Priscilla Jones: Narrow groove
Priscilla Jones has been creating contemporary stitched mixed media pieces in 2D and 3D since completing her degree in Embroidery at Manchester Metropolitan University in 1997. She draws her inspiration from a variety of sources exploring the concept of identity, memory and nostalgia.
In this interview Priscilla tell us about her childhood and the family members who inspired her to pursue a career in the art world. We also learn about her creative process and how collaborating with students has informed her work.
TextileArtist.org: What kind of art do you make?
Priscilla Jones: I make sculptural mixed media textiles using found objects, fabrics and ephemera. I’m always searching for beautiful pre loved materials to up-cycle into new pieces of work, breathing new life into tired and forgotten fragments of the past.
Ideas that came from my soul
What originally inspired you to specialise in this area?
I have always been creative even from childhood and very interested in sewing from a small age. My grandfather taught me to hand embroider when I was nine, I use to visit my grandparents every Sunday and my grandfather and I would sew and make things together. My great aunts were also passionate about sewing. One was a professional dressmaker and the other great aunt, who I was very close to, made the most wonderful toys and clothes for me when I was small! I loved visiting her house. It was full of wonderful old things – cupboards and drawers full of fabrics and haberdashery. She kept and recycled every scrap of cloth or thread and re-used it.
As I grew older, into my early teens, I continued my passion for sewing, drawing and making things. I was always making something: it could be papier-mâché bowls or a patchwork project; I was always busy being creative. By the time I was 16 I knew I wanted a career in the arts so I enrolled on a BTEC in Art and Design at my local art college and then got a place at Manchester Metropolitan University to study embroidery. This was the perfect course for me as it enabled me to nurture my fascination with textiles and build a portfolio of skills, creativity and technical excellence. It was an amazing course, learning from the very best. My tutors included talented textile artists Judy Barry, Jane McKeating and Melanie Miller; we also had visiting lecturers such at Louise Baldwin and Karen Nicol.
We studied all aspects of hand and machine embroidery in both historical and contemporary contexts; it involved a rigorous programme of drawing and academic study. The structure of the course allowed individuality and creativity to flourish, enabling me to follow my heart and create ideas that came from my soul.
I really enjoy seeing a student run away with an idea
Tell us a bit about your journey as an artist/tutor.
After leaving university I became self-employed almost immediately and started teaching at Salford University in the fashion department, working with 1st and 2nd year students showing them how to use embroidery and fabric manipulation in their garments. I immediately fell in love with teaching. You get a buzz from sharing something with someone else even if it’s only a small or simple thing. I really enjoy seeing a student run away with an idea or a technique and create the most amazing thing!
The following year I enrolled on a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and also started working in further education. Around the same time I started working with an agent based in London and for the next five years sold embroidered fashion fabric designs through the agency to clients in New York, California and Paris. This work was all about commercial designing and I really enjoyed the process of working to a brief and a season. It was fast and fun it made me very aware of trends, colour and fabrics. It also challenged my skills as an embroiderer to develop new ways of creating pattern through stitch.
I continued to develop my own practice and create pieces for exhibiting in galleries and exhibitions. I also worked with other agents producing designs for interior fabrics, wallpaper and greeting cards, selling these in the USA, Australia and Japan. As time went by I started to want to spend more time on my own work, making and selling original pieces so in 2002 I exhibited for the first time at the British Craft Trade Fair (BCTF) in Harrogate.
This is a fabulous platform for artists to sell directly to galleries and retailers and it was at this point I made the decision to concentrate on exhibiting through galleries and to teach part-time in higher education. Exhibiting at BCTF opened up a whole new range of ways to sell my work and has sent my business in many new directions over the last decade. Having made great contacts at this event I successfully went on to selling my original work in the US and in Europe at the Affordable Art Fair.
I have been collecting my entire life
When making work, what is your process?
I always start with the things that inspire me most. I have a vast collection of things at home that I have been collecting my entire life. Even as a small child I remember buying little china tea sets, old jewellery, ornaments and buttons. These collections have informed my work with ideas, shapes and colours. I always start new work by first looking at these collections or visiting car boot sales or flea markets to inspire me! I still collect ceramics, vintage fabrics and ephemera and I love to draw and sketch these kinds of objects.
I then spend time looking at the materials I currently have – I’ve boxes of stuff I’ve collected over the years – and think about how these materials can develop by incorporating them with fabrics, wire, stitch and paint. It’s a very organic, materials-lead process. I can spend hours trying different ways of putting things together before I feel it’s working and I can start to assemble a piece of work.
What techniques/materials do you use?
I use wire, emulsion paint, wax, fabric, leather, rayon threads, crochet silks and vintage haberdashery, including buttons, lace and zips. I machine embroider using a domestic Bernina and manipulate materials by hand using stitch and wire.
A great collaborative experience
How has teaching others impacted your own work?
I really enjoy the dialogue between tutor and student, the giving and taking that’s involved in the daily or weekly contact one has with ones students. It’s a great collaborative experience. I think teaching has always challenged me as an artist because it constantly makes you evaluate yourself and your work – pushing you to keep moving and developing.
Tell us about a particularly memorable moment in your career as an artist.
I think seeing my work on the front cover of The Embroiders’ Guild’s Stitch Magazine was one of the most memorable. It was a proud moment to walk into a high street shop and see an image of my work there amongst all the other publications.
How about a memorable teaching moment?
I’ve had lots of memorable teaching moments some small and some large but the ones that stand out are the students who go on and sustain great careers in there own practice or become teachers and continue to develop the next generation of learners in the textile field.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
I’m preparing at the moment for a solo exhibition at The Focus Gallery in Nottingham later this year. I’m very exited about this exhibition as it will be the first solo show of my sculptural textile pieces that incorporates a new ceramic element.
Look out for more information about the exhibition on my website: www.priscillajones.co.uk.
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