Jill Flower: A dream achieved
As a young girl Jill Flower had a dream of being an art teacher. Although it took a long time before she could pursue this dream, soon after graduating with distinction, Jill became a very successful artist and sought-after teacher. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and can be found in many publications and magazines.
In 2003 Jill exhibited an embroidered bag at the Victoria & Albert Museum within the ‘Inspired By’ exhibition called ‘The Locket Bag’.
Jill was invited to show her work within the ‘Art of the Stitch International Exhibition’, exhibiting in the UK and Europe.
Jill was awarded the Embroiderers’ Guild Scholarship 2009/2010.
In this interview Jill tells us how her career as an artist took off with an embroidery kit on ‘doctor’s orders’.
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Jill Flower: As a young schoolgirl I had two ideas and dreams; one was to be an art teacher and the other to be an interior designer.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by embroidery?
After leaving school I loved to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum and was particularly attracted to all the costumes and textiles.
There is a highly important embroidered jacket which belonged to Margaret Layton, ‘Keeper of the Jewels’ in the early 17th century, which has always fascinated me. It can also be seen in a portrait of her by Gheeraerts. It is an amazing feat of work considering it is completely made by hand without electric lights and machines. The linen is intensely stitched with swirling flowers and birds, trimmed with silver and silver-gilt bobbin lace, all adorned with spangles. In the evening when the candles were lit for functions the clothes and fabrics must have come alive, reflecting light with shimmering spangles and jewels. It is a spectacular exhibit.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
At school I was hopeless at dressmaking and gave it up at the first opportunity, preferring art. It was on ‘doctor’s orders’ that I discovered embroidery!
Whilst pregnant with my first child, he suggested that I should ‘slow down’: “Put your feet up in the afternoon, listen to an afternoon play and get a cross stitch kit.”
I may not have done all he suggested, but for some reason or other I did purchase a cross-stitch kit for the nursery! I found it relaxing and therapeutic. And so it began…
What was your route to becoming an artist?
At school I dreamt of being an art teacher, I was also good at geography. My boarding school influenced me to go to Teacher Training College, to become a geography teacher rather than art teacher, as it was thought more academic and prestigious. This was back in the 70’s but, sadly, jobs were scarce; I never taught in England and found myself in an office environment.
After discovering embroidery as a young mother during the ‘90’s, I made friends with other like-minded ‘stitchers’ and discovered a City & Guilds Embroidery course, which I joined and studied for four years.
I then had a break from embroidery and became an interior designer.
Later, having two young children, I was able to return to college in 2004 and graduated in 2007. At my final show, my work was spotted by members of the Embroiderers’ Guild and won a number of awards, my work travelling around England, Ireland and Europe. The demand for exhibitions, talks and workshops followed and I was able to give up my design job and become an exhibitor and freelance textile teacher.
I feel my original dream to become an art teacher has been achieved in a very long and roundabout way, and indeed, my original work was uncannily about ‘The Circle of Life’!
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
Encouraged by the College, I enjoyed experimenting with all sorts of embroidery techniques, hand stitch and using the sewing machine.
How do you use these techniques in conjunction with recycled paper and stitch?
I continued to experiment with the sewing machine, stitching and distressing papers and magazines to provide an illusion of a lacy fabric.
Break a boundary from the traditional idea about textiles and embroidery
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My work hopefully breaks a boundary from the traditional idea about textiles and embroidery, which some see as being rather boring and old-fashioned.
My pieces are an illusion of a fabric whilst telling a human story in a cheeky manner.
The housing of the work in perspex boxes makes it look modern and contemporary.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
I love my sketchbooks now! At the beginning I found the pure white pages very frightening and daunting; it was like having a mental block and I found it difficult to get started. However, now I tend to slosh colours onto a new sketchbook or distress the pages, sometimes starting in the middle of the book.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
A subject or inspiration begins the process. I start sketching, drawing and mark making, using photographs and magazine papers to fill the pages of my sketchbook. I research a theme or subject and then visit museums, galleries, libraries etc. I then experiment with stitch, samples evolve and the design ideas grow.
What environment do you like to work in?
I have a studio at home but, happily, I like to sketch anywhere, especially on holiday. I always take a small pencil case, sketchbook and paints.
What currently inspires you?
Mainly reptile skins, I am developing an illusion of a skin using recycled papers and, presently, using this ‘fabric’ to make clutch bags.
I’m working with a textile art group called Studio 21 and we have been working on a project all relating to the sewing machine, the ‘Iron Needlewoman’!
Who have been your major influences and why?
Jean Littlejohn, Jan Beaney and Louise Baldwin were my tutors at college and were a great influence on my journey into textile art.
A human story in a witty way
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
My series ‘Circle of Life’, and particularly my pieces ‘ Company Man’ and ‘Modern Woman’. These works explore edges and finishes. It’s a witty concept, following the progression and changes of our reading interests within a lifetime, creating a ‘circle of life’.
It is a contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s words about the ‘seven ages of man’ from his play As You Like It.
Recycled papers are deconstructed and reconstructed, stitched and washed, exposing relevant printed matter. It results into a crusty lacy finish, the fabric is fashioned to be reminiscent of the flamboyant Elizabethan ruffs. Each age is represented by what we read, journeying from babyhood to old age. For instance, school children reading comics, glamour magazines read by the adolescent, all the way through to reading the obituaries in very old age!
Due to the different reading matter between the ages and sexes, the work has its own unique personality and identity, and the story is further embellished with the use of relevant buttons, baubles, beads and toys.
The work is an illusion of a fabric and draws the viewer in for a closer look to discover and find cheeky words and captions about life; it’s a very human story.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I have tried to revisit handstitching but keep going back to my machine and paper.
At present, I am developing an illusion of reptile skins using recycled papers, fashioning the paper fabric into clutch bags.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Research around a subject or project but take a broad view, be experimental and have fun!
Can you recommend three or four books for textile artists?
- Creative Embroidery by Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn
- Connecting Design to Stitch by Sandra Meech
- 5000 Years of Textile edited by Jennifer Harris
- Historical Fashion in Detail by Avril Hart and Susan North
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
Sadly, I do not use the modern social media outlets, blogs and tweets etc., but I do have a website.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My Bernina sewing machine, my needle case and a good pair of scissors
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
For several years I gave talks but now prefer to give workshops. Details can be found on my website. I have a home workshop/studio in Surrey where I can take up to eight students for a day’s course.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
Luckily, I have been invited to a variety of galleries/shows, both nationally and internationally.
Where can readers see your work this year?
New work will be exhibited with the ‘Studio 21’ textile group.
‘The Sewing Machine Project’ (a contemporary view of the ‘Iron Needlewoman’) at the Stroud International Textile Show at Stroud (22 – 25 October 2015) and The Bracknell Gallery, South Hill Park, Bracknell (27 October – 8 November 2015).
The ‘Circle of Life’ series can be seen at New Ashgate Gallery, Farnham, Surrey (November 21 – December 21 2015) and at The Stroud International Textile Show in Stroud (2 – 28 May 2016).
For more information please visit www.jillflower.com
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