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An interview with Nicki Jarvis

DN member Nicki Jarvis is a textile artist and ceramics tutor, based at ‘Oxcombe Pottery’ in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Design-Nation managed to catch up with Nicki and asked her a few questions about her practice and inspirations.

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

Nicki answered: My working practice spans almost three decades, but it has always been an on-off relationship as I have also been a museum and gallery curator, arts development officer, events organiser and now teach ceramics part-time at Oxcombe Pottery in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

I work with ceramics and textiles, mostly creating wall-based textile work but also now beginning to explore small scale ceramic objects such as buttons. I produce screen-printed fabrics (at Leicester Print Workshop) and combine these with recycled vintage cotton and linen to make pieces which reflect traditional domestic textile techniques of patchwork, quilting and darning. These items are then reinforced with ceramic buttons.

D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

N.J: The people who have had most influence on me don’t actually know I exist, but their approach to work has acted like a mantra for me to just keep going. Probably in the early 1990s I came across an interview with contemporary quilt maker Pauline Burbidge where she described the necessity of combining decently-paid work with creativity. This inspired me to become a museum curator after my ceramics degree and although I wasn’t very good at only working part-time, my experience with collections, archaeology and interpretation, has become a strong inspiration. More recently I discovered the US textile artist Lisa Call, whose day job as a software engineer was combined not only with a superhuman work ethic but also a diligently-maintained blog about her work and thought processes. I also really value Ruth Singer’s type of creativity, which seems edgy, robust (in an intellectual sense) and thoughtful, just as I would like my work to be.

D-N: What inspires you and your work?

N.J: I think that inspiration for my work is essentially rooted in Rozsika Parker’s book ‘The Subversive Stitch’ (originally published 1984) which makes connections between the act of textile-based creativity and the lived experience of women. The themes I explore in my work include domestic hardship and ‘making do’, the quiet beauty of functional buildings such as brick-built barns, and a celebration of the dogged determination to make the best of circumstances.

A recurrent theme is the building tie, which appears as a cross-shape in my work. I’m inspired by the connection between these metal ‘stitches’ which keep old buildings from falling apart and quilting techniques which keep layers of fabric together. I see these crosses, which float across the surface of my work, as metaphors for strength in adversity.

D-N: Can you tell us a bit about your design process?

N.J: I’m an information gatherer, in the form of photographs of rural buildings and patterns found in the landscape, but also in terms of sketching objects, often historic textiles, which inspire me. I do a huge amount of writing, spread across various notebooks, working through ideas and noting ideas for new pieces. Because my work is very slow, mostly hand-stitched and my buttons hand-shaped, I find that I tend to work in series, with new items emerging out of the thought-processes that take place whilst making. I’m a great adherent of the idea that the activity of making is a dynamic contributor to future inspiration. It seems to work for me!

D-N: What is your workspace like?

N.J: I’m really lucky that I have three workspaces! I have a generous-sized room at Oxcombe Farm, at the end of the granary and stable block, which is great in the summer months for making textile work. I also use the pottery at Oxcombe when it isn’t in use for classes, through the generosity of the owner Susanna Gorst. At home I have a small room, probably once a servant’s bedroom in my small Victorian terraced house, which feels appropriate. Actually, at the moment, I think half of the house is cluttered with my work and materials, luckily I have a very accommodating family.

D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do you work with others on marketing?

N.J: I hardly work at all on PR, a complete failure on my part. I have a simple website and a wordpress blog, which I use as a scrapbook for images and ideas, but not often enough. I also have an instagram account @jarvisnicki which I dip in and out of. I confess that a lot of the ‘look at me’ sharing on social media makes my toes curl and I haven’t worked out how to properly participate in that world without feeling a bit fake. All suggestions warmly welcomed.

D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?

N.J: Ha! My main challenge is forming an audience for my work and finding outlets to display my textiles. Perhaps I should join the dots (see above!) A number of galleries simply don’t display textiles which narrows the field, but I am selling buttons in some good places: Bluecoat Gallery, Harley Gallery and NCCD and will be approaching more in 2019.

I recently participated in the Welbeck Winter Weekend, my first selling market. This was massive fun and has given me lots of ideas for making work that might be suitable for ad hoc purchasing. At the same time, I’m really keen to expand my textile practice and scale up my work to create impactful pieces, so balancing these two approaches will be a new challenge.

D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

N.J: My aspiration is to make strong, socially-relevant artworks and over the next decade I hope to make connections which lead to my work being shown in galleries and spaces around the UK and even further afield. I’m really lucky that I love my work-work combination of teaching at Oxcombe Pottery and spending three days a week on my own creativity, so if I’m still doing that in ten years time it will be a win!

D-N: If you could collaborate with someone who would you like that to be?

N.J: Not so much a person as a nation! I would really like to form connections with makers working in other countries to develop joint projects which explore shared themes and resonances. I think this would be hugely enriching in terms of broadening one’s outlook, developing skills and potentially developing audiences.

I would also like to find a metalsmith / jeweller interested in collaborating to make new work which incorporates glazed and hand-painted stoneware ceramic. I would love to move forward from buttons into making brooches, rings, neck pieces and earrings, but I don’t have any of the hand-skills to make that happen.

D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you be?

N.J: I think that socially-engaged creative practice has got real potential for supporting individuals and communities to find personal inspiration and confidence. I have been fortunate to work with marginalised groups from time to time, developing projects which put their creativity centre-stage. This is definitely the career direction I would hope to develop if I wasn’t pursuing my first love of making, and if I can find enough hours in the day I’d love to take on some more work like this.

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

N.J: As an arts officer I had been aware of Design Factory and then Design Nation, but it was Hayley Banks who suggested I apply. This is my first year of membership and already I have really benefited: I was invited to exhibit in Gloucestershire as part of Rodmarton Reimagined, in an Arts & Crafts manor house; I have participated in a group session with like-minded creatives; and have been alerted to events and opportunities, leading to me exhibiting at Welbeck Winter Weekend and Gifted 2018. As a rurally-based artist it is easy to be fairly isolated, I find the contact with D-N really supportive as well as helping widen my awareness of opportunities.

D-N: Have you got any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that you are taking part in?

N.J: After a fairly busy year in 2018, with workshops, events and exhibitions as well as my regular teaching and a residency at the North Sea Observatory, I am looking forward to some quiet developmental time in the first part of 2019. I’m aiming to apply for some end of year selling events again, and want to develop some new product ranges based on what I’ve learned this year.


Nicki Jarvis will be at ‘Gifted’ a contemporary Christmas Craft Market at the NCCD,

Sleaford. 8-9 Dec.



Interview by Laura Jacometti

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Clare Edwards


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