Meet Emma Peters, Sydney based textile artist and researcher, writer, maker and educator.
Read on to know a little about an artist who has a way with creating beautifully crafted
Tell us a little about your studio?
Like many creative makers my dream is to have a studio space with white walls, a big table, and a view! However being a mum to two young children, any space in our house in the Inner West of Sydney adapts to my place of work. The dining room table, the kitchen bench, the couch, the backyard are all temporary ‘studios’ for me. In fact, I feel the space I have to create definitely impacts upon how and what I produce in terms of scale and portability.
How/when did you get into Textiles Design?
Officially, it began on enrolment day of my third year at University. This was before online enrolments, where waiting in queues was the way to elect classes. Up until that point, I thought I was going to be a graphic designer, which I still dabble in. I wasn’t enjoying one of my studio classes as much as I thought and needed to choose something else, so joined the shortest queue and signed up. Lucky for me it was a textile design subject. I had no idea the huge world textiles has to offer! The pace, the hand-making, the freedom to dabble in multiple mediums appealed to me greatly.
Unofficially, my memory of learning how to sew was hemming up my school uniform. What I thought had happened was that I stapled my hem up in an emergency, which was not the most comfortable solution. Sitting on shards of metal in a hot school assembly is a strong recollection, motivating me to learn how to mend things myself. However, my mum recently told me the hem-stapling was actually something she had done at boarding school and had told me about in one of her stories…. So interesting how fluid and adaptable memory is. This idea became a driving narrative behind my latest work where I use staples and a corrosive process upon silk to consider this challenging quality of remembering. Is it important that memory is factual? I’ve decided it isn’t, which suits my terrible memory!
I would love to know how you came to evolve those new works?
My new work evolved from four years researching and thinking about memory, identity, narrative, sustainability and material culture for my Masters of Design (Hons) at Art & Design, UNSW. I began with the tangible and visual translation of personal memories – particularly the stapling memory and childhood trips to my grandparent’s farm in the Riverina District of NSW. Mapping, repetitive stitching, digital print, felting, natural dye processes are the techniques used and metaphors of my conceptual process. I like to mix new and old technologies to achieve layering and mystery to communicate what is beyond written word. This is strongly represented in all the pieces I have named Topography of Memory.
Interestingly, the work also became memory receptacles for the period of time I was making them in – the felted quilts were created between my first and second child, pregnant and in the land of new motherhood. I spent days colleting the figs from Moreton Bay trees to dye fabric – the colours achieved transports me back to warm days down at the Glebe Foreshore slowly collecting and sorting the plump red and lime-green fruit. I had some funny conversations with people as most thought I was going to eat them… which I don’t recommend.
The second phase of studio work began to work with the idea that textiles can be made for other people’s memories. The Memento Project began as a collaborative process where thirteen anonymous participants shared stories of objects that they once treasured but had lost over the years. I sometimes think that we shouldn’t be so attached to material possessions, but I’ve come to realise how important they are in connecting us to people, place and to our self identity.
My contributors were asked to write, draw, paint in response to a collection of questions and I in turn responded to their experiences. The result was a collection of small textiles expressing loss and commemoration. Double sided fair trade glass frames elevated the idea of ‘memento’ and allow for the textiles to be viewed from either side as I believe the reverse side of stitched fabric can be as interesting as the front. Such poignant stories emerged. It seemed it really wasn’t about the object, but the memories they were connected to – a baby blanket made by a mother, a grandfather’s bread knife, a beloved bmx bike. Now the project is over I am returning the textiles to my participants in the hope they are a little bit of solace despite their loss.
The catalogue for Mnemonic Textiles is stunning. I can see how, the quilt having a lineage and special significance, would resonate. What was your reason for choosing to explore quilt works?
Thank you so much! Quilts have such a beautiful history and potential for presenting so many different aesthetics and stories. The handmade and heirloom quality of quilts epitomise slow design and emotionally durable design. They connect on a personal level, support identity through associations of culture and family, and are kept for long periods of time. I feel they can teach us so much about new ways of working outside of the fast-fashion cycle. I want everything I make to have similar ethos and longevity. The Topography of Memory quilt was commissioned for the stunning exhibition Labours of Love: Australian Quilts 1845-2015 at The Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre. I was so honoured to see my work hanging with such important works of art, some of which had been made over ten years and reflected the cultural significance of ‘women’s work’.
Topography of Memory I, 2015. Wool and silk, 156 x 138 cm. Collection of the artist.
Will the Mnemonic Textiles have another outing? Any upcoming shows?
Yes! In fact on the 10th of November my stapled silk piece – Topography of Memory (Rust) will be shown again at Barometer Gallery as part of a Sydney-based textile collective I belong to – Seed Stitch. It will be a fantastic survey of contemporary textile techniques by artists Soraya Abidin, Sky Carter, Suzanne Davey, Alana Clifton, Niki McDonald, Gillian Lavery, and myself. We are all responding to the theme of light in diverse ways. (I’ll attach more details)
What is in store for you in 2017?
I’m looking forward to returning to teaching at Art & Design, UNSW and continuing my studio practice. I’m planning on exhibiting with Seed Stitch again, and with another Hobart-based artist, Sophia Holmes. I’m considering a commission-based project where I can work one-on-one with clients to preserve their memories within textiles. I’ve had a lot of interest in The Memento Project and see potential in continuing the work with others. Now that I have established my practice, I’m excited to see where it can go, and how textiles can communicate narrative in new ways.
I hope you have found Emma’s work and process as inspiring as I did.
To see more about Emma Peter’s, you can find her on: