forgiving medium. It was intended to be reversible and I liked both the felted surfaces and the effects of making the holes in the felt – all intentional! – it just didn’t fit properly as a jacket. So I turned it upside down and wore it as a cut-off bolero – the holey front panels of the jacket became the holey draped collar!! I’m sure you will know this handy trick – it works really well with soft-fabric jackets and also cardigans, even waistcoats – you can have a whole new wardrobe, just by wearing your stuff upside down!

I know you’re a visitor to New Zealand. How has the country’s heritage influenced your work? You have a wonderful palette of colours that remind me of the verdant Kiwi landscapes.

I spent a long time colourwash painting the Habotai for the shifts – I was trying to get those colours-with-no-names that you see when the light catches the mother-of-pearl inside of a shell – I think I managed it in one or two! The New Zealand landscape was a huge inspiration for those colourways, too – my sister lives at the head of a big bay, and the colours in the morning sky, as the sun comes up, have to be seen to be believed, kind of thing!! I’ve been lucky enough to go there twice, so far. No doubt we have such big-sky colours in England, but not here in Lewisham, alas!

I believe you studied at Morley College in South London. How were your experiences there? Have you studied anywhere else?

Morley College, in Waterloo, is a great place to study, and they offer a huge range of textiles courses, but, in fact, I learned my felt making in Brighton, on a couple of one-day courses with a wonderfully generous teacher called Mary Dean, who’s since become a close buddy. The basics of felt making aren’t difficult to pick up – it’s all the experimenting – playing! – that you do at home – on the kitchen table, in my case! – that can get you seriously hooked, and, of course, you’re learning all the time! It was wonderful to work in the studios at Morley with the very talented teachers and students – everybody has the pleasure of sharing their work and ideas – you really get to challenge yourself, and at a certain point, I think we all need that.  On the occasions when I have taught felt making myself, I’ve had such a blast  – it’s a thrill to share the love, so to speak! – and you can genuinely learn lots from your students, too!

Are you turning your work into a commercial enterprise? I’d love to hear about your plans for the future!

Another great thing about working at Morley is that they have their own gallery to exhibit students’ work, and there’s a big textiles exhibition in July every year.  Check it out – it’s always great to go to. Last year, of course, I had my stuff in there – all the stuff on the disk, and the disk itself playing throughout the week of the exhibition – cool, eh! You are invited to have your work up for sale, with a small percentage to the gallery, but I didn’t do that – every garment had taken me so long, I couldn’t price them, and anyway, I just wasn’t ready to part with them! I much prefer to give stuff as presents, although I have made a few commissions. In the Autumn, I’m going to think about teaching some one-day courses at my house, that’s probably a better bet for me!

Do you have any tips for other creatives organising photoshoots with models? Did you learn anything from the experience of documenting your makes in this way?

There was undeniably a lot of tension for me around planning the photoshoot I did for the exhibition, but it was just great fun in the end! Of course, I had my lovely models and we were in my house with sun streaming in, and a rack of garments and accessories – just one great dressing up party! Shannon and I had a lovely afternoon, could the delicious NZ Sauvignon have had anything to do with it?

It was strange, in a way – I must have been thinking about it so much, when it came to taking the photos, I really did know pretty much what I wanted to get from it. But, yes, you’re right, I did learn a helluva lot from the shoot and from editing the photos into the dvd, which I couldn’t have done without the help of my friend John and his computer! You have to take a very critical look at your stuff and what works with what etc. – styling is a whole other thing, eh! I had to write a student statement for Morley, too, and that made me pull together my adventures in the world of textiles and my influences from the worlds of nature and of fashion – that was hugely useful, especially regarding my study of Japanese fashion designers and the aesthetic of wabi-sabi,  but that’s a whole other story!

For those of you who’ve stayed with me thus far – stamina award and thank you! – here’s a wonderful quote I took from Grayson Perry’s recent exhibition at the British Museum, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, which pretty much sums up how I feel  about my textiles work –

“Craftsmanship is often equated with precision, but I think there’s more to it. I feel it is more important to have a long and sympathetic hands-on relationship with materials. A relaxed, humble, ever-curious love of stuff is central to my idea of being an artist….”

One last thing I’d say about my work is that I make all my garments from rectangles of fabric, creating the shapes I want as I go – I have no skill or experience in using patterns, but all this is about to change! I’ve just bought my first jacket pattern and I’m ready to try it out!!  My only memory of doing this, years ago, is of abject failure, so any tips you can give me would be most welcome!

Hey, readers! Any tips for Jane, working with her first jacket pattern? Thanks so much to this highly creative lady for sharing her achingly gorgeous makes with us – and her enthusiasm.

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6 Responses to Interview With Jane Thistlewood – A Creator of Beauty

  1. sewbusylizzy says:

    Thanks for sharing. I did a workshop in felt making one weekend, it is an incredibly fun and fascinating craft. Very tactile and it teaches you to think a little differently about how fibers behave. If you get a chance to try this – do!

  2. Anne W says:

    Nuno felt is gorgeous! I love the colours in the work.

  3. spectacular! Thank you both for sharing

  4. Suze Jones says:

    Just beautiful! Thanks for this post – it’s made me want to go and find out more about nuno felt.

  5. symondezyn says:

    This is very cool – i have never heard of nuno felting before but the results are just lovely; thanks for sharing! 🙂

  6. Alessa says:

    Wow, those garments look incredible! So beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

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