CETG Online Talk on Monday 14th September 2020
Our Speaker – Janet Edmonds
Her Subject - “From Clay to Cloth”
Janet said this was to be a retrospective look at how she has got to where she is today – her journey from being a potter to changing and working with cloth.
Janet’s first love was clay. She first came upon clay during her few years at Art School. She loved it but was told she wasn’t very good, so she signed up to take evening classes for many years, honing her craft. The clay felt right in her hands; she could manipulate and build with it.
Eventually, Janet went to evening classes twice a week even though she was working full time. It was the 1970s and Janet said “everything was brown” in the pottery world. She made storage jars, casseroles, mugs, plates, bowls and eventually teapots – all practical items. She came to teapot making late as they are very difficult: a body, spout, a lid that fits, a handle and then it has to pour properly! She said she has made a few that worked and showed us a photograph of one of them.
Janet even dug her own clay and mixed her own glazes.
Her ambition was to do a Ceramics degree in Harrow, all her heroes came from the course in Harrow, but that wasn’t to be, so she did Art and Design instead.
Janet went to evening classes at Amersham College. People started coming to Janet for advice, so she eventually built her own kiln at home which was fired by bottled gas. The kiln was built from bricks which came from Benskins Brewery in Watford which had just been demolished. Janet says it was very “Heath Robinson” and was probably a health and safety nightmare (when she had her children, she dismantled it).
It was very exciting times but very hard work. She had to keep track of the weather before firing; it couldn’t be windy or wet. It would take two days to fire and Janet found it all exhilarating. During her recent house move, Janet came across a video of herself emptying the kiln with an expression of horror and excitement!
Her potting relieved the utter boredom of working for the local authority at the time.
Looking back now, Janet can see connecting points: she is still building and working 3-dimensionally although now with fabric and stitch instead of clay.
Janet showed us a photograph of some small vessels made of machine cords sewn together, ½ - ¾ inches high, the rest of the structure displayed in a box frame.
Slab building, coiling, manipulating, free-forming, painting with coloured slips: she now does all of this using fabric instead of clay. She doesn’t weigh or measure anything, she’s not good with numbers; everything done by instinct and feel.
Janet has always liked making things. She never wants to repeat a colour. She showed another photograph of a large vessel made by coiling which took a year to make. It’s now in the Embroiderer’s Guild collection. She colours the fabric, working with it as she would the clay in the past.
Janet took the Higher-Level Diploma at Windsor. She studied vessels from early Man, crude items which she translated using lots of pleating, tucking, gathering, bag-like vessels. One group of these vessels was displayed at the Knitting & Stitching Show 2007.
Janet enjoys all of the processes involved in the making of a piece even before putting the needle into the fabric: researching, drawing, looking for ideas. She has liked doing all of this since childhood.
Janet showed a slab-built vessel, inspired by looking at rocks, cliffs, everything from by the sea. She grew up by the sea and the coastline.
She has worked with stones found on the beach, she enjoys the fact that everyone is different; colour, form, worked on by the tides, she finds the holes in stones interesting.
When Janet took the City & Guilds Part 1, she talked through a wall-hanging with Jean Littlejohn who wasn’t happy that Janet wanted to add clay to her work, but Janet did it anyway. That was the first piece where she combined clay with cloth.
When her children were small, Janet worked in a school as a technician in the Art department. She helped setting up the kiln; they were inspirational times, and this also helped her learn to teach.
She enjoys drawing, she likes paint and pencils; she also enjoys taking photographs using a macro lens on her camera.
Janet showed us a few of her sketch book pages, showing ideas for her vessels. She likes collage, working with paper. She took a David Tress workshop which was very exciting and inspirational, using rocks as inspiration.
Other photographs Janet showed us were several pieces inspired by the ripples in the sand on a beach. Also, some lacy vessels made over a forma (mould) using buttonhole stitch held together by tension. She makes the formas herself; you can use plastic bottles and such like. Sometimes she uses a modelling material shaped to the size she needs.
Janet has made many vessels inspired by the stones she’s collected. She likes the repetition of a single mark repeated over and over. The base stitched into is a material used in stage safety curtains, 10 cm thick felt.
Ultimately Janet is a hand-stitcher, only occasionally using a machine. “Unravelled” is a machined piece: silk rope dyed and zigzagged over then machined together with knitting added. She can knit small pieces to incorporate into her structures but wouldn’t be able to knit a garment.
Another piece was made of small squares of fabric connected together. Janet collected train tickets for a number of years. She was inspired by an African artist who uses tin cans and sews them together making huge pieces of “cloth”. She did something similar with fabric and also with bus tickets. She knotted the corners and used a forma underneath for the shape.
Janet has made lots of stones with a white line running through them. One photograph was of a stone made of wrapped fabric circles all joined together which took a long time to make.
She finds hand stitching and the repetition of things a meditative process, she can do this for hours and doesn’t get bored.
Janet has made several large objects – boulders. She showed us a photograph of a sea wall she had constructed with boulders and small stones trapped in between. She stitches again and again into a soft stuffing to make the stones, continuing until the item is completed covered and stiff with stitching.
Janet joined the Textile Study Group on a project named “Disrupt”. She chose weather as her subject. At the time she visited Devon regularly; there had been a railway collapse in a storm at Dawlish which she used as inspiration.
For several years, she visited the Boden studio in Chesham learning all about print. She took fabric to print on rather than paper and often combines print with stitch.
She finds more satisfaction in making forms rather than flat pieces – another connection to her potting days.
Another stone she showed us was made by covering a stone with clingfilm, then layers of tissue paper and pva glue, then felt. You can then cut through the layers to remove the stone, then stitch into the top. You need quite a number of tissue paper layers, it needs to be quite firm, to allow the stone to hold its shape.
Janet wanted to live by the sea but, on the realisation that this was not going to happen, now enjoys walking and is now making work about her walks.
At a course with Matthew Harris at West Dean, she made a zig-zag book of a walk. She is continuing to make work inspired by her walks; the feelings, the weather, and the general effect of being in the landscape.
She showed a photograph of two crocheted forms based on a shell found on a beach on the Isle of Wight. They were supposed to be shown at the Quilt Show in August this year but hopefully will be there next year.
Janet took part in the Open Studios 2019. At her new house, she has had a studio built in her garden which she is very pleased with. It is the first time in her creative life that she has had a dedicated space. She is about to learn how to make videos and has the equipment ready for this.
Janet showed us a few pages from the Textile Study Group’s recent book “Insights”. Each member has a chapter about their process/how they work/what they’re inspired by – an insight into each of them. It is currently for sale on the Textile Study Group’s website and a blog is also available there. The book has been two years in the making and she is very honoured to be in it.
Janet says that clay is a very physical process, and she couldn’t do it now. She intends to go to the Queens Park Arts Centre in Aylesbury to make some ceramic pieces to add into her work when she can. She now spends her time stitching. She has always stitched since a young age alongside her ceramics.
Janet is holding a Stitch Workshop at Missenden Abbey on Tuesday 10 November 2020 looking at “Just Couching”.
Janet's website is
"Insights" book can be ordered from