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An interview with designer maker Jennifer Collier

Jennifer creates a fantastical world, where every exquisite detail is made and manipulated from paper. Once books, maps, envelops or scrap, the paper is transformed into textural forms. Like cloth it is stitched to construct three dimensional household objects. The origin of the papers provides a starting point: the narrative of the books and papers suggesting idea and form. Design-Nation asked her a few questions about her practice, inspiration and future.

Design-Nation asked: Can you tell us about your practice and how your business began?

Jennifer Collier: I create exquisite sculptures from vintage recycled materials in conjunction with stitch; a contemporary twist on traditional textiles. The papers serve as both the inspiration and the media for the work, with the narrative suggesting the forms. Through this marriage of unlikely materials old papers are transformed into something truly unique, delicate and complex.
Most recently I have been collecting rarely used, heritage stitches and discovering how to translate the art of lost stitches onto paper, as these techniques are an important part of our creative heritage and I want to continue to invest time in them to keep them in the present, offering them onto future generations; giving new life to things that would otherwise go unused, unloved or be thrown away…
I originally trained in textiles completing a BA (hons) Textiles, at Manchester Metropolitan University, in 1999. This was a traditional textiles course specialising in Print, Knit and Weave. Toward the end of the course I started experimenting with different materials, weaving with orange peel, melting fruit bags; all manner of things my tutors did not approve of. I honestly believe the best way to learn is by not being afraid to make mistakes, this way you allow yourself to have happy accidents. All of the techniques I use in my work now are things I have taught myself since graduating by experimenting with different media and techniques.

My course was geared towards preparing it students for industry, but I realised fairly early on this wasn’t what I wanted to do, and that I wanted to make every piece with my own hands. So when I graduated I applied for residencies and my first one was at a gallery in Northwich. This threw me into making and selling my own work and undertaking art workshops, which was perfect at this transitional stage in my career. The next residency I did was at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester (where my work is STILL on display 13 years after finishing!), as part of the North West Arts Boards ‘Setting Up Scheme’. This gave me a free studio, as well as a maintenance and equipment grants, so I had money and time to set up by business when I was starting out.

DN: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

JC: Renowned textile artist Amanda Clayton was my tutor on my foundation course; I honestly believe that if it were not for her I would never have developed a love for stitch (or be brave enough to ‘drive’ a sewing machine). Until that point I had assumed I would be a fine artist, as all my A-level course had offered was drawing and painting, but luckily I met Mandy and she showed me the many facets of what textiles could be and she was always very patient, no matter how many needles I snapped!

DN: What inspires you and your work?

JC: The papers themselves are my main inspiration; for years I was always trying to emulate the qualities of papers, and it got to the point where it just made sense for them to become the material for my work as well as the inspiration for it. The papers determine what they will be transformed into, such as a paper sewing machine out of dress making patterns, or a camera out of vintage photographs. My practice focuses on creating work from paper; I produce unusual paper ‘fabrics’, which are used to explore the ‘remaking’ of household objects. I enjoy nothing more than finding a cook book splattered with food stains or a water damaged paperback that I can save from land fill and transform into something beautiful.

DN: Can you tell us a bit about your design process?

JC: I will find the papers then find a way in which they can be transformed and given new life. Sometimes I may have the papers for years before I am brave enough to use them, or have decided their function. The papers are treated as if cloth, with the main technique employed being stitch; a contemporary twist on traditional textiles. My way of working is essentially still based on the processes of my past work and my textiles training- making a pattern, producing a toile to check the pattern or template ‘works’ and then creating the ‘real’ piece of work from beautiful found and recycled papers. In layman’s terms it is a bit like then you draw the net of a box from scratch, cut it out, fold and construct it; but mine are just much more complicated shapes….

DN: What is your workspace like?

JC: I work from my own gallery and workshop space, Unit Twelve (, which I set up in 2010. Unit Twelve hosts a regularly changing programme of themed, high quality contemporary craft exhibitions. We also have a rolling programme of art workshops run by myself, and once a month we host a visiting artist’s workshop, from one of the exhibiting artists to tie into the exhibition. We are also offer group bookings, private parties and host about one school artwork per week. The space also has 6 artists studio spaces, which is where I work from, along with 5 other craft makers. The gallery is open Thurs-Sat, 10-4pm, but I tend to be their everyday.

DN: Do you work hard on your PR or do you work with others on marketing?

JC: I do work hard on publicity, and have to do this for my own practice and Unit Twelve, so am currently managing 6 different social media accounts! I chose to this myself as this is an aspect I enjoy and have found I am good at. I have been fortunate with my PR over the years and have had my work in over 60 periodicals and 15 books to date!

DN: What are the main challenges in your practice?

JC: Time! As I have a ‘portfolio career’, juggling commissions, art workshops, residencies exhibitions and craft fairs, as well as scheduling and curating exhibitions at my gallery, Unit Twelve, managing the workshop programme, and contracting artists, being both the land lord and staff at the gallery is a lot for one person to do. I would love to have more time to create new work, but I have so many constraints on my time I have to focus on which is most pressing at the time, and obviously what generates income!

DN: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

JC: That is an extremely hard question, as on paper I am actually doing everything I have ever dreamed of- I have a sustainable, viable business, creating bespoke, one off pieces, I am able to be choosy as to what projects I take on, and I have my own gallery and art workshop space where people can come to me to undertake art workshops, as well as created a vibrate artists community to base my studio at …

I would love to continue to work on bigger and more adventurous National Trust projects, and many more site specific commissions. I love working with paper archives, so hope to continue with this line of work.

DN: If you could collaborate with someone who would you like that to be?

JC: I have a few things in the pipeline, but it is too early to say anything about them other than watch this space…..

DN: If you weren’t a designer what would you be?

JC: NO idea!

DN: Why did you join Design Nation? What do you enjoy and find helpful from being a member?

JC: To be part of a recognised organisation and to have a peer support network

DN: Are there any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up or that you are currently taking part in?

JC: I have a solo exhibition opening at Focus Gallery in Nottingham that I won in the Design Factory Awards, which runs 2nd March- 14th April 2018.

I have just installed a public art commission at Packwood House in Solihull, where I have created 30+ WW1 Observation Balloons from WW1 diary pages from this National Trust Properties owner. This will be on public display until Christmas.

I am also currently undertaking a public art commission for the Scribblers Children’s Literature and Arts Festival, in Western Australia, where I am making a paper typewriter from newspapers provided by the events sponsors.

Interview by Rhea Clements

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