This Studio Conversation is really exciting because Jilly Edwards and I have never met, although hopefully that will be remedied in the near future, but I have loved her work for a while and was blown away by her recent book, Joy – Yellow is the New Blue. I think the process and appreciation of tapestry is very current, the recent exhibition in Tate Modern of Bauhaus artist Anni Albers’ work has surely brought the skill to a new audience, and when I asked her, I was delighted when Jilly agreed to chat with me. After her initial training in the University of West England and a further two years in the Tapestry department of Edinburgh College of Art, Jilly taught for many years in HE and FE and her work has been featured in many publications. She has exhibited widely, done several residencies and produced prestigious commissions including work this year for Newnham College, Cambridge. She is one of the UK’s most prolific tapestry weavers and I was interested to hear how she started. Jilly, I’ve read that you caught the weaving bug early. Can you tell me a little about what it was that encouraged you to develop those early interests?
  • I was given a loom at 5 years old I think so I would sit still rather than rush about! My family were all good textile makers, knitters/seamstress/crochet so I needed a skill of my own! I learnt to weave rugs for my dolls house & then a teacher at school found out and she helped me progress as she had done weaving as part of her teacher training.

 I’m always interested to learn how early training, the disciplines and atmosphere of a college department stay with the artist. After your time at what is now the University of the West of England you came up to Edinburgh and studied tapestry at ECAWhat are your memories of your training and has it had a lasting influence on your practice?

  • I didn’t think I’d do Textiles at art school, I’d done sculpture at A’level but one of my tutors at Bristol pushed me to visit the weaving tutor at Bristol because she wove enormous tapestries about the docks using huge ropes that you tie ships with, although very brown she showed me the yarn store of colour & I was hooked, she taught me the basics & introduced me to the artists from Poland & Eastern Europe Magdalena Abacanovitz etc again not my colour choice but the exciting structures were a huge inspiration then. Gradually I reduced the 3d nature of my work and pursued my love of colour. Ten years after I had left Bristol I was living in Yorkshire and it was nearer to Edinburgh! Maureen Hodge & Fiona Mathison were my hero’s, so I rang up one day and asked if I could visit and have a chat with them about where I was going… they organised for me to visit, talk with them and the current students and with their encouragement to return the following September as a ‘special’ student!!! Their conversation to me was ‘we know you can weave but you need to find your own voice’, draw draw draw research read & write!!! I had the best time ever, some tears but 99% of the time it was just heaven, wonderful tutors, wonderful fellow student, wonderful city & surroundings.
I always ask people about their studios so can you tell me about your working space? Do you like to listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts – perhaps you prefer to work in silence?
  •  Being slightly itinerant I’ve had quite a few!!! Some damp, some so tiny I could only walk in the middle!!! But now I have one on the ground floor of our house. It’s in the city of Bristol, so where I went to school & art school, but south of the river, a part of Bristol I rarely visited as a child, but it’s a delightful area full of other artists & studios and lots of industrial & maritime remains.  It’s great to have a designated space that I can work in make a mess & shut the door & leave till the next day. It has a floor to ceiling  glass wall & door at one end so I can do open studios without interfering with the rest of the house.
  • I do listen to the radio but it’s never the same throughout the day, I like Radio 6 Mary Anne Hobbs to get me going & then a bit of Scalia Radio because I like Simon Mayo as he’s interested in other areas of the arts & does great interviews. Mark Kermode & Simon do a great film review on Radio 5. My choice of music is eclectic from classical cello to Helen Grimes to Coldplay! I do listen to Grant Gibson’s podcasts Material Matters really excellent. 
Do you have a daily or regular sketchbook habit to record ideas? 
  • Oh yes it’s like playing the piano if you don’t practice it’s a harder road back!!!  I like to write my thoughts out too mainly rubbish but it’s my rubbish!!!
The materials used in tapestry and the surfaces the process creates are very tactile. I’ve often thought that is the aspect of working with textiles which is so universally appealing but colour is obviously another of your inspirations and you recently published a beautiful book entitled Joy – Yellow is the new Blue. Please tell me a little about the inspiration for Joy.
  • I’d worked with yellow for about four years, Drawing/Weaving as I’d gone out to play after a wonderful touring exhibition from Ruthin Crafts Centre. I needed to get back into new work so I travelled about and it was the time of year when Oil Seed Rape was coming into its own, after two years I went to stay on the Lizard peninsular on a medieval farmstead, I didn’t expect to find any yellow as it was October but after a first night of explosive thunder/lightening & torrential rain I awoke to bright sunshine which was making the yellow lichen walls shimmer! So off I went again looking at yellow & boundaries, the Lizard peninsular is full of ancient walls meandering across fields in a what appears a very haphazard fashion. The exhibition Here &Now was curated by Prof. Lesley Millar & I wanted to produce a large piece of work for the exhibition, so I applied to the Arts Council England for funding to help me have enough concentrated time to be able to weave the piece at the same time I realised that I had so much information about this period of work that it would be good to document it. I’d work with a young design team in Manchester and I asked them to pitch with others to come up with some inventive & humorous way to entice people into the textile art world!!!   They won hands down so with three academic writers/ a collection of other writings about Yellow & all my sketchbooks they set about producing JOY. They asked through social media  what Yellow meant to others, they also took a real of time lapse photos of me weaving & turned it into a flip book. They got the book part stitch bound, in yellow of course!!! And then designed & printed a box container. With an enamel Joy badge too. Also created the typeface. What stars!!! They wanted to show the world what tapestry could be about not just Wooly Pictures as someone once said!
You have created some prestigious commissions including one recently for Newnham College, Cambridge. Do you enjoy working to a commissioner’s brief?
  • It’s not easy but I learnt early on that if the commissioner has chosen you because they like your work, you just have to create ideas that you love as much as they do. I won’t take ‘that’s lovely but could you do it in green? If it’s not what they want then I pass the opportunity on to someone else who may be happy to do that.
When you are not working on commissions what are your main inspirations?      
  • Lines/hedges/walls/colour/texture/going out & about & looking.
Finally, what plans do you have for the next few months?
  • I’ve just spent 5weeks in a studio at the Drawing Project UK Trowbridge in a studio just drawing on a bigger scale, part of the time was also spent on a train, so I used the journey as part of my inspiration, it was such fun hard but great fun!

Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me, Jilly. Tapestry has such an enormous place in historical textiles but artists like yourself, and studios like the Dovecot in Edinburgh, bring a 21st century identity to the skills. I love the range of shades tapestry weaving gives us and I look forward to hearing about future projects. If you would like to find out more about Jilly’s work you can see her website at this link here.


Studio Conversations….Jilly Edwards

4 thoughts on “Studio Conversations….Jilly Edwards

  • 05/12/2019 at 9:03 am

    I enjoyed reading this, Shiela. Food for thought

    • 10/12/2019 at 10:22 am

      Thank you Penny.

  • 07/12/2019 at 12:24 am

    I’ve always loved her work. So nice to read this. Thanks.

    • 10/12/2019 at 10:22 am

      Thank you Liza.

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