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Summer 2002


Jilli Blackwood: Material Matters

Millennium Kilt, 2000; wool tartan, silks, muslins, leather; dyeing, hand and machine embroidery; 22 by 59 inches. Photos: Iain Clark.

"Material Matters," a solo show of Scottish textile designer Jilli Blackwood's embroidery, ran from November 1, 2001, through January 30, 2002, at The Hub, Castlehill, Edinburgh. Blackwood specialized in embroidered and woven textiles at the Glasgow School of Art. Since graduating in 1986, her design work has continued to focus on weaving and em-broidery, creating a vocabulary for herself that is based on both construction and deconstruction. Sewing needle and scissors are used in equal measure, with Blackwood embellishing surfaces with threads and torn fabrics, then snipping and cutting areas away. She explains, "Different textiles take dye differently, cut and fray differently, and absorb light differently. I like to combine these uncertain factors in my work to foil the discipline and rigidity of formal design."

Gamma, 2001; wool and black muslin; machine embroidery; 18 by 17 inches.

Most evocative of these sentiments is Millennium Kilt. A surprisingly large piece measuring 22 by 59 inches, Millennium Kilt is constructed through a mixture of hand and machine embroidery using varying weights of hand-dyed silk. The unravelled and disconnected edges of the torn strips of cloth bring a sense of vitality to the fabric surface that is reminiscent of the garment's movements when worn on the body. Blackwood explains that the design of the piece "fell into place quite naturally" and was completed in 12 weeks spanning the close of the 20th century and the beginning of the new century.

Blackwood's geometric series plays with the optical illusions of cramped and buckled space. Embroidered works such as Gamma present both an optical and structural investigation. Similarly, Rouge deals with depth and space, but in a more limited manner that allows the tactile surface of the snipped and torn fabric to reveal the darkness beneath. While layers of loosely structured tears build in the construction of Rouge, the more figurative bending of space on the two-dimensional plane of cloth in Gamma deflects and bends our

Rouge (detail), 1997; cotton velvet, muslin, silk; machine embroidery; 12 by 12 inches.

sense of volume and space. Circles of Fire, a commissioned piece on loan from London, is an intricate example of three-layer silk machine embroidery that has been hand finished with scissors. The piece incorporates many of Blackwood's techniques: layers of stitch build up the surface and secure strips of torn cloth, which are then trimmed by scissors. Pastel and primary colors are set side by side, peeping through tears and embellishing whimsical organic shapes.

Circles of Life, 2000; silk, muslin, velvet, cotton; dyeing, machine embroidery; 39 by 59 inches.

"Material Matters" offers a bold mixing of materials and techniques. The results offer the viewer surfaces of shifting depths and textures that engage the eye with their balance of playfulness and intricacy.

--Jessica Hemmings

Millennium Kilt is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as part of the "Men in Skirts" exhibition through May 12.

Epsilon, 2001; silk and silk organza; dyeing, machine embroidery; 18 by 17 inches.
Eta, 2001; wool and cotton muslin; dyeing, machine embroidery; 16 by 19 inches.











Jessica Hemmings holds a B.F.A. in textiles from the Rhode Island School of Design and an M.A. in comparative literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh.

This review first appeared in:

Summer 2002

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