Thursday, 17 July 2014

Collar Piece: Kathleen Murphy

Kathleen Murphy: Silva Populi woodland folk
Also known by the name, Murgatroyd & Bean, Herefordshire based artist Kathleen Murphy, creates colourful, textile curiosities which are boldly hand stitched with a story to tell. These one-off pieces are inspired by Kathleen's interest in folklore & fairtales, using her needle & thread to create her own mythologies in fabric, stitch and found objects.
Her work is identified by a strong sense of narrative and through it’s application of colour, texture and use of reclaimed fabrics. The patina found on these materials add their own dimension to the final piece. A lot of the fabrics used have been previously disgarded or are given to Kathleen, scraps of cloth, twigs, ends of wool, by people who say, 'I saw this and thought of you'. This 'passing on' of materials chosen by someone else plays an important part, a challenge to work within, in Kathleen's work. 
The root of the Shirt Collar Project has been based on this principle - challenging other artists to work within the boundary of using a material chosen by someone else.
Kathleen Murphy
Kathleen Murphy
"Once I had distributed the collars to the project artists I claimed what was left as my own - a pale blue one. I knew from the beginning that I didn't want the collar to be a wearable piece and the idea of making a colourful bird suspended in air was forming (inspired by the much-laundered curl of the collar). 
Progress took an unexpected turn during my initial research. In March of this year I wrote of my discovery of the origin of the blue collars (see HERE), they were in fact made by Van Heusen for the RAF up until the 1960’s, in the latter years used by ground crew only." 
"I discovered that during WWII these collars were especially unpopular with RAF pilots. Not only were these heavily starched collars uncomfortable, chaffing on the neck when repeatedly looking up during flight, but they also had the unfortunate ability to contract when wet.  If a pilot was shot down into the sea with his shirt collar buttoned as dress regulations stipulated, there was a very real chance that the pilot wouldn’t drown but be tragically strangled by his own uniform. The popular image of a WWII pilot in a silk scarf or polo neck arose out of a need for comfort & warmth but also to hide the fact that their top buttons were undone.
While scouring the internet for the possibility of a personal testimony about these facts I came across the following arresting image of Squadron Leader Brian 'Sandy' Lane on a reflective blogpost by a contemporay RAF airman HERE."
September 1940: Squadron Leader Brian 'Sandy' Lane (centre) aged 23 at Fowlmere nr Duxford c/o Imperial War Museum
"A mere 23 when this photograph was taken and fresh from landing his plane during the Battle of Britain in 1940, I couldn't get this image of Brian Lane or the thought of those drowning pilots out of my mind. My original idea for a colourful, carefree bird was replaced with this sense of loss. Of a bird of peace being killed through friendly fire.  Thus the collar was no longer going to be the bird but the shackle around it's neck. "
Friendly Fire: noun. Weapon fire coming from one's own side that causes accidental injury or death to one's own forces. 
Oxford English Dictionary
"The body of the bird was made from a very old piece of linen onto which bandage type strips were hand stitched. Originally, white linen was going to be used for the bird but it looked too clean. It was replaced by a fabric which I had stained & rusted whilst on a course with Alice Fox. It was very pleasing to be able to make this connection in the piece with a fellow project member."
"I experimented with using thin plastic (from milk cartons) to strengthen beak, body & tail."

"The layers of stiffening fabric on the collar made it incredibly difficult to pierce with a needle. Attaching the collar to the bird took some time and would have been impossible without the help of pliers!"
"I no longer wanted the bird to be suspended but rather to be at rest. The final piece incorporates a box frame in which the bird lies on a funereal pillow of blue stained silk. The stains were made with watercolour and are accompanied by small drifts of seed stitch." 
"A small olive branch was made from wool felt and an acorn stalk wrapped in thread (from a collection of acorns given to me by Christine Kelly)."
The wire feet were wrapped in crewel wool. The wing & tail feathers are hand embroidered.

The Van Heusen logo remains prominent next to the birds head.
'Friendly Fire'

In situ at Shell House Gallery. Thank you to Gentlework for use of image.


  1. J'adore cet oiseau, j'adore votre travil et le projet dollar- piece !!!

    1. Merci beaucoup Nadine! (Sourires)

  2. It's amazing what emotion can be conveyed in stitch. Well done, Kathleen.

  3. Lovely words about a fabulous piece K! Cxxx

  4. I saw this piece on Tuesday - fabulous !

  5. Very touching. The memory of our birds' funerals was stirred up.

  6. Wow. What a powerful piece! Stunning work.