For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb
Psalm 139:13

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

in the studio with Letty McHugh





Long-time Knit Happens readers will know about Letty McHugh. She's an artist and writer who is fearless, funny and also a dear friend. Her weakness for clogs knows no bounds and her approach to creativity always challenges and inspires me. 

At the end of last, year, I visited Letty in Yorkshire. We ate parkin, visited the Bronte parsonage, laughed till we cried, talked each others' ears off and drank tea in our pyjamas. We also visited her studio space in Hebden Bridge and had a very long chat about print, crochet slippers and inheriting textiles skills. Prepare for serious workspace envy. 





So Letty, what do you make?
Oh man, that's quite a question. I make art, I guess, and write things. I do print making and textiles and illustrations.



What's the last thing you made?
I did some illustrations for my blog a few weeks ago. The last proper big project I did was for my MA, called This is Your Inheritance, which was 70m of printed fabric.

Letty and her This is Your Inheritance project

What was the story behind that?
I started with stories from my own family. I had a lot of handmade textile objects that I had inherited from my great grandma. I inherited her treadle sewing machine as well, that my mum and her mum had learnt to sew on. I wanted to make a project that would celebrate them and investigate whether the textile skills that have been passed down to me were a common thing in other families.



How did this come together in a print project?
I did some experiments exposing the textile objects directly on the screen. I also interviewed 130 women online, and researched the idea of spectacle. When people look at doilies for example, they dismiss them.

You wanted to show these textile objects in a different context?
Yes, to transform them enough so they'd be considered in a new way, but still be recognisable enough that they'd retain their original associations. By printing them in an installation the same dimensions as the Bayeux Tapestry, a really significant historical object, it makes people recognise the objects and their meaning. I was keen to work on a large scale and prompt people to reconsider textile as something important, rather than frippery.

The idea was to make people think about the objects and the skills that had gone into them. In my family, these are skills that kept homes warm and put food on the table, rather than just, 'oh look, a pretty doily'. I still don't think we value these skills as a society. If you paid an electrician to come and fix your light, you'd be paying a lot more.

This is Your Inheritance

How long have you been in this studio?
I moved in in February 2013, so four years.

What was the first thing you did after moving your stuff in?
That's when I was doing big, inky drawings and was looking at doing more surface pattern designs.





What are you working on now?
I'm just starting a project called A Seaworthy Vessel about how we recover from trauma.

What form will that take? 
When my grandad was in the merchant navy, he was in an industrial accident and lost two and a half of his fingers. To rehabilitate his hands, he learnt to knit and made slippers for his family. It was less creative expression for him than necessity – he just got on with it. I've been thinking about how we use textiles to cope in our lives. I'm planning to crochet slippers and make them into little boats, possibly screen printing on the sails.




And what's one thing you can't make without?
Music and a view out of a window. You need time to sit about and do nothing to have the space in your mind for ideas. I try not to take work and books on the train with me.

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