Meet the Makers: Robyn Parker

Brixton-based textile designer Robyn tells us how her great-grandmother’s notebook inspired her brand, and of the links between creativity and mental health.

  • Tell us a bit about Archie Mac London, what do you make or do?

Textile design. It’s all about stories! I use these story-telling textiles to make cushions and purses, and I’m currently working on a range of washbags, make-up bags and iPad covers. In future I plan to create fashion-wear too.Robyn Parker

  • What do you mean by ‘story-telling textile design’?

It started from a project about childhood. I had the intention of bringing the fun elements of childhood into a more adult form of design.

I interviewed a friend who gave me a fantastic collection of childhood pictures from the ’80s. They were wearing garish T-shirts with Simpsons cartoons on, and I was fascinated by the hair shapes of the characters. I began to manipulate them and use them to create patterns. In this way the designs originated in elements of a childhood story, and carried them into the future. Icons of my own childhood, such as a headless doll, now feature in my designs.

  • What kind of processes are involved in creating your cushions?

I begin with childhood images and objects and create collage – using both old-style paper and scissors and computer programs – to explore these shapes and take them backwards and forwards. Sometimes surprising patterns result: some have come up with an Islamic look and then on the next iteration been reminiscent of African prints, others have the look of fractals.

The final designs are printed onto fabric, which I sew into cushions, bags and other items. Commercial printing is extremely expensive, so I’m currently learning screen-printing so that I can also do that part of the process myself in future.

  •  What inspired you to get started with Archie Mac?

The precious discovery, about a year ago, of an album my great-grandmother, Annie, had kept of her own notes and the charming sketches and cartoons of my great-grandfather, Archie McMillan. He signed each one with his monogram – AMcM, combined to make a little spider – and this inspired the name (Archie Mac) and logo of my brand.

It was so exciting to find this creative ancestry in my family. There has been something of a gap in creative expression in the intervening generations!

I didn’t come from an art background. Until recently I worked in social care, as a mental health support worker with the Community Options Team, and I repeatedly observed the importance of creative activity in restoring confidence and self esteem. This sparked the idea of setting up a social enterprise aimed at developing creative opportunities for other women (which I’ve recently started with workshops at the Eaves Centre in Brixton). Newham College recognised my enthusiasm and took a chance on me, offering me a place on their Fashion Foundation course, which gave me the opportunity to start experimenting with textiles.

  •  What makes your products special?  

The storytelling aspect. I’d love to create bespoke designs for clients which reflect what’s important to them – perhaps featuring images or icons from their own childhood, or those of their children – and incorporate these into textiles or products which are unique to them. A wedding dress, perhaps! I work primarily with fabric but there is no reason why the designs shouldn’t be used to decorate other products. Your own story-telling kettle, or toaster?

I currently hand-stitch my logo, derived from Archie’s monogram, onto every piece. I love that personal connection with each item of my work.

  • Tell us about the exciting new workshops you are involved with?

These are workshops in embroidery and beading at the Eaves Centre, a Brixton-based centre for supporting women who experience violence. Currently they are monthly, but I am keen to make them more frequent. The workshops teach new skills and an outlet for creative expression that bypasses any fear about drawing.

The women who attend are each making small panels. We’ve also been making up embroidery packs to send out to women who cannot or do not choose to come to the centre, to encourage them to participate. We are using the theme of ‘hope’ and will combine the small pieces we make into one large panel. We intend to display the final panel to raise awareness and possibly funds for the Eaves centre.

We’ve received a lot of support from local sources, including Simply Fabrics, Freecycle, and Fiona of Oh Sew Brixton!, for which we’re extremely grateful, as we had no funding for the project.

  •  What attracted you to get involved with Makerhood?

The network is such a wonderful precious thing: there is this lovely cycle of kindness there. It can be lonely being creative and it’s great to know that there’s somewhere so welcoming and supportive in the borough.

  • What do you like about living &/or working in Lambeth?

I don’t know what it is about the borough, but it attracts so many creative people. There is a really good network of creatives here, and I have received so much support from people such as Sinead of Crafty Fox, and Colin Crooks and Lydia Gardner on the ‘start your own enterprise course’  run by Tree Shepherd, and also getting  involved with Brand Amplifier has been amazing and brilliant!

Also, I greatly value that working in mental health gives me the opportunity to meet people with such different lifestyles and life experiences from my own. Being exposed to such a multicultural, multi-layered community is exciting and inspiring . For example, in the Eaves Centre workshops people bring so many different experiences and ideas to the table.

  • What’s your hot tip for a hidden pleasure or treasure in Lambeth?

One best memory I will take with me if and when I leave will be the conker trees by the Lido – I think I will always feel that childhood excitement from picking up shiny conkers!

To see more of Robyn’s unique, original textiles & products visit www.archiemaclondon.co.uk

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African accessories

Mariatu Turay of Gitas Portal specialises in contemporary, African-inspired ladies’ and children’s fashion, handmade slippers, jewellery and handbags.

At Making Uncovered she will be showing how to make fabric headbands for children and adults, and how to make the best use of your leftover fabrics by turning them into coin purses.

 

What do you like about your art/craft? Why did you get into it?

I love the fact that I have free rein to bring an idea or vision to life and that my customers appreciate what I do. I got into it because I thoroughly enjoy designing and making clothes and accessories and I come alive when I do – can’t help myself.

Why are you taking part in making uncovered?

It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet people and share what I do and engage others in the actual making process, which ordinarily would be behind the scenes. People usually see the finished produce and not the making process.

What will you be teaching people and why should they sign up? 

I’ll be running short, 20-minute workshops showing people how to make little purses and simple headbands that could also be used as a neckpiece. If you’ve got strips of material lying about in the house and you want to do something that’s simple, quick and fun to give to friends, with that added personal touch (you made it), then come along.

  

 

Meet the makers: Kim Winter

By Maya Kar

Kim is the creator of the eye-catching felts and indigo fabrics at Flextiles, as well as one of the three directors of Makerhood . Here she talks of the magical properties of felt and why she became involved in Makerhood.


1. What are Flextiles?
The name Flextiles reflects my flexible approach to the definition of textiles, as I use not just fabric but also paper, plastic and other unusual materials. At present I have two main strands to my work, wet felting and indigo dyeing. Wet felting feels an almost magical process… hot water, salt, and a lot of hard work transforms a light, fluffy substance into a very strong and durable but light fabric, with which I can create either two-dimensional  scarves or three-dimensional practical or sculptural items such as iPad covers and vessels. I particularly enjoy producing 3D work, as I am interested in form and texture. I use indigo to dye items such as silk scarves and also combine it with my love of wet-felting by using it to dye small felt vessels. These play on the tradition of blue and white porcelain and through this I feel there is a connection with my Chinese heritage.

2. How did your interest in textiles develop?
I used to be a journalist with Which?, and when I went freelance I had more time for
creative activities. I used to knit, and then I discovered a course in creative and experimental textiles at Morley College and I loved it! I still do one day a week there. Morley is a great college and the course is a combination of taught sessions and working on your own projects. It allows access to facilities which are beyond the reach of many makers. It also enables you to spend time with other makers, developing ideas, and there is an exhibition to work towards.

3. What are your sources of inspiration?
Almost anything! I can just be walking along and see a plastic sign, curling at the edges, or the colour of a flower … it has made me see things in a different light. I’m particularly inspired by forms from nature, but living in Brixton, I have to be open to other influences.

4. So why do you live in Brixton?
I moved to Brixton 25 years ago, initially because it was cheap and on the tube, but I loved
it here. Brixton doesn’t care what anyone thinks of it! It’s multicultural and has
good transport links, and there’s always something going on. Waves of people of different
cultures come in and out of the area, so it’s constantly changing, yet it also has a great sense of community.

5. How did you get involved in Makerhood, and what do you like about it?
I happened to take part in an online survey about the proposal, and thought it seemed a
good idea as I had recently started creating my textiles. So I offered to help out with
interviewing makers and writing blog posts. It kind of sucked me in – and now I do all sorts of things along with Kristina, Karen, Andy and our core team of volunteers! Makerhood is all about trying to create links: links between makers, between makers and local residents, between makers and local businesses. One of the unexpected but exciting results of the initiative is the strong physical (offline) community which has developed. The website provides a focus (eg for discussions, organising events etc) and a showcase, so the online side feeds into the offline. Since I got involved with Makerhood I have felt encouraged to go out and sell my work, and we have a stall at Brixton market. In the past I used to use Brixton as a place to sleep between going to work, but nowadays I often see people I know when I’m out and about here – it has really made me feel part of the community.

You can buy Kim’s unique experimental textile items including dramatic indigo-dyed silk
scarves and colourful felt vessels at http://brixton.makerhood.com/flextiles.

Alighiero Boetti at Tate Modern

Making art from “upcycled” materials and textiles may be very fashionable now, but it’s been around for a while, as a new exhibition at Tate Modern shows.

Alghiero Boetti was born in Turin in 1940, and his first exhibitions featured many of the materials from the industries in the city – car paint from the Fiat plant, a plexiglass cube filled with wonderful contrasting textures of wood offcuts, plastic piping, styrofoam packing, fibreglass and corrugated cardboard. There’s even a classical fluted column made from cake doilies stacked on a metal pole!

But it was when he started taking an interest in travel and geopolitics that textiles came to the fore. After the Six Day War in the Middle East in 1967, he asked his wife to embroider the shapes of the territories occupied by Israel. He also coloured in a school map so that each country was represented by its flag, and took it to Afghanistan, where he commissioned local craftswomen to embroider a larger version. This was the first of his maps, which was done in Bokhara stitch, a very dense but time-consuming couching.

There’s a whole room of these embroidered maps made between 1971 and 1994, and it’s fascinating to see the changes over the years. Early maps used the Mercator projection, where Greenland is the same size as Africa, before switching to a Robinson projection. You can also track political shifts, as the flag of Portugal was replaced by Angola in 1983, and the last map from 1994 loses a great block of red as the former USSR is broken up into a collection of independent states.

The embroidery canvases were designed in Italy and sent to Afghanistan (and later Pakistan) to be embroidered, but Boetti often left gaps for the Afghans to include their own messages, so the borders juxtapose Italian texts with Persian messages about exile, composed by Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

The refugees also wove 50 kilims, some of which are on display. The pattern of these kilims is based on a grid of 100 squares, each of which is also subdivided into 100 squares, or pixels. The corner square starts off as one white pixel and 99 black pixels; the next one is two black pixels and 98 white pixels; the next one is three white pixels and 97 black pixels. So as the number of pixels follows a progression, the colours alternate.

As well as embroidery, Boetti explored lots of other concepts, including postal works using different combinations and patterns of stamps, and a lamp that lights up at random for 11 seconds a year (which didn’t occur during my visit!).

I particularly loved his works produced using biro pens, where individual students covered large sheets of paper with tiny blue strokes of biro. Even though they were all using the same tool, the different styles of mark making are very apparent, punctuated by white commas that encode various phrases. The overall effect reminded me of Japanese indigo dyeing.

The final room is a riot of colour, with three large embroideries called Tutto (Everything). Boetti cut out lots of images from magazines and newspapers and laid them out on canvas so that they all fitted together, then traced around them before sending them off to be embroidered.

 

There were lots of ideas in this exhibition – about the role of the artist being to explore inefficiency and wasting time, about how artists are expected to be private creators and at the same time public showmen producing spectacle, about creating a new world from pre-existing materials.

Indeed, the final exhibit of Boetti’s bronze self portrait on the balcony shows the artist spraying water onto his head, which conceals a heating mechanism, causing the water to turn to steam and evaporate. As the exhibition guide notes, “he shows himself as a thinker with so many ideas that he needs to cool himself down”.

Alghiero Boetti: Game Plan is at Tate Modern until 27 May 2012.

New makers

Let’s bound into the new year with an introduction to some of the newest makers on Makerhood. We now have more than 60 stalls, so make it your resolution in 2012 to buy local and support the local economy and creativity. Happy new year to you all!

Beards and Bicycles celebrates the combination of practicality, beauty and enjoyment found in…bicycles!
http://brixton.makerhood.com/beards-and-bicycles

Oishii~ital vegan delights is run by Yokunaru, who makes vegan, organic, fair trade food free of wheat, gluten and additives.
http://brixton.makerhood.com/oishiiital-vegan-delights

Imogen Paton is a Camberwell-based portrait artist who also makes necklaces, cushions, throws and baby mats.
http://brixton.makerhood.com/imogen-paton-artworks

Silka of Rubiccubestudio uses recycled materials in her pieces, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and jewellery.
http://brixton.makerhood.com/rubiccubestudio

Local Eyes is a photographer selling limited edition photos of “the less obvious and more interesting things around us”. See if you recognise any of the local scenes.
http://brixton.makerhood.com/local-eyes

 

Meet the makers: Gillian Arnold

Textile artist Gillian Arnold makes beautiful textile prints of ferns and other plants on satin. She tells us about making 20-metre table runners for her wedding and why pregnancy has unleashed her creative powers

1. Your pieces attracted quite a bit of attention on the Makerhood stall at the Urban Art Fair. How long have you worked with this technique?
I started printing from actual plants when I was at art college in Liverpool. I actually enrolled for a fashion course but found I didn’t have the patience to make clothes! So I transferred to the textiles course, which gave me the freedom to experiment with printing.

2. So when did you move to south London?
I moved to London after graduating and worked for a prop-making company in Coldharbour Lane. I was producing “throw-away art” for window displays in House of Fraser stores, like Dickins & Jones in Regent Street. It was great fun – we would produce a Bridget Riley-style 1960s painting and then have to work out how to make 100 copies!

3. And now you work on community art projects?
Well, actually I gave up work about a month ago because I’m expecting a baby in a couple of months! But I spent the past eight years working as an artist with schools and the community, doing things like producing large-scale prints from kids’ drawings. But I’ve also covered jewellery, sculpture, mosaic and photography. It’s really stretched my own skills – but I’ve also gathered lots of ideas to work on myself.

4. It doesn’t sound as if you’ve had much time to work on your own ideas!
That’s true! When I got married last year I did make my own table runners for the wedding reception – four 20-metre lengths of fabric featuring feathers and ferns. I also printed on my own wedding dress and printed my husband’s tie as well! But now I’ve given up work, it’s wonderful to have time before the baby arrives to be able to create my own pieces. My website is http://gillianarnold.com.

5. What will happen after the baby is born?
I’ve got to carry on after the birth – I need a creative output, or everyone around me will suffer! Hopefully I will have enough pieces made by the time the baby arrives to be able to continue selling them online. My husband is incredibly supportive – he takes care of the website and the business side of things.

6. Tell us about the work you’ve done in west Africa.
I’ve been working for five or six years on a project in The Gambia, teaching women how to sew and make jewellery. It’s been hugely satisfying, passing on skills to people who really benefit from them – they sell their work in two hotels now. You can see photos on the website, as there are links to Flickr, Facebook and Twitter.

7. What’s the appeal of signing up with Makerhood?
I heard about Makerhood from a friend at Morley College and hot-footed it to the makers’ meeting at the Sun and Doves in Camberwell. It was just a few days before I gave up work, so I had to hurry up and make some pieces to put on my stall! I think it’s brilliant that Makerhood’s emphasis is on localness – from my community work I know that it’s better to work through connections with people rather than some impersonal online shop.

8. What’s your top tip for a bit of “hidden Camberwell”?
Café No 67 at the South London Gallery is brilliant. They do set menus of really well-made food, with a great balance of flavours. It’s got a glass ceiling and walls, so you can look out on the garden while you eat.

Café No 67, South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH

You can see Gillian’s gorgeous textile prints at http://brixton.makerhood.com/gillian-arnold

Meet the makers: Ellie Laycock

Ellie Laycock, who makes beautiful cushions from vintage scarves and linen, talks to us about hunting, stuffing and the challenges of combining making with being a single mother

Ellie Laycock with cushions

1. Tell us about the name – Hunted and Stuffed. It conjures up visions of giant moose heads – but you make cushions!

I liked the cheekiness of the name – I didn’t want anything too serious. It’s quite appropriate: I hunt down vintage fabrics and buttons, turn them into cushions and stuff them!

2. Where do you source your vintage fabrics?

I scour eBay, car boot sales, Sunday markets. It can be hit and miss. Sometimes you don’t see anything, but at one sale I went to on Wandsworth Road there was a pile of vintage silk scarves in one corner and a heap of old linen in another. The stuff I bought there kept me going for months! It’s a bit trickier now with Malakai [her 10-month-old son], as I can’t carry as much as I used to.

3. You’re a professional photographer – why did you move across into making cushions?

I trained in sculpture, and I’ve been a professional photographer for 11 years. But when I had Malakai I was stuck at home and I wanted to do something creative. So I made some cushions from some vintage kimono material and showed them to a friend who is a stylist. She really rated them, so I went ahead and started making more of them.

4. What gave you the idea of using scarves and tea towels?

I kept coming across beautiful scarves, but I don’t wear them myself. I’m more into accessorising a room than an outfit! And tea towels are the same size as a standard pillow. Other cushions made from tea towels usually fold the tea towel in half, so you lose the impact of the full design.

5. Which designs sell best?

The iconic graphic designs, such as Penguin classic covers or London Underground maps, are quite popular. I’m drawn to souvenirs of London or royalty, street maps and illustrations of Britain.

6. You already have online shops on Etsy and Folksy. What was the appeal of joining Makerhood?

I just think it’s an excellent idea to promote local makers to local buyers. I also wanted to meet other people with something in common – not just craftspeople but people interested in buying locally.

7. How can I find out more?

My blog is at www.huntedandstuffed.blogspot.com, and you can see my photographic portfolio at www.ellielaycock.co.uk.

8. What do you like about living in Brixton?

I’ve lived here for 10 years. Before I lived here I kept coming here and then had to get home, so I decided I might as well move here! It has a centre of its own, and I found it welcoming and fun. It’s the friendliest place I’ve lived in and it’s got everything I need – I don’t want to live anywhere else.

9. What’s your top tip for a bit of “hidden Brixton”?

Go for a café latte at Café Tana on Brixton Hill. They’re really friendly and do great coffee.

You can see Ellie’s fabulous cushions at http://brixton.makerhood.com/hunted-and-stuffed.

We go shopping!

Karen, Damian, Biba, Andy and I went to the lovely Crafty Fox Market at the Dogstar on Saturday. Fantastic! Great work from the organisers, three floors of lovely hand-made things and art, and great workshops. Artists and makers from all over London, and some from as far as Edinburgh and the Isle of White.

Among the sellers were James Ward (who created the lovely Crafty Fox logo) showing his amazing plates, Kanganarora with handmade textiles (absolutely loved the cow cushion!) and FabricNation making beautiful things from recycled fabrics. We also loved handmade puppets from Twisted Myth,  textile deer heads from Wooden Tree and cute creatures from Hope and Eden. And many many others.

Downstairs, there was a group of ladies totally consumed with learning to make brooches with Handmade in Tooting and Seaside Sisters – they came up with many beautiful pieces.  Ms Cupcake’s stall – from a new shop on Coldharbour lane– was constantly overcrowded. I’m personally not into cupcakes, but Damian had one and couldn’t stop talking about it. It was apparently delicious!

We brought some flyers and talked to people about Makerhood and the forthcoming local online marketplace. The makers we talked to were very positive; many said there should be one in their areas too – this was really encouraging.  Something to ponder for the future; meanwhile, I guess one option is to relocate to Brixton 🙂