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CETG Meeting on Monday 8th July 2019

Our Speaker – Amanda Clayton

Her Subject – My Blue Suitcase


Here is an overview of Amanda’s talk, along with photos taken on the evening.


Amanda told us that her talk would be about where she is now and how she got there – the journey, what has been happening in her world and the interesting projects she’s been involved in.


She has always been an inquisitive person and grew up in a lovely creative environment. Amanda is the youngest of 5 children, with just over 6 years between the five of them.  She didn’t talk until she was five as her other siblings did the talking for her.  She liked to disappear and do things on her own - and still likes solitary time stitching.  Her mother always made their clothes and knitted.  Amanda made her dolls’ clothes from about about the age of three and loved all the fabrics.  There were not a lot of toys around and she found creative play joyful.


She learned French knitting (corking) early and at school she had tin her school days, Amanda still likes to do her admin in the morning and “play” in the afternoon.


Matchbook projects are a vivid memory for her.  At holiday time her mother would give each of her children a matchbox to fill.  Amanda has used this idea a great deal in her Art Foundation teaching.  She believes a personality comes across in a box.


Amanda brought her blue suitcase with her to the talk.  It is a sentimental object which belonged to her Aunt Kate who taught her to crochet with a fine crochet hook.  When she passed away, she left Amanda money - which she used to join as a life member of the Embroiderer’s Guild - the blue suitcase, and a sampler.


Amanda went to a comprehensive school where she had a scary dragon of a needlework teacher.  However, she admitted that she owes her a lot as she set high standards.  Amanda learned drawn thread work, smocking, embroidery and how to make garments.  Tailoring and dressmaking was the name of the course.


Her class entered the BP Design Award designing an outfit for an Air Hostess travelling to Alaska!  They got 3rd prize!  She managed to get special dispensation to study embroidery for her A Level Art subject and did macramé for GCSE.


Amanda told us that her parents – especially her father – never pushed her or her siblings to do anything they didn’t like.  They were taught how to make decisions, not have decisions made for them.  Her father told them to study subjects they enjoy, which was the best advice to be given.


Her early inspirations and experiences have had a big influence on her. She works abstractly.  She was very much inspired by her Art teacher - the well-known artist Anwar Shemza.


Her favourite item is an old DMC Embroidery book which she was given by an elderly neighbour.  This is the item she would take with her on a desert island!


This led to her making lace and rouleaux.  In Constance Howard’s book, there is a photograph of a piece made by Amanda.


Constance advised Amanda to make pieces of work from her samples, rather than making small samples just as samples. Another hero mentioned was Rebecca Crompton.  Amanda uses her 1930s book a lot.  She believes in using things and not keeping them just to look at - well worn, aged and loved.  She loves hand me down clothes and looking at vintage and old clothes.  She did an Art Foundation course at Wolverhampton and went to junk shops and second hand shops for her supplies.  She only uses neutral tones in her work.


Jean Draper was another very influential embroiderer mentioned.  Amanda applied to the 62 Group and was rejected twice!  Jean Draper helped to get her into the 62 Group and encouraged and shared ideas with Amanda.  She describes Jean as a leading figure with a wide knowledge and wisdom.


In her 30s, Amanda started living by the rule – never say no to anything and always put something new into an exhibition.


Amanda brought her sketchbooks with her to the talk.  Drawing underpins all of her work.  She is always sketching, drawing and collecting information.  It is a natural extension of what she does.


She very rarely draws textiles.  She likes painters, artists, icons.  Elizabeth Blackadder (still working into her 80s and 90s).  She finds female artists more prolific in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.  She also admires Mark Rothko and is interested in the process of his work.  Gwen John is another favourite.


She is much inspired by Constance Howard, Rebecca Crompton, and Jean Draper – all women who pushed boundaries in embroidery.


In her own work, Amanda uses all sorts of abstract things to join items together.  She stated that “Nobody owns knowledge, it is there for everyone to use”.


She thinks that you may do work similar to someone else at times but you have to work through something yourself.  Embroidery is a labour of love.  Success can be driven by money but can also be contentment.  She is always learning.


She left college in 1982 and went freelance in 1990.  She taught embroidery skills at foundation courses and in 1990 cut down her weekend work to do her own practice including submitting pieces to the 62 Group.


She enjoyed teaching.  She taught Rachael Howard and Richard McVetis amongst others and still keeps in contact with her students.  She has had numerous exhibitions but her first big exhibition was the Knitting & Stitching Show in 1991.  She made neutral pieces – named Space Odyssey.


Amanda is a hand stitcher.  She travelled a lot teaching in the 1980s and so did a lot of hand stitching on the train.  She was invited to the Knitting & Stitching Show again in 2015 and exhibited a piece named “The Other”.


She decided to make samples that she could also take out to teach with.  She uses pineapple cloth which has a lovely quality.  The pieces she showed us are ones that she has taught at workshops.  She is currently planning workshops and has one planned for next year.


One project she has been involved with, with 2 colleagues from the 62 Group, is attending conferences with consultants who deal with bereavement and cancer patients, helping communications between consultant and their patients. She has also worked with Kings College on a project concerning Turners syndrome which was very challenging.  Her work for this was entered into the Fine Art Quilt Masters at the NEC and is also being used as a teaching aid at Kings College and has been viewed by a great many people.


This demonstrates using textiles in a different function which goes back to what she believes; she likes things to be useful.


Amanda’s work is developing all the time and is turning into useful work (as above) showing you can be successful in different ways.


Amanda finished the talk with a saying from her Art Teacher, Anwar Shemza that she’s never forgotten - “you’re only as good as your last piece of work!”

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