I’m a self-confessed addict of vintage table linen. A delicately edged napkin; a faded hand embroidered tablecloth; stained, yellowed doilies. They have a wistful, yearning quality to me, with their fabric patina acquired from years of domestic and everyday use. They conjure up memories of childhood spent in Northern Ireland with vivid ease.
I’m constantly on the lookout for discarded treasures in charity shops, jumble sales and thrift stores everywhere I travel, so I was delighted to stumble across a little old lady selling a basket full of used napery at the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, the oldest fair in Ireland dating back to the 17th century. The atmosphere was replete with tradition provided by horse trading, country music and Irish dancing.
Goodness knows where she had acquired it all from, but it was freshly laundered and packaged into resealable plastic food bags and going for a song. I near enough purchased the lot, and dragged my bounty back to England with me for dyeing, sewing and chopping up into exciting fabric collages.
I adore the colours coaxed from nature; simmering cloth and paper with turmeric, onion skins, avocado and rusty items gives the substrates the most beautiful hues and marks. I’m constantly delighted by the element of surprise as I open bundles of fabric and paper wrapped up with leaves and oxidised nails and washers; the effects are almost always slightly unique no matter how much I replicate the conditions.
Once I have a bundle of fabrics and papers I am ready to start sticking and stitching them into a visual story that I hope pleases someone’s eye as much as mine, with the theme of conflict as my most used narrative. The dusty colours achieved from nature’s dyes complement the sombre mood of my work in a way that no manufactured paint could.
The colours of the earth are delicious, deep and dusky; they have a poignancy and subtle nuance that stirs my memories and reminds me that life is a complicated mixture of bittersweet experience.