Monday, 23 June 2014

Collar Piece: CATHY CULLIS

Cathy Cullis: 'Freedom to Dream'
Cathy Cullis is an artist & poet based in the South of England. She uses paint, drawing, stitch and words to create personal responses which explore memory, domestic spaces, landscape and abstract forms. Cathy's practice does not usually centre on using a 'found object', such as the blue shirt collar she was presented with last Autumn, favouring instead basic materials such as calico, time faded papers and gouache.
Her skill in free machine embroidery has a delicacy of detail which follows through into her painted work; her watercolours are imbued with atmosphere & fragility. 

Cathy Cullis: 'Lady Blackbird Jug with Spoon & Dark Vessel'

Here follows Cathy's response to the Shirt Collar challenge, how she tackled the piece and the final results:

"My starting point was a faded blue collar. It felt very stiff and masculine; various ideas came to mind, my main concern being the final piece would transform and make the collar 'my own work'.
I decided on a 'plan' - to use my sewing machine as a writing tool and write a personal text on the collar. From an early stage I decided to keep it as a collar. I was slightly anxious about the colour and how to make a piece that would have the right combination of fabric tone and thread. It was after some consideration that I threw the collar in a pan with red onion skins, simmered for a while and let it sit there for a weekend. I wanted to rid of the blue and make it something else - I knew that red onion skins would give a warm tan shade on cotton, so expected the collar to became tan, beige or possibly green. It became a warm pale tan, not a bad result. Indeed, once the colour had changed the colour began to feel more friendly. I trimmed the pointed edge of the collar and made it more rounded.
I wrote a short piece of text about my grandmother and how she always said she could not wear tight things around her neck - because "we are descended from the Huguenots and were all hung", to paraphrase. This has become part of our family folklore. So I wrote a little about that. It seemed apt and personal, without being too conceptual. Much of my work is about memory and women's lives in the past.

The stitched text reads:
“My Grandmother often said she could never wear tight things, bows or collars around her neck. She told me she was ascended from the Huguenots pronouncing in a strange French accent that our ancestors she alleged were hung for their beliefs and that was why she could not wear anything tight around her neck.  I remember Granny with a tissue tucked into her dress to protect it from face powder.”

It was not so important to me that the text me stand-out easy to read, so I avoided using the obvious: either a black or red thread. I felt red would offer perhaps the wrong connotations. Using a cream thread allowed the text to become more subtle, almost like surface design. The reverse of the text is especially pleasing and I left it exposed. I like seeing the reverse side of my stitch work, especially handwriting. The actual stitching was not as tricky as anticipated - I had considered the collar might be a little fiddly to handle. The texture and thickness was just right for working without a frame, which is what I always do. Unfortunately, in my eagerness I missed a word in the next early on - the word 'wear' and went back and wrote it above the line of writing, rather like anyone would if inserting an afterthought or forgotten word. This is, after all, handwriting without editing.
Finally, I added a button from my vintage collection, so that the collar could be done up as a display option."
Cathy Cullis Final Piece: ''My Grandmother Could Not Wear Tight Things Around Her Neck'


  1. love this piece- and how I empathise with your grandmother. I too have some Hugenots in my background.....a touch of group memory is a nice way to think of my aversion to tight collars, either physical or metaphorical

  2. Lovely piece and wonderful to read about Cathy's work and creative process.

  3. What an absolutely beautiful collar - I too have an interesting ancestry & I love honouring them by passing on their stories & using their things!

  4. Beautiful piece, and a fascinating and poignant account...

  5. Beautifully intriguing work. Cathy never fails to interest and inspire .