Making Vessels


by Gillian Royal

Throughout my adult life, I have collected ceramics, figures, pots and plates and I have a passion for vessels which has often been influenced by travel or culture. However my love of textiles has lead me to experiment with wool.

My felt vessels are thought to look like ceramics but on closer inspection are not hard, heavy and solid. They are soft, light and almost weightless. Unlike ceramics or glass they are not breakable, they can be crushed almost flat and bounce back to their original form. The feeling I have when holding felt vessels is very important, they seem fragile but are soft, warm and yielding, properties which make felt attractive for me.

The process of making my fine felt vessels and pods must not be rushed, it starts slowly with every fibre carefully put in place. The fibres are gently massaged with warm soapy water, almost like stroking a cat. The pressure is increased slowly, until the fibres,  seemingly, starts to melt together, as this happens the fibres become entwined creating the form of the vessels or pods which are soft and pleasing to touch.

The making of the vessels is therapeutic almost cathartic, the repetitive actions of   layering and massaging the fibres is certainly calming. I have found I retreat to the comfort of felt making during times in my life of difficulty and believe it is be the key to the practice. I have a feeling that in some way the emotions seem to transfer to the vessels and then to the audience. The tactile quality of the vessels engender a response, it seems that these feelings could be a metaphor for a human condition, the need for safety and reassurance conveyed in a subconscious way.


by Sarah Elwick

For my handling collection piece, I have been knee deep in research into Paisley patterns. These traditional shawls were very popular in the Georgian Era, are absolutely awe inspiring in terms of the complexity of the patterning and colour balance they achieved, often using very unusual and unexpected colour combinations. Although traditionally these would have been woven garments, I have explored how I can re-interpret these ideas in terms of knit structures, and also in combination with different printing techniques. Ways of printing on knitted fabrics was something I investigated during both my BA and my MA, and it has been brilliant to return to this way of working.

Shawl in progress on the Dubied knitting machine

Cutting the shawl off the comb

Colour testing in the dye lab for printing

On the heatpress

I have been very lucky to have the help of Jane Smith, the brilliant print technician at Winchester School of Art, whose knowledge of printing processes, and advice on how different fibres will potentially react to different processes, has been invaluable. I feel like I have only just scratched the surface here of what I want to achieve, but this process has enabled me to kickstart a whole new avenue of creative exploration.

Fine Dining…


by Heidi Parsons

Mrs Soanes’ accounts for Pitzhanger Manor in 1804/5 show the first item of expenditure to be a Spode dinner service. Tables were laid in precise symmetrical arrangements, something I wish to echo in the display of my new wall pieces being developed for the show.

Using both the history of fine ceramics used by the Soanes and accumulations of texture and image from my own collections I will be exploring and re-interpreting pattern and image with clay print. Referencing decorative plasterwork from both vintage dinnerware moulds and the PM interior I will be developing a new series of screen printed wall pieces.

First mouldings…

by Stella Harding

John Soane’s life coincided with the Romantic era – a time of social divisions and contrasting aesthetics when Enlightenment rationality was being challenged by Romantic ideals of intuition, dark emotion and Sublime aspects of nature.

Rooms in Pitzhanger Manor and the Soane Museum are designated the Monk’s Dining Room and the Monk’s Parlour respectively. Why a Monk? Could there be any connection with one of the most popular novels of the Romantic period? ‘The Monk’ by Matthew Lewis, a Gothic tale of murder, depravity and supernatural forces, inspired Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ in which a monster is created from fragmented body parts. Jo Lovelock discovered that Soane had an alter ego – a monk named Padre Giovanni (Father John) whose ghost supposedly haunts the parlour.

Lace Painting

Desire Lines

I’m making two works for the exhibition. One is a large-scale piece for the gallery expressing light, space and gestural movement. I’ve stencilled one set of white willow rods through lace, a bridal veil perhaps? Another set I’ve sprayed black. The two will be connected by long, red lines of painted willow – Desire Lines. These are the pathways we create ourselves to reach our desired destination rather than following prescribed routes.

Ceramic letters by Rosanna Martin

The other work is a collection of small pieces which together comprise a Cabinet of Curiosities. Some of them employ a spiral plait often associated with corn dollies. Corn dollies, the name is thought to be a corruption of corn idol, are shrouded in folk mythology. One is that the dollies were made as a winter refuge for the spirit of the harvest goddess – often represented as a beautiful bride who would be returned to the fields in Spring to ensure a good harvest. An Irish myth tells of the dolly as a trap for the Hag – a malevolent spirit in the guise of a barren old crone who must be contained to protect the crop from blight. Rosanna Martin is making some ceramic letters for me which I will trap inside basketry forms.

Hag Stones

In another myth the Bride and the Hag are two aspects of the same spirit; one representing life and creation the other death and decay.

I have a collection of Hag Stones picked up from pebble beaches. These are stones with naturally occurring holes right through them. It was believed that the holes were made by serpents and that these stones guarded against a distressing kind of nightmare which gave rise to the phrase hag-ridden. Such nightmares are now thought to be caused by a fairly commonly occurring neurological condition known as sleep-paralysis in which one is trapped in a liminal state between sleep and waking. I once experienced sleep-paralysis.

Dipping Spiral Plait in Slip with help from Robert Cooper

Porcelain Hag Stone

I’ve been experimenting with turning my baskets to stone by dipping them in porcelain slip. One showed a resemblance to a fragment from a ceramic figurine – a line of making being explored by Lucy Harvey.

Figurine fragment showing an 18th Century sleeve

Our makings are becoming connected in curious ways.

by Emma Yeo

working progress...



by Ros Millar

With Identity being the key factor driving the collection and metal teeth used to represent this I start to develop experiments and carefully selecting materials and transforming them to create new forms.  Using materials such as copper, bronze, sponge, rafia and rope I then begin to manipulate them using traditional jewellery handcrafting techniques as well as simple techniques such as cutting, knotting, dying, twisting, sewing and painting.

Me, Myself, Eye


by Claire Baker
Urns under constructionclassical imageryClassical imageryThe Madonna inspirationpreliminary sketchespreliminary sketchespreliminary sketchesPreliminary sketch book

Above are my initial drawings for the Triptych of urns inspired by the urns at The John Soanes Museum in London. This triptych is a portrait of myself, Spring, Summer & Autumn. Each piece I make is fired 5 times layering with slips, glazes and oxides. I have taken inspiration from the Georgian obsession with collecting and the age of enlightenment, from shells, crystals and insects to body parts and ritualistic paraphernalia.

By Stella Harding

Display cabinet in the George Dance Drawing Room at PMH

Part of my original proposal for this exhibition was to create a Cabinet of Curiosities in one of the period display cabinets in the George Dance Drawing Room.  Sir John Soane’s museum in Lincoln’s Inn Field has been described as a cabinet of curiosities expanded to fill a whole house.  The series of interconnected rooms take one on a spiralling journey of wonder through which one gains oblique glimpses of the character of this idiosyncratic and darkly obsessive collector.

Cabinets of Curiosity, or cabinets of wonder as they were also known, originated in the 17th century when the term cabinet referred to a room rather than piece of furniture.  They were the private collections of rich individuals and typically contained extraordinary examples of natural and handmade objects, antiquities and works of art grouped according to the personal and often idiosyncratic classification systems of the owner.   Their purpose was to evoke a sense of awe and curiosity in the viewer whilst also making connections between the natural world and diverse fields of human knowledge.  Many were dismantled in the 18th century when Soane was amassing his collections and assimilated into public collections as precursors to modern museums.

Process 1-5, end spiral plait

Process 3, halfway

Process 4, interior

In a sense, our collective exhibition of ‘portraits in the making’ could be seen as a kind of Cabinet of Curiosities making connections across our different crafts and applied art disciplines.  Likewise, our blog is an innovative form of Cabinet of Curiosities through which we communicate our ‘curious half-formed and extreme ideas’ regarding our inspirations, research developments and  inextricably linked thinking and making processes.

In addition to the large piece I’m making for the gallery I’ve been making a collection of small pieces which explore my own obsession with plaited basketry techniques and my delight in creating curious juxtapositions of natural, processed and recycled materials.   The spiral plait is one technique that I find endlessly fascinating.  Its seeming complexity is based around a simple polygon.  The addition of an extra active weaving element creates the helix so reminiscent of molecular structures, skeletal remains and fossil forms.  The natural transformed into the supra-natural.

Process 5, different stages

Light hearted landscape for bold language and graphic shape to emerge and designated areas.

Plotting graphic areas for text, colour and stories to emerge in a patterned and decorative way.

Designing two layers of warp for double cloth, to intercept at designated points to tell stories and communicate a portrait of my ethos as a designer maker.

Using pattern and colour to navigate a communicative ethos of textiles and graphic forms to tell and hold stories in woven cloth....process of spontaneous design.



Pelisse Please


by Sarah Elwick

I have been busy developing my first piece for this exhibition, based on a traditional silk Pelisse from c.1820 that I saw at the ‘Dress for Excess’ exhibition at the Royal Pavillion in Brighton. The Pelisse was a high-waisted, or ‘Empire line’ full length coat, usually worn by women in the early 19th century. I really love the contoured shaping of the bodice, and the interesting flap detailing along the seams, and want to re-interpret this in a knitted garment.

Gold Silk Pelisse c.1820

Below is an insight into my making process, and how I develop my garment silhouette ideas, and knitted fabrics, based on the original garment.

Silhouette ideas & development

Toile pattern pieces

Knitted fabric development and construction ideas