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Insights: Nicki Jarvis in residence at Mrs Smith’s Cottage during lockdown

In our latest #DNInsight, textile and ceramic maker Nicki Jarvis talks about the experience of a lockdown residency:

Like everyone, my experience of an approaching lockdown – slowly at first and then with a sudden rush of abandoned workplaces and habitual activities – was deeply disconcerting, and I took a while to find my feet.

Everyone involved with Mrs Smith’s Cottage had been totally focused on the big launch, after six years of closure. The building was almost complete, and plans were being made for a fanfare re-opening in June. I had spent my first year as artist-in-residence immersed in the community, creating friendships and delivering events while the museum was renovated. All of that stopped.

My upside was that I had work to do, creating pieces jointly planned with the interpretation team to add to the Cottage experience. At last I was able to settle down to embroidering text onto a pink cardigan (not a museum piece!) and creating a chair cushion stitched with Hilda Smith’s legendary response to a visitor: “They are all my chairs dear, but you can sit on this one,” with a border design developed from wallpaper fragments found in the Cottage.

Fortuitously, a key project had already started. We needed to replace a fragile hooked rug in Hilda’s bedroom and I had been distributing hessian squares, together with fabric strips and an information sheet. This turned out to be a perfect lockdown activity and we continued to supply packs around Navenby and beyond. Now that the Cottage is finally open I am spending time ‘in residence’ stitching the squares into a big patchwork rug.

Lockdown for all of us was about finding workarounds. The Artists of Navenby group had been invited to create work inspired by the Cottage as it emerged from its wrapping of scaffolding and plastic. We created a photograph resource pack to circulate to members instead. Offering workshops was more of a challenge, and we bravely went digital. Creating You Tube videos and downloadable worksheets I invited people to have a go at making a paper booklet out of a sheet of paper, try darning (using a plastic bottle) and create a patchwork cushion. All from resources you could find in your home. Although there is nothing better than experiencing a creative workshop in person, the upside is that a digital version lasts for (almost) ever! And you can still find me on my sofa, in my Mrs Smith’s pinny, here.

By Nicki Jarvis.

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Clare Edwards


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