Shetland reviewed – An Exhibition by Digswell Arts Alumni Connie Flynn

Written by Jo Howe

On February 5, 2015

An exhibition of textiles by Connie Flynn at The Upstairs Gallery in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire 19th – 31st January 2015.

After working in the Arts for 20 years, textile and stained glass artist, Connie Flynn decided to relinquish her position as an artist in residence to return to university to study for a degree in Contemporary Textiles. She chose to do so at the University of Highlands and Islands in Shetland. An area of wild,natural beauty with a rich history in textiles. A place she knew well, which had inspired and influenced her textile art in the past. This exhibition is the culmination of those three years of study and was part of her final degree show, for which she received a distinction.

The pieces exhibited reflect the influence of the landscape, traditions, culture and history of Shetland upon Connie’s work. Her ideas, thought processes and working methods are explored in her sketchbooks, coursework and samples. All of which are on display and provide a fascinating glimpse into the inspiration and the development of the final pieces.

The first few panels depict the colours of the landscape and the different materials used on the island – stone, wood, earth and textiles.
In these, colours have been blended and layered onto muslin and then felted. Needle felting, hand and machine embroidery are used to achieve various density of texture and different surface effects. The wood sample includes a screen print of a photographic image taken of a brilliant blue door found on one of the island’s houses. Seasonal colours of vivid greens, wine reds, rust and peat browns with a slash of yellow are used in a large nuno felted landscape which sets the context for the exhibition.

Already an accomplished feltmaker she learned the new skills of weaving, braiding and knitting. There are examples of all of these techniques on display. They include a heather coloured embroidered Harris Tweed flat cap, peerie pattern machine knitting and a sample of moss green Shetland lace,” knitting so fine that a shawl could be passed through a wedding ring.”
A research visit to Norway highlighted the textile links which Shetland still shares with the Nordic countries. This common heritage is reflected in the knitting pieces inspired by her research. These are worked in a striking colour palette of red, black and white. Small samples of knitting in traditional patterns are felted onto a background of felt, deconstructed and embellished with hand and machine stitching. Adjacent to these are contemporary samples where the same designs have been deconstructed and become striking, machine knitted abstracts.

In Worn Cloth a piece of almost transparent white nuno felt is stretched over a canvas to suggest the fineness and fragility of cloth that has been well worn and constantly washed and repaired. Darning and stitching in a contrasting yarn helps to suggest age, long usage and the value cloth would have had in the past when it had to be laboriously handwoven.

This exhibit also relates to her installation, Old WivesTales, which is inspired by Shetland’s textile history and is a homage to the women who, “knit their souls into woollen masterpieces.” She has taken the apron as the symbolic article of clothing upon which to illustrate these ideas. This enables her to link with history and tradition as the apron has been worn for hundreds of years in both a domestic and working environment. Each one of the series of aprons which she designed and made, utilises a different textile technique. On some, as a play upon the word ,”pinny,” she has used pins to replicate Shetland knitting patterns. This fascination with the use of language and dialect is alluded to in a jar of cut out words from an old edition of Great Expectations, into which are pasted old knitting designs. This evokes the practice of the passing down of treasured family knitting patterns to future generations.

Throughout this absorbing exhibition Connie has successfully linked history, culture and tradition and given long established textile techniques a contemporary reinterpretation. Above all the beauty and lure of Shetland permeates the work and inspires a desire to go and see it for oneself.

Rosalind Castling

Rosalind Casting has a background in arts, education and museum work. She is a passionate and skilled felt maker of many years.

Photographs by Connie Flynn

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