SET tutors had the pleasure recently of a workshop making stitch sketchbooks with James Hunting at St Andrews and he took time for a chat over a cup of coffee to talk about his work and experience.

Q James, many people will know you from your time as Embroiderers’ Guild Scholar in 2006 but can you tell us about your early influences?

A. Prior to my university education I did not follow a family inclination to textiles or sewing, although I am a product of “amuse yourself, make it yourself, and no tv” . I’m sure that has helped. Also I have cooked since the age of 6 ( brandy snaps ) and I think this gave me the passion for detail and time.

 

Q where did you train, what did you study and how has your work developed over the years?

A. I followed the classic route of Art foundation ( highly recommended) and then a three year degree at Goldsmiths College, graduating in the 1980’s. I was on the textile degree, and had some of the enduring names in embroidery as my tutors, although at that point my work was more screen print, with very little actual embroidery. Since graduating I earned my living as an embroiderer, and this is the period in which I developed both my technical abilities and my own visual language in stitch, that continues to mature. Recently, during my MA studies I am returning to the use of print in my work.

 

Q did you enjoy your time as EG Scholar?

A. Without exaggerating, the period of ‘Scholar’ changed my life. I reassessed the importance of stitch as my visual language and how much it matters to me to teach, interact with other practitioners, and the need to further a personal investigation into my creative output.

 

Q you have worked for many years in the world of couturier fashion and you teach how do you balance the two?

A. Need and necessity , also to me I am clear that in the couture jobs I am using my skill and technical ability while in my work I am using my ‘soul’ and personal involvement with the process.

 

 

Q you speak of your ‘passion’ for hand stitch, what is it about hand stitch that so appeals to you?

A. The rhythm, the time spent and the relationship I construct whilst engaging in stitch.

 

Q you talk about the gesture of stitch - can you explain a little of what you mean by that?

A. Using the needle and thread as a tool to make the marks the I desire whilst utilizing the technical knowledge I have, there is a rhythm that begins and develops whilst using stitch that is involved in the physical gesture.

 

Q which artists or textile artists do you most admire?

A. Too many and too numerous and diverse to mention, however I tend to respect those who work with serious intent and an intelligent approach, in all their chosen disciplines.

 

 


Q you have recently joined the PSG, what benefit do you think we gain working within the structure of a group as opposed to independently?

A. The existence as a textile artist can be isolating and lonely, it is important to share and to use the abilities of others to identify and develop our own creative language. It is easy to slip into our comfort zones without questioning and examining our own output and my role as a tutor to many workshops, which is shared by the other members of the PSG, means that we can share the need to resource and develop ourselves together.

Q how do you feel about the absence of embroidery and stitch being taught in the colleges and how do you think the art of stitch will endure?

A. I deplore the emphasis which is placed on the use of machine embroidery to the exclusion of hand work. I feel that many establishments believe that hand work has too many rules and is too time consuming. It is time to change attitudes to stitch and see it as a medium for self expression like any other tool. Hopefully there will be a place for hand embroidery in the future but who knows.

Q what are you presently working on and what plans have you for the next few years?

A. I am half way through my MA studies at the University of Cumbria , where I am looking into the ‘tyranny of technique’ that I encounter frequently at workshops I teach around the UK (and internationally too) and also ways of using my work to enable others to develop their own language, I am looking to find a more static employment in education as I miss the continuity of seeing the same students and their developments, whilst, of course producing my own work and taking on visiting teaching when appealing in their nature!

 

Thank you very much, James