Jilli Blackwood Lecture at The Embroiderers’ Guild, Dumfries

I attended a lively and entertaining talk by Glasgow-based textile artist, Jilli Blackwood yesterday. Her famous ‘Slash and Show’ textiles are a riot of colour and texture and embellishment. They include hand-dyed fabrics, layering, weaving, pleating, with freely worked hand and machine embroidery. She has a loom in her home studio, and this informs her work, and she returns to weaving between her embroidery projects.

I had researched this artist in respect to contemporary embroidery in an earlier article, so will not repeat that material here.

As a third year graduate, Jilli had been invited to meet fashion designer, Jean Muir, who encouraged her to make a 1 metre square version of a layered and cut sample. She also offered Jilli a job, which she turned down, despite being a huge fan of Muir’s designs. Jilli strikes me as a very independent person, who was keen to develop her own ideas.

Her breakthrough moment for the future direction for her work came with the Millenium Kilt, an altered, second-hand kilt with a three-dimensional surface created with the techniques mentioned above. She told us that she had had a last minute moment of doubt about exhibiting the kilt in The McManus Galleries in Dundee (2000) as part of an exhibition called ‘Textiles for the 21st Century’. Was an ‘altered’ garment an original work of art? However, she need not have worried, as it went on to win the award for first prize and was then exhibited at the V&A as part of an exhibition called ‘Men In Skirts‘. Despite several offers to buy this piece, Jilli retained ownership of it, but went on to create a series of similar pieces for sale. A collection of ‘Art to Wear’ pieces, forms another series, including kimonos.

Jilli Blackwood, Millenium Kilt, 1999-2000

Source:- https://www.jilliblackwood.com/projects-millenium-kilt.html

It was interesting to hear about Jilli’s working practice: the piece above started as a sketch on an envelope, before hands-on work on the kilt itself. At other times she will dye the fabrics first. She uses Kemtex dyes because of their light-fast qualities. The dyed fabrics will be hung together so that she can see how the colours interact, as she selects a colour palette for the project in hand. Next, an A4 – A3 sized sample may be made, before the full sized piece is worked on. The work moves from floor to wall to sewing machine as Jilli works on it by hand and with her sewing machine, adding and subtracting elements until she is happy with the outcome. This process can take several years to complete on a single piece. Although, The Glasgow School of Art can make digitally rendered prints if large scale production is required.

One piece that she brought along to show us had not, she felt, worked, but instead of discarding it, she ended up cutting it in half, re-joining it with two upward arcing lines now meeting in the centre. This gave it a new dynamism that resembled various buildings she had seen, and Jilli wondered if the influence of this architecture had subliminally affected her development of the piece. The colour was altered by folding and over-dyeing the wall hanging several times, and it now has a background of dark lines with the bright pink elements glowing against it.

She advised us to try to develop our own ‘handwriting’ through playing with materials (much as we have been doing on the course!), because everything has been done before, it is just a case of putting one’s own mark on the different techniques available.

Another piece that I found interesting, consisted of a black ground fabric with machine sewn, irregular rectangles of silver leather attached. This had started as a landscape-format wall hanging, had been cut in half and joined to make a long portrait-format wall hanging, and had ended up being made into a skirt as a wearable piece of art. Jilli was sporting some of her wearable art in the form of a hat and tunic dress as she was speaking to us.

For the Flag Handover Ceremony at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Jilli designed an eye-catching red tartan for the entire Scottish team. One aspect that she had to give thought to was that it had to be ‘larger than life’ as the human figures would be tiny in the huge stadium to the audience there, but would also be seen around the world on television. The design had to work in these two, very different situations.

After she had designed the Team Scotland parade outfit for 2014 Commonwealth Games, she was dismayed to find that the outfits had been photographed for publicity purposes, against a green countryside background, instead of the grey or dark background that she had envisaged. The interaction between colours is very important to this artist.

However the green in the photographs went on to inspire a bright green tartan which was used in the World Anti Doping Agency space at the games.

Jilli Blackwood, WADA design, Commonwealth Games 2014

Source:- https://www.jilliblackwood.com/news.html

More recent work has been embroidery over worn, antique, South African rugs, echoing the existing pattern. Jilli mentioned that as well as being extremely hard to work on, she was amazed to find all the ‘errors’ in the seemingly perfect patterns on the rugs.

Her future plans include re-branding her website and producing a luxury catalogue and generally ‘raising her game’.

We were allowed to handle some of her artwork and samples, which brought home the highly textured nature of the work.


What can I learn from this artist?

This was a timely example of how wonderful textiles can be created or altered, and will feed into my experimental approach to creating textiles on Part 5 of the course. Jilli’s playful, colourful, ‘anything goes’ approach was very refreshing, as was her persistence with pieces that aren’t quite working, but can be altered and re-formed by changing the format or colour palette, for example.



http://www.jeanmuir.info/pages/secret_life.shtml Accessed 12/05/17

https://www.jilliblackwood.com/ Accessed 12/05/17

http://www.kemtex.co.uk/ Accessed 12/05/17

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/m/men-in-skirts/ Accessed 12/05/17

Contemporary Embroidery

Following Rebecca Fairley’s useful article on the OCA website, I thought I would take another look at the way in which contemporary artists using embroidery are pushing the boundaries of this traditional technique.

Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė is a Lithuanian artist, originally working with feathers, she later turned her attention to cross-stitch embroidery. But instead of adorning household goods such as table cloths, she uses metal and household utensils as her ground. The artist states that her use of traditionally masculine surfaces neutralises the cosy/kitsch effect of this traditionally feminine and domestic craft. She also mentions in her artist statement, that the monotonous activity of sewing can give a feeling of safety and meditation in times of stress (such as war). She comments on the fact that women from all sorts of backgrounds will end up making the same objects when they are copied from magazine patterns. I feel that this is rather a harsh judgement of people’s creativity, as the same pattern may be personalised, have improvisations added, such as colour changes, choice of ground, etc. Also each hand that works a standard pattern will leave their own unique mark in the stitching (tension/care taken/size of stitch, etc). However, she says that this is a form of common communication leading to the creation of a cosy atmosphere and sense of security. Severija notices the same approach in restaurants and other public buildings where antique tools and utensils are displayed (much like traditional pubs in this country). She sees her work as an ironic comment on this practice, by adorning unusual objects with ‘kitsch’ embroidery, she turns them into contemporary art to be displayed in galleries.


Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė, A Path Strewn With Roses (1 of 13 pieces), 2009

Source:- http://www.art-cart.eu/en/artworks/a-path-strewn-with-roses-1/927

Another connection is made between her roses embroidered onto car parts, with car crashes and the plastic flowers left at the roadside as memorials to the dead.
Her Sunflowers collection utilises recycled, rusted and distressed metalwork, embroidered and re-made into lampshades – a reminder of the flowers’ need for light, but with a wabi-sabi-like touch of melancholy at the transience of objects (and people?) and of time passing.

Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė, Sunflower, 2010. Metal parts, cotton, wire, bulb. Cross-stitch, drilling, welding. 168 x 43  x 43 cm. Photo by Liudas Masys.

Source:- http://www.severija.lt/en/ce/saulegraza/

Severija also unrips embroidery from its installation on gallery walls leaving “a plane for other works and an empty space.” Perhaps linking to a need to tear down the art that is ‘the establishment’ and create new, innovative works in its place?

What can I learn from this artist?
To make or find connections between my work and issues in the wider world, ie, to give the work meaning. To use unconventional materials mixed with traditional techniques. To exaggerate scale.

Jilli Blackwood is a Scottish artist, famous for her ‘slash and show’ textiles (a combination of hand dyeing, layering, cutting, pleating, sewn and embroidered by hand and machine). The textiles may be for clothing or wall hangings and interior decor. Digital reproductions of the handmade textiles are also used for garments and soft furnishings.

Jilli Blackwood, kilted skirt called ‘Tilda’, 2010

Source:- https://www.jilliblackwood.com/projects-meet-your-maker.html

Jilli’s work has graced Heathrow Airport during the 2015 ‘Made In Scotland’ week in the form of sashes, billboards etc., and the Team Scotland parade at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The uniforms of kilts or sashes in vivid autumnal shades, paired with shirts for the men and dresses for the women, in bright sea blue, were not praised by everyone, as one might have imagined. However, the artist was happy to have the designs labelled as ‘controversial’. I agree with her, that to ‘break the mould’ is always going to upset traditionalists, but life would be very dull if nothing ever changed in the art world.

Her ongoing series of embroidered textiles, “The Fabric of My Life”, is a documentation through fabric and stitch, of the artist’s experiences, commissions and memories. She sees the series of works, (from the last 25 years), as a journal of her life, evoking thoughts and feelings as she looks at and touches the textiles. The artist says “Developing the pieces is a reflective process and it gives me the strength to continue.”

This artist’s work is resonant with the colours and textures of the Scottish landscape, influenced by the Scottish colourist painters.

What can I learn from this artist?

To follow my own interests and ideas, yet be informed by the work of other artists, and tradition. To be brave enough to take risks, and push the boundaries of what is expected by and ‘acceptable’ to others.

Kazuhito Takadoi is a Japanese garden designer and artist who has lived and studied in the UK, and USA. His work is inspired by nature, and natural materials are integral to his work, which involves harvesting the plant material, drying it, then weaving, stitching or tying the fibres. Grass and twigs are transformed into dimensional artworks inspired by nature. Shadows and the changes wrought on the artworks by time are also of interest to the artist.


Kazuhito Takadoi, ‘Kyousei 2‘ (Symbiosis 2)

Source:- http://www.thedesignfizz.com/spotlight/2015/8/31/kazuhito-takadoi

The sun, snow, stones, blossom, eyes, fruit, insects and the seasons have all provided this artist with inspiration. The simple beauty of the artist’s work is enhanced by his knowledge and observation of the subjects.

What can I learn from this artist?

Experiment with unusual materials, and be inspired by nature and your surroundings (if that is your passion). Observe, draw and simplify what you want to depict. Consider the effect of light, shadow and time on your work.

I think that Rebecca’s article summary about artist research, and experimentation with the type of surfaces used, where the embroidery can be displayed, what you stitch and the message you convey with the stitch, encapsulates the message that embroidery is a potentially powerful medium.

In my own work, I enjoy using stitch, and in my recent work on Assignment 2, I have tried to convey a message (about the environment) with my art work. To experiment with unusual materials and grounds is an exciting prospect for the future!

Links to my previous research on stitch:-

This article contains my study of the work of artists: Sandra Dufour, Stephanie Tudor, Elena Stonaker, Marie O’Connor and Lauren DiCioccio. I also attended a lecture by an artist who uses embroidery in her work: Alison King. And a study visit to the Making Space Exhibition of the 62 Group of Textile Artists. Some of my early research on drawing touched on the work of Debbie Smyth, Hilary Ellis and other artists.



Harper, J. (2016) ‘Slash and Show: The Controversial Textiles of Jilli Blackwood’, Selvedge (September), pp. 32–35.



Kettle, A. and McKeating, J. (2012) Hand stitch, perspectives: Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. pp200