Interview with Embroidery Artist Kate Rolison

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I’m delighted to welcome to The Breathing Ghosts Series Blog, the wonderfully talented feminist embroidery artist, Kate Rolison. Without further ado, here is the official interview (plus images of her amazing work- courtesy of Kate!)

1. For those who may not be familiar with your work, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work:

I’m an East London based hand embroidery artist and writer, who stitches her poems rather than writing or typing them.

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2. Your embroidery is inspired by your own poetry, is it inspired by any other types of literature, or works in particular?

A body of work I completed over the summer was Milk Thistle: a hand embroidered book focussing on sickness (and sickliness) and recovery, the subdued gloom of the English national psyche, weeds, delicate flowers, frailty, vulnerability, stereotypes of femininity, and thorns amongst the roses. With the book I was really playing around with representations of women in Romantic and pre-20th Century literature, with Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Keats’s Ode on Melancholy, and The Yellow Wallpaper all being quoted or referenced in pockets and text on the book’s pages.

Celia Johnson blackwork(Image is an embroidered version of Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter)

The 1945 film Brief Encounter is another work I reference time and again in my embroidery and writing. Back to the subdued gloom of the English national psyche again…

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3. You and I are both active feminists (hurrah!) How do you think your work relates to the current feminist movement (if at all,) and if so, why do you think this is important?

A lot of my work looks back at women’s struggle for equality and emancipation over the centuries, and I like to think of my chosen medium, embroidery, as linking me with a long lineage of skilled craftswomen whose work did not receive the recognition it deserved during their lifetimes. Art by women has long been devalued and placed firmly in the camp of craft, differentiating it from “masculine” high art, so it’s important to honour the work of our foremothers. I often stitch on hand embroidered household linens, and I think of this as a collaboration with needlewomen of the past.

Humour is an important ingredient in my embroideries and lino prints, and I stitch or print playful pop feminist statements such as “Thunder Thighs Are Go” or “Radical Ma’am”, which go down quite well with young(er) feminists on Tumblr and Instagram!

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4. What helps you with your creative process?

I grew up splashing in streams and climbing trees in Epping Forest, making bonfires and dens in the Scottish Highlands, and I always feel inspired after or during being in nature.

Obviously hand embroidery is a very time-consuming medium, so having plenty of quality boxsets or Northern Soul playlists on hand to help me power through is a must!

I scribble all my ideas down in notebooks, and have a dedicated notebook for each large project I embark on; I’m about to start writing in a wonderful cosmos-themed notebook I picked up at the London Art Book Fair.

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The project which will fill its pages is both a slight departure from what I’ve been working on recently and a return to some of the work I made during my degree. It will comprise a sound piece and embroideries (although I’m not sure in what format yet) on the true story of a young woman who became almost dangerously obsessed with the patterns of the universe in the mid 1800s.

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5. Do you have any future projects in the pipeline?

I guess I just answered that question! Other projects coming up include an ongoing collaboration embroidering garments with text for a fashion and prop stylist, and a publication and exhibition on changing attitudes to needlework as feminist and therapeutic praxis over time… though I’m not sure when I’m going to have time to write it!

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6. And finally…if a bloodthirsty vampire came running towards you, what would you do?

Fling garlic! It goes in everything I cook, so it’s always to hand. I’d consider letting the vampire bite me, but I’m not sure I’d fancy living forever.

Note: all images are courtesy of Kate Rolison

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