When we discovered Jilli Blackwood some years ago, we were mesmerised by her bespoke embroidered and woven ‘art to wear’ clothes and textile wall hangings. Jilli is now an internationally renowned textile artist and designer based in Scotland. The creation of each commission is an intensely personal journey which always begins with the hand dyeing of fabrics, principally silk, but also wool, cotton and leather. Join us as we ‘ Meet The Maker’ and have a chat with Jilli Blackwood…
How do you begin a new design?
Creativity to me means ‘imagination’. Whatever you can imagine, can exist. The only thing holding you back is your imagination. So for me, creativity is about just going for it and working intuitively, letting my mind wander. I developed a new technique some time ago and even named it; it’s called ‘unembroidering’. This is an important part of my whole process of creation. When some aspect of an embroidery just isn’t working, I begin ‘unembroidering’. The process of working backwards, removing what I have created turns my thinking in another direction. By the time this work is done, I know the way forward.
What is your source of inspiration?
I am fascinated by colour. Throughout my career, I have always hand dyed the natural fabrics and yarns I use in my work. This is the starting point for everything I create. At this point, I begin to build a relationship with the work. This stage instils confidence within me for what I am trying to achieve. If I can get the colours just right, the work will flow by itself. Where do my colour combinations come from? Sometimes it is simply discarded fabric tangled up in a bundle in the studio. The sunlight travels across it and highlights a new colour combination, this is the process of happenstance.
What is a day in your life like at home in Glasgow?
I enjoy the silence in my studio in the mornings. Quietly, I consider yesterday’s progress before the city wakes up. I practise yoga every morning. I do this to maintain my posture and to counteract the bent posture and uncurl my spine after the hours spent leaning over a piece of work. Yoga and meditation support my concentration levels which helps me to work and create for longer.
In the studio, I am working across a number of projects at once. I am working on an ‘art to wear’ project for a private client, and developing a new collection of fabrics whilst working on a site specific interior project where I am creating the accent notes for a room. Then, of course, there is my own work where the magic happens. These works of art inform and influence new collections that come after.
Can you share any pivotal moments that have shaped your career?
Meeting Miss Jean Muir in 1985 whilst still a student at The Glasgow School of Art was a pivotal moment. We met in her Bruton Street Showroom and I had the opportunity to show her some examples of my work. Miss Muir homed in on a small section at the end of a sample and announced, “I would like to see this in a metre square, eemmh!”. Well, that was it for me! I couldn’t wait to get back to the art school to get into the dye area to create the colours and work up this piece of embroidered fabric. As soon as I had it in my hands, I could see exactly what Miss Muir was envisioning. She set me on my path.
Do you have a favourite piece of work?
My favourite is always the art or textile collection I am involved with at that moment. But I think what is so favourable about the medium of textile art, is its strength to cross the boundary between art and design. My chameleon attitude to creating really does this.
The versatility of my creative output extends to designing the Parade Uniforms for the Scottish Team at the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, as well as creating large scale textile artworks. For public buildings, designing the Heathrow Airport tartan to highlight the important role in innovation that the Scottish inventors brought to aviation, then flipping to work with a private client on a piece of ‘art to wear’ which is an intimate process. These are a few of my favourite things.
What are your ambitions for the future?
One of my visions which grew during the lockdowns, is to bring a visual voice to the societal issue of emotional domestic abuse and coercive control. I have a strong idea which I have been developing over the last two years and at present, I am raising awareness for the project. I realise this plan requires collaboration with many groups, individuals, and bodies with fields of influence. No matter how small or great a project may be, I bring my courage and every ounce of my being to make it a success.