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Directory Maker of the Week: Liz Clay

Liz Clay is taking part in Wearable Expressions in Los Angeles until 16 April 2017

Our Directory Maker of the Week, Liz Clay, talks to us about getting into making, what inspires her and her favourite part of the making process

Liz Clay is taking part in Wearable Expressions at Palos Verdes, Los Angeles, until 16 April 2017 and Hanging by a Thread at Heritage Courtyard Studios, Wells, Somerset from 4 - 25 March 2017.

Who or what got you into making?

I have always enjoyed the act of making. As a young child sewing skills were taught to me by my mother. I made my first dress at the age of nine, entrusted with her electric sewing machine and some degree of guidance. I remember being excited by the purr of the motor and the smell of new cotton fabric as I struggled to control the foot control. I still have remnants of the unused fabric and the machine!

I don’t ever remember a time when I haven’t made my own clothes or customised shop bought items. Making my own fabric came much later. 

I have been fortunate to have two careers. Straight from school I studied ‘cello at the Royal College of Music. I became a freelance teacher and performer for many years. Re-location to the west country with our family during the 1990s caused me to reflect on my career as a musician. I loved what I did but a series of happy circumstances inspired me to explore new interests and skills. 

In short, I embarked somewhat naively on a full time BA in Creative Arts simply to engage with and satisfy my curiosity on an area of creativity I had missed out on at school. Music and Art lessons had always been timetabled together during the Friday afternoon slot! Music had always been my first choice. I don’t think I ever experienced art at senior school and consequently for so many years was in complete awe of artists.

And so, with no experience of drawing or foundation and certainly no portfolio to offer, I enrolled and went for interview. Luck was on my side. I was told later that my enthusiasm, optimism and musical ability had convinced the panel to give me an opportunity. I was advised to take life drawing lessons as a matter of urgency! That opportunity was life changing.

Felt making at the time was not encouraged despite my growing curiosity with the medium. Undeterred and self-taught, my degree show revealed my obsession in full glory! Since then my professional career has focused entirely on felt making process and material research of wool.

Tell us a bit about your work

I am primarily a freelance textile designer maker. My studio-based practice creates hand felted textiles for haute couture and one off pieces to commission. I am experimental in my approach with materials and technique and enjoy the challenge of problem solving and finding new opportunities for innovative surface design. Working with haute couture creative teams offers plenty of diversity in pursuit of the unexpected in contemporary practice. I feed from these experiences that can offer new directions for my own work and inspire new methods of practice. My own collections are mostly accessory based designs however commissions include interior pieces, art work and bespoke garment designs.

I teach internationally and exhibit regularly in Britain, Europe, North America, Australia and Japan.

What are your inspirations?

Influences are as diverse as the work that I love to produce. Anything can inspire and lead me towards new beginnings. Working with haute couture is a great stimulus. My extensive resource of samples offers great inspiration time and again. If possible I allow time to play and make mistakes: permission to fail is a valuable part of being creative. A good starting point is usually with the materials. British wool plays a significant role in my designs. I begin by exploring the natural characteristics and response to different techniques, sampling to see what’s possible as things develop and solutions are considered. Despite being labelled a "creative fidget brain" by my husband, I recently conquered a PhD. The extensive research undertaken has been a significant investment of time and knowledge that I am able to use creatively and enjoy sharing.

What is your favourite part of the making process?

There are moments of satisfaction at all stages of the felt making process. Nothing is guaranteed. It’s addictive and that’s what I like. Laying out the dry fibres is a methodical and exacting process, rhythmical and in some ways quite therapeutic. The seductive process of coaxing wet fibres by hand to entangle and become cloth is perhaps the most magical. The visual transformations throughout the process constantly amaze me: raw fleece to cloth in all its stages - smelly, wet, dry, ugly, refined, the journey can never be certain. I suppose the most exciting part is when, after all the experiments and sampling, I hold the finished work in my hand and realise its potential - often accompanied by a sigh of relief!

What are you working on right now?

I have several projects at various stages of development on the go.

For several months I have been researching blends of wool for a specific couture assignment where digital printing applications on hand made felt will be used. Consistency in surface texture is just one crucial element for the printing. Working alongside technicians using sophisticated machinery is both exciting and difficult.

I am finalising a new collection of jewellery inspired accessories aimed at the US market. This is a new departure for my work and one that has been waiting a long time. An exhibition in my home city of Wells begins this week where I shall be showing new textile art and fabrics alongside four fellow textile artists.

Ongoing international teaching schedules complete my diary. In May I will be guest tutor at Oregon College of Art & Craft followed by European destinations both new and familiar.

View Liz Clay's Directory Profile

See Liz's work in Wearable Expressions at Palos Verdes Art Center, Los Angeles, until 16 April 2017 and in Hanging by a Thread at Heritage Courtyard Studios, Wells, Somerset, from 4 - 25 March 2017.

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