Introduction on WeAreOCA.com

A blog post introducing myself as a new tutor on the Open College of the Arts blog, WeAreOCA.

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As a new tutor on the Textiles Degree I thought it would be good to introduce myself to you via WeAreOCA. I’ve worked with a number of the OCA tutors at other institutions over the years and having heard about the fantastic ethos of the OCA, I’m excited to be starting as a tutor.

I am a designer maker of knitwear, designing and crafting scarves and shawls in my studio in Sheffield, which are sold under the name cari + carl in craft and design gallery shops and online. Alongside my creative practice, I have lectured in further and higher education for ten years, including on textile design, textile craft and interdisciplinary art and design degree courses, and on an art and design Foundation course, running the Textiles, Fashion and Costume pathway.

I took a traditional route into education through an art and design foundation course and a degree in textiles. After graduating I was offered various lecturing posts which built up to the point where it completely ate up my time to do my own work, so I took a step back and completed a part-time Masters degree, from which emerged my company, cari + carl. A particularly impactful part of my education was the year I studied at the Kuopion Muotoiluakatemia (Kuopio Design Academy) in Finland, where I studied traditional crafts, including felt making, basketry, leather work, bookbinding, alongside knitting, weaving and printing. Learning traditional craft techniques in a more process-led rather than design-led way was really interesting, encouraging me to explore the potential of the technique and allowing that to lead the designing, rather than designing first and making the process fit what I’d planned. As a result I developed a practice that hinged on a more symbiotic relationship between design and process exploration, where sampling, drawing and designing interact more organically. I’ve been excited to see the recent craft revival in Britain reignite an appreciation of the beauty of handcrafted objects and a greater understanding of the value of practical expertise despite the capitalist market that priorities profit, thereby necessitating cheap manufacturing.Studio-x3-for-web

My approach to design is very much exploratory and investigative; I am excited by the way materials, processes and colours interact and the unexpected results that emerge from new pairings. My process is lively and playful yet ordered, logical and systematic. I enjoy using systems to generate unusual outcomes, applying a foreign order or clashing logic to disrupt an inherent structure or system, whether in a process, image or object. Traditional craft techniques and beautiful natural materials continue to fascinate me: my inheritance from the Finnish. My work has always incorporated a range of techniques, exploring how different processes intermingle, challenging the innate structure of both to create something novel and unusual. The interaction of print processes with knitting and weaving, such as devoré with multi-yarn fairisle, formed early explorations through my degree. Focusing in on constructed textile processes as the centre of my investigations enabled me to be more rigorous within this narrower scope, resulting in the cari + carl collections. The fabrics developed for the ‘braid + knot’ collection explored a range of knotting, braiding and weaving techniques within the knitted fabric. The problem I set myself was that the techniques had to be incorporated whilst the fabric was knitted and not added or manipulated afterwards. I believe adding constraints to the design process to narrow the scope of investigation forces me to think laterally, to problem-solve more playfully and to develop results that surprise me. From the ‘braid + knot’ exploration I selected a few fabrics to go into production, which, as the fabrics are time-consuming to make, are all made to order.

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Communities of practice are very important within the creative sphere, from simply sharing, challenging and critiquing our work with others to collaborating and creating new work through this interaction. Within education you have a formal source of feedback from your tutors but sharing with fellow students, friends and strangers through blogs and social media can be enlightening and developmental. I have benefitted over the years from a number of creative groups: my amazing teaching colleagues, inspiring students, my broader network of people with whom I’ve worked and studied, and my peers in the Yorkshire Artspace studios. Whilst sharing can make us feel vulnerable and constructive criticism can pique our confidence, sharing, discussing, debating and engaging is so important to help us develop as critical, authentic, open-minded practitioners. The WeAreOCA blog has given me a good introduction to the courses, the tutors and the ethos of the OCA more broadly, as well as an insight into the students through the comments posted in response to posts, which is why I decided to write this post to introduce myself and get involved. I’m excited to be part of the multidisciplinary community that is the OCA and look forward to working with some of you in the future.

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