Saturday, 19 July 2014


Last day of the exhibition at the Shell House Gallery today, closing at 5pm.
Details of where you can next see the collars will be posted accordingly and plans for next year's project are now in hand. 

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.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Collar Piece: Viv Sliwka

Viv Sliwka's work is characterised by an exuberance of detail created with bright splashes of stitched & painted colour on time faded fabrics & papers. Handstitched coton-a-broder threads become stalks, flowers or loose-limbed knots covering the surface of vintage scraps of patchwork, enriched with red threaded buttons and handprinted motifs. Of course to many, including her huge online following, Viv is better known by the name Hens Teeth.
Viv's passion for vintage textiles, haberdashery and paper ephemera is clear. This marriage of materials is described on Viv's CV as, 'A celebration of the decorative union of transient snippets from the past'. It raises these textile scraps from obscurity to a happy, decorative place.
Viv's work is populated with figures and creatures such as dogs, rabbits and donkeys so for this reason the only white collar to be stamped with the Old England brand lion motif was given to her. The Old England brand was established in the 1890's and became the official shirt makers to the British army during the Boer war. By 1957 the company was rebranded as Peter England, a name we're more familiar with today, and the lion logo went through a series of design changes. By coincidence Viv discovered that she had a card of Old England spare buttons in her collection with a matching lion motif so it seemed that the collar pairing was meant to be! 

Viv has utilised as much of the original collar as possible without the desire to maintain the collar shape. One of only two collars in the project to be deconstructed, Alice Fox's piece being the other. Viv has combined her collar pieces with a background patchwork of fabrics in her identifiable style which show the discoloration and fraying of age. The apearance of age is further enhanced with the use of tea staining on the collar wing tip above. 

Although no longer collar shaped, references to it's original function are many - from the white collar stud to the button hole edging. Fortuitously, Viv found a vintage collar box which she used as both structure and backdrop - the original box remains visible and unchanged on the reverse of the finished piece.
Hand painted bees & hearts of miniscule proportions are recurring motifs for Viv. If you have the opportunity to see this collar piece in person you can have fun trying to find the six tiny bees flying about on it!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Collar Piece: Anya Keeley

Anya Keeley: 'William' from Dark Tales exhibition Llantarnam Grange 2014

A creator and curator of curious creatures & whimsical wonders, Anya Keeley creates one-off contemporary artefacts using found objects and reclaimed materials. Imagined flummeries a Victorian explorer might encounter on his travels to far off shores which he would bring home and display in vitrines and mahogany cabinets. 
Anya is based in Herefordshire which no doubt flavours her inspiration and curiosity about the natural world and her love of nursery rhymes and fairy tales - it's a county rich in folklore. Her workshop is packed with finds such as animal bones, vintage kitchenalia and sugar tongs and Oxo tins crammed with collected words & phrases which may one day find themselves in a piece of work.
Anya's clever use of found objects is drawn together through her wire working techniques (usually brass or iron wire is used). One such method is to create a metal skeleton onto which a skin of vintage card or papier mache is applied. For such a solid material Anya's use of wire often has an unexpected delicacy which shows in her finished collar piece.
Anya Keeley
Unlike the other project artists, Anya doesn't use any textiles in her work - although textile 'ephemera' such as buttons & darning mushrooms do find a place now and then.
The final collar piece shows no evidence of this textile object being out of place alongside Anya's usual materials of choice. There is no stumbling over the 'male' connotations of this collar. The blue collar has been treated as a flat plane - it's colour & texture forming the impression, and essence, of sea water on which the tale of The Missing Ship rests. The lettering on the collar could be forgotten words which have found their way out to sea only to settle on on the seabed amidst the stories of shipwrecks. This unadulterated blue collar has been transformed into a platform for explorations and adventuring to take place!

An imaginary sky is punctuated with mother-of-pearl moon & stars held by skinny spindles of wire.

"The Missing Ship
Drifting along in the pale moonlight
On the murmuring waves
The Ship
All is lost"
A boat fashioned from a wooden spoon, a spatula end and a French cent porthole.

A daisy of wire forms the rudder.
A sea of collar anchored onto driftwood by a pearly button and a musical score.

Anya keeley on

Monday, 7 July 2014

Collar Piece: Jenny McCabe

Jenny McCabe: Hand screened bear print
Based in Lancaster, Jenny McCabe designs and prints home wares and accessories under the business name Coo & Co.
Jenny has a background in fine art but her printing skills and techniques have been largely self taught through a process of experimentation. I first encountered Jenny's work through her early 'Yarn Soup' blog which recorded her endeavours with print, machine stitch and natural dyes. Since then Jenny's creative path has led to establishing Coo & Co and the publication of two books on printing, including 'The Handprinted Home' which was published earlier this year by Cico Books.
A sense of environment and our place in it features strongly in Jenny's creative ethos. Each item Jenny makes is handprinted using eco-friendly materials such as water soluable inks, vintage papers and recycled fabrics where possible (for example, her white cotton is recycled sheeting from the hotel industry). Jenny, therefore, wasn't going to be daunted by the suggestion of creating a piece of work from a vintage shirt collar.

Jenny's collar piece is a combination of techniques familiar to her. Inspired by happy times, family stories & childhood holidays, Jenny's collar has been transformed by using free machine embroidery and transfer printing techniques. It incorporates family & found photo’s combined with pieces of text from old books and colourful scraps of paper map. Images have been printed onto, and layered, with gauzy muslin. It has been decorated inside & out. Little flashes of the original RAF blue collar can be glimpsed through the muslin and at the button hole fastening. The resulting collar is still a very wearable piece.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Collar Piece: Nancy Nicholson

Nancy Nicholson 'Blue Bird'
Bold and colourful with moreish motifs of birds, cats and fluid forms, designer & artist Nancy Nicholson's work is highly illustrative and joyful to behold.
Based in Kent, Nancy works predominantly in paper and textiles using her own designs to produce stitch kits, 3d 'interactive stationary' and one-off hand & machine stitched pieces.
Nancy comes from a dynasty of artists with a rich textile bent. In brief, her Father, Roger Nicholson, was a professor of fine art texiles at the Royal College of Art and her Mother, Joan Nicholson, was involved in the Needlework Development Scheme in the 1950's (you may even be familiar with Joan's work for Golden Hands magazine in the 1960s & 70s?). Both parents were involved with the 1951 Festival of Britain and between them produced a huge volume of work from paintings to wallpaper patterns. This body of work has been both influential and inspirational to Nancy's work, sharing a European folk art flavour to which Nancy adds her own twist. Through items such as her stitch kits, embroidery cards and online tutorials Nancy is continuing to inspire a new generation of people to discover the pleasure of using needle and thread creatively.
Nancy Nicholson: stitch kit example left, page from sketchbook right

Nancy Nicholson: 'Circles' left, '3D Flower' right
With these influences in mind, and like many of the other project participants, Nancy wouldn't normally veer towards using an overly laundered shirt collar as a creative starting point. Nancy's white collar was one of the more aged samples - bubbles were appearing where the cotton and interfacing were parting company. It was no longer looking smart. The collar's shabbiness turned out to be of little consequence as Nancy's attention was turned to shape & texture...

"Initially when faced with this utilitarian object, all crispness and white suggesting constraint and stiffness, all I could see was an animal, the two buttonholes facing each other like two slant eyed angry rabbits.
Then I looked at the folds and the pleasing stamped and faded lettering showing collar size, make and washing instructions, now almost washed away. It said “Do not starch, Iron flat, Fold by hand”.
"So as not to spoil this virginal whiteness, I cut out another collar in the total opposite kind of fabric, wool felt, using the original as a pattern, really more to familiarize myself with it’s shape and “learn it”, fold it and bend it, twist it and turn it to see what would occur to me to turn it into. At first I enjoyed the twisted shape it made and began to make an organic plant like shape, thinking I might create seeds and tendrils..."
"The idea of warring rabbits had not entirely been dropped either, so I made the collar in old grey silk velvet which felt luxurious and opulent and the polar opposite to the white business like original. After trying to construct long rabbit ears and failing as they were not floppy enough I began to embellish. So my collar became opulent, festive, un workaday. I am obsessive about Spider’s Web stitch currently and enjoyed dropping those into the velvet first." 
"Velvet is a favorite fabric of mine for machine stitching. I love the way the tight close stitches sink into the pile, the roadways lines stitching make, the sheen, and lustre of rayon thread against duller smokiness of velvet...Now I am getting very lyrical but I suppose these are the things which drive the textile lovers and stitchers among us. 
This collar evolved by itself quite naturally. I enjoyed just letting that happen intuitively. I wanted it to stand in a sculptural way rather than being worn, though a slender necked individual could wear it perhaps?" 
Now there's a lovely thought!