On the face of it, the prolonged, patient process of tapestry weaving has little in common with the traditional gentleman’s game of cricket – but West Dorset-based weaver and printmaker Jacy Wall would have us think again.
“I listen to Test Match Special all the time, it’s an absolute inspiration,” she confides. “There you have two teams just going on and you think you know how things are going to turn out; then in a couple of genius strokes the match can change completely and you’re set off on another path.
“I like to feel that in my work, to be open to a moment of improvisation in which everything could change. It takes a great deal of confidence to do that, but there’s no point in denying that part of me.”
Since graduating a BA in Constructed Textiles in 1979, Jacy has concentrated on woven tapestry making and now that work is the subject of The Continuous Thread, a new exhibition opening at The Slade Centre in Gillingham in July in which she’ll show new work alongside pieces made over the last 20 years. Her woven work is largely in natural materials such as wool, cotton, linen and silk and she dyes her own yarn, finding a variety of tones within any one colour.
It’s seen to great effect in The Wall, an early, large scale, 6’ x 8’ piece made to look like a wall of peeling paint with the varying tones of colour delicately merging. Elsewhere, Favourite Frock (2013) is just 4” x 12” and captures a more intricate side to Jacy’s work, demonstrating the patching and stitching that is now such an important part of it.
“I’m not always very good at being precise in weighing out dye so I tend to work a bit like I cook – a little here, a bit more there. I used to beat myself up about these imperfections but I decided to have more confidence and trust in myself and over time I’ve come to embrace it in my practice.
“That’s not to say I can’t be immaculate – you have to know how to do something properly before you can play with it – and I have some pieces I have produced that are very fine and I adore them.”
While founded on the methodical discipline of traditional tapestry-making, Jacy’s work increasingly reflects a less planned approach that is perhaps more painterly in that rather than working from a cartoon image behind her warp she works freehand and will cut things out and attach pieces to her work.
“There’s a terrific freedom in taking a pair of scissors to a piece of work you’ve made and then putting it back together as something else. That has been so liberating and it’s quite subversive to take what we think we know about weaving – that it’s highly skilled and perfect – then cut it up and remake it as something imperfect, but with the skill to make the piece work, hopefully better than before. As with my approach to dyeing it’s not a weakness, it’s my strong point and there’s no point in denying that side to my work.”
This aptitude for mischievous improvisation surfaced during a lengthy period in which Jacy explored various cultural, artistic, philosophical and social aspects of mending. Her two-year project The Nature of Mending was shown at Walford Mill Crafts in Wimborne in 2013 with a follow-up show, Mending Revealed, at Bridport Arts Centre in 2016.
“I wanted to get away from this idea of mending, being all about patching and darning. It’s such a big subject – why is it that as a people, no matter how rich or poor, traditionally we have had this thing about repairing things and extending their useful lives. What is it that made us do this?
“I’m not sure that is as true now as it has been and there’s a lot of work to be done on that. Ultimately though I decided I didn’t want to go down that academic route, but what I took from the mending project was this freedom to cut things up and make new things. The piece in the original Mending show no longer exists because I cut it up and remade it.”
Jacy turned to printmaking in order to create the patterns and textures she was looking for in the fabric. A long-time member of the Fingerprint group of printmakers based at Dove Studios in Butleigh, Somerset, she graduated her MA in Multi-disciplinary Printmaking from UWE Bristol in 2002 and will be showing examples of her print work in the new exhibition.
“My approach to printmaking is rather different to the textiles in that I’m using drawing a lot and resolving ideas and mark-making through a different medium, one in which there are many different techniques to be mastered. This work often feeds into my textiles and, of course, the work in textiles informs the printmaking.
“It’s all about risk-taking, having the confidence to do something and then follow where it takes you. If you only ever stick to the plan you close off so much else.”
Inevitably perhaps, thinking about The Continuous Thread exhibition has enabled Jacy to look at new and existing work with fresh eyes.
“Reaching a mid-point of a working life, keeping a fresh and critical eye on new work becomes increasingly important,” she says. “Confidence and experience are hard won but must never equal complacency. Bringing out so much past work has been a Janus moment for me, looking back and seeing what worked and what didn’t, picking up on missed connections and recurring themes; then taking these things forward into something new.”
So that when inspiration bowls an unexpected curveball, it can still be hit for six.
The Continuous Thread opens on Saturday 8 July and is open 10am to 5pm Thursday to Sunday until 30 July at The Slade Centre, The Square, Gillingham, SP8 4AY. Tel 01747 821480 / 07775 431652