From proggy mats to “wall art” – crafty creations past and present are woven into a new exhibition admired by BARBARA HODGSON
FOR generations proggy and clippy mats were a feature of North East homes, though nowadays you’re more likely to see one at Beamish Museum, being hand-made in the traditional way from colourful scraps of material and wool.
Our great-grandmothers would have laughed at the thought of them on display in an art gallery but they are part of our heritage and a deserved focal point of a new multi-media exhibition at the Shipley Art Gallery.
Collected Threads celebrates 35 years of craft collecting by the gallery and sees those cheerful mats share wall space with a wide mix of exhibits that come under the banner of “crafts”.
From practical hand-knitted fishermen’s ganseys to sophisticated machine-embroidered quilts, they represent about 95% of the gallery’s textile collection, shown together for the first time.
Shipley started its collection in 1977, explains curator Sim Panesar as she shows me round the exhibition. “It was pioneering at the time.
“Few museums had craft collections but it was decided they would collect craft because of its regional connections, like with Northumbrian stick-dressing and rag rug-making.
“Textiles were among some of the first pieces to be collected.”
And so we can see a first piece, a quilt by Amy Emms who was born in 1904 and died in 1998 having become synonymous with North Country Quilting. She’d learned her skills as a child while helping her mother at their Sunderland home.
Skills passed down generations are also on show in a set of small hooky and proggy mats and in the ganseys made for fishermen in Amble, Cullercoats and Seahouses. On one of these we can spot a heart and cross knitted into the pattern by a caring wife.
At the other end of the scale from Emms’ made-for-a-bed quilt is the “art quilt”, very much made to hang on a wall.
One of the first, by Pauline Burbridge, who trained as a fashion designer and lives in Allenheads, kept alive the tradition in the 80s, at the same time as rag rugs saw a revival of interest.
Just as knitting has soared in popularity over the past few years, so home crafts are again becoming a familiar pastime, appealing to the “make do and mend” attitude engendered by economic downturn.
Sim hopes visitors will be inspired by what they see. To give them further ideas, the latest in the after-hours Shipley Lates series on Friday brings textile artists to the gallery to share tricks of the trade.
Ali Rhind who has an upholstered chair in the exhibition, will show how to make decorative pieces from wool, while Mandy Pattullo will help turn vintage material into brooches. Materials for the workshops will be provided, but anyone with a worn jumper can bring it along as darning will be on the programme too.
With just a few pieces from the Shipley collection on permanent display in its Designs for Life gallery, this exhibition is an opportunity to explore how craft-making has developed over the years – from hand-made and hand-dyed to machine-stitched, exemplified by the delicate counterpane and pillow shams made by Paddy Killer for Gateshead Garden Festival with a theme of rejuvenation, angels and astronomy.
Jesmond-based Killer, whose designs feature in haute couture, is also represented by a velvet and satin “landscape” based on drawings she made in botanical gardens at Newcastle University, Kew and Edinburgh.
I also like Evangeline Long’s woolly confection representing the Durham landscape.
There are two impressive quilts by the Shipley quilters group, set up at the gallery in 1986, and another by Lynn Setterington called Unsung Heroes and representing the grounds at Belsay.
Over the years Shipley has extended its collection to include glass, wood, metal and ceramics, and now, with about 600 pieces, it is the region’s leading gallery for contemporary craft and design.
Collected Threads: Textiles from the Shipley Collection runs at the gallery on Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, until November 3. The Shipley Lates event runs from 6-10pm on Friday. Tickets (£5) from www.shoptwmuseums.co.uk