07 Oct 2019
Daisy Collingridge talks about her quilting art ahead of her exhibition, The House of the Unmade Bed, at The Knitting & Stitching Show.
Your work explores the human body in a distinctive way and has been described as fabric sculpture, wearable art and even performance. Can you tell us more about your inspiration?
My work is always an outcome of experimentation with fabric. It is manipulation of materials rather than concept that drives my work forward. Pushing the technique of quilting to the extreme formed the basis for my affectionately named ‘Squishies’. I am quite an impulsive maker; I don’t spend hours pre-planning and like to dive straight in. I come from a family of doctors, nurses and scientists. I loved biology and PE at school. The human body is fascinating: its ability to heal, to be pushed to physical limits and also to self-destruct. We are all made of the same components, yet as individuals we are all unique. Utterly unique. My work is a study of the human form; they are intended to be full of character life and joy. I affectionately name them my ‘Squishies’ because they are. And I love them.
You’ve said that you have a desire to push the traditional craft of quilting to the extreme and your work truly does that. Do you consider yourself a quilter and to what extent is your technique related to traditional quilting?
I am not sure that I’d label myself as a ‘Quilter’. I have most experience in free machine quilting. However, I need a few more techniques and time on the machine before I can truly label myself a ‘Quilter’. My entire graduate collection was free machine quilted. I love this technique. It’s so satisfying. It’s another way of drawing. Drawing with stitch. I like to explore fabric manipulation; with machine quilting the density of the stitches really changes the behaviour of the fabric. The stiffness, the warmth, the relief are all changes, determined by stitch density.
I spent my final year at Uni experimenting with this. I also introduced stretch fabric, as a way of making the ‘puffs’ more puffy. The technique has further developed. I wanted the ‘puffs’ to be even more ‘puffy’. I still use jersey, but I now hand stitch each ‘puff’ on. A hybrid of stuffed crazy patchwork and Trapunto? ... Except on garments not quilts! In essence, it can still be defined as quilting as it ‘sandwiches two or more layers of fabric using stitch’. It just doesn’t look much like quilting any more.
Can you tell us a little about how you make your work? How long typically does it take you to make a piece of work?
I’ve never made a record of how long each piece takes. I did create Burt in six weeks, but I did nothing else but make Burt during that time. It is a painstaking process, but when is sewing ever quick?! The process varies. I’m am not a pre-planner and generally work quite impulsively The first thing I do is decide on the colour palette. I have a ‘dye day’ where I dye the jersey. I will always make the headfirst. As a kid I had a teddy bear making book, this book instructed that you made the head first so the teddy could watch you make the rest of its body. I have continued this practice. Once the head is made, I let this inform me of the character. I may sketch a silhouette or character at this point. All the pieces are all built on trousers/ jackets and tops. I make these base garments first, then begin building the silhouette with layers of wadding first followed by filled pockets and filled stitched ‘patches/ puffs’. There is no real plan to this. I just do what works.
During the process I reference human muscle anatomy diagrams and Puffa jacket construction until I think it looks right. Often I run out of fabric and have to have another dye day (disorganised!). I continue working in this fashion until I have made all the components: Head/Mask, Vest, Jacket, Trousers and Gloves. I work on a mannequin so I can see the form take shape. Throughout the making stage, I will frequently wear the piece so I can check form and movement; just like you would for a couture dress.
You graduated from Central St. Martins in fashion design. What drew you to make textile art and what influence does fashion have on your work?
I thought I had left fashion behind, but the more I reflect on my work, the more I realise it is still rooted in fashion. After all, much of my work is wearable. Underlying each are recognisable garments. I continue to draw upon pattern cutting and sewing techniques that I developed and learnt at Uni. At Uni, we were encouraged to not look at fashion as an influence or inspiration: To find inspiration elsewhere. Fashion is, at its core, about identity as well as the human form. These two threads continue to run throughout my work.
I never went into the fashion industry because from my perspective it seemed that you quickly lost any creative freedom. Fashion is a money-making business with very little room for the creativity that a design degree allows. I love making. The act of making is why I chose the path of an art foundation, and then a degree in design. I didn’t want to give up my favourite part of the creative process; using your hands and seeing a project through from start to finish.
Much of your work is wearable. Can you describe the experience of wearing one of your suits? Does it give you an opportunity to ‘become’ a different person?
Becoming a ‘Squishy’ is an experience. It is both liberating and hard work. You can become someone totally new, yet the physical act of wearing one is exhausting. I suppose its like any kind of mask. You can take on a new personality should you wish.
You follow body builders on Instagram. What is it about that human physicality that interests you?
Human physicality is something that fascinates me. It has endless potential. We are all built with the same components. We are all given one body. We are given some choice of what we do with it and yet so much is out our control. I find it fascinating what people choose to do. Bodybuilding is just one extreme that individuals choose to push their body too.
I also find ultra marathon runners intriguing, although this is more mental adaptation rather than an obvious physical change. As humans we can’t help be interested in the bodies of other humans. I am interested in the control and lack of control we have over our own bodies.
What can visitors to The Knitting & Stitching Show expect from your exhibition, The House of the Unmade Bed?
You can expect to meet my four existing ‘Squishies’ in one place for the very first time. Clive, Burt, Dave and Hillary will all be there.
What projects are you working on currently and what’s next for you after your exhibitions at The Knitting & Stitching Shows this autumn?
I am part of the 62 Group of Textile Artists so I will be making something new for an upcoming exhibition with them. It is time for me to have a play and develop some fresh ideas. I also have an illustration business, which I run alongside the textile art so I had better attend to that!
Daisy Collingridge’s exhibition, The House of the Unmade Bed, is at The Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, London from 10th-13th October 2019 and Harrogate Convention Centre, Harrogate from 28th November-1st December 2019.