Collar Piece: Christine Kelly

Christine Kelly: 'Go Gently Through This World'

In July 2013, I took a collar and an idea for a collaborative piece of work to lunch with fellow textile artist, Christine Kelly. The use of vintage or pre-used fabrics is central to the work of both Christine & I, so when she agreed to my suggestion that we each take a collar and make a piece based around it, the inaugural Group Gathering project was born. If Christine hadn't said yes then maybe you wouldn't be reading about this project now. 
Textile artist Christine Kelly is perhaps better known to many as the figure behind Gentlework: noted for her beautiful handstitched treasures in warm, creamy shades and sepia tones. Gentlework is a calm & tranquil place with whispers of things past. The work is made using vintage finds and is inspired by the subtle variations of colour found in the antique linens & lace Christine favours and which find themselves transformed into papier mache dolls with handstitched clothing, linen birds and boxed mixed media pieces.  

Gentlework dolls: vintage linens, papier mache, hand stitched
Christine Kelly: 'The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs' detail
With considerable experience of incorporating worn and aged fabrics in her work, first impressions might suggest that Christine would have no trouble in tackling what to do with a vintage shirt collar. However,  Christine's work, her choice of subject matter, materials and the slow nature of her intricate handstitching, has a strong feminine quality which initially she felt to be at odds with the 'maleness' of the collar. It's interesting to note that several of the project artists, myself included, struggled with the idea of using a fabric which had such strong male connections. Cathy Cullis decided to 'soften' the male aspect by dying her collar and by removing the sharp collar points. Christine also chose to change the colour of her collar.
After this initial struggle, how did inspiration strike Christine?

"It took me a long time to decide what to do with my collar although early on I decided that the finished piece should still look like a collar and reflect something of it’s former use. I kept the collar nearby in my workroom and kept picking it up and putting it back down again…."
Once bright white, now stained with tea to age & soften it's appearance
"My collar was very stiff and pure white and started me thinking about the idea of constraint.  As with much of my work, inspiration struck with a vintage find… I came across an invoice from a removal company. On sepia coloured, almost tissue-like paper, with a curled and scrolled header and beautiful handwriting, I knew I had to use this."
"I tea dyed the collar, which as well as staining it gave the effect of softening the fabric and lent it a ‘rumpled feel’, making it easier to stitch into."

 "Remembering the words of a Philip Larkin poem entitled ‘Toads’, I realised my collar had to reflect upon the constraints of the “world of work” and how this can clash with, and constrict, creativity."
"I hand stitched text from the poem into the back of the collar and applied fragments of the invoice mixed with pages from an old ledger to the outside edge."
"I finished off the button fastening with an old sixpence, a reference to remuneration, and couldn’t resist using the rest of the decorative header of the old invoice to make a bow tie to go with the piece."

For the exhibition at the Shell House Gallery Christine's collar is displayed next to a 1930's collar box. The 'mock-croc' texture of the box also giving a nod towards financial wealth.

An extract from Toads by Philip Larkin
Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison -
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers,
Losers, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
They seem to like it.