Fungi 14 (2016)
32 cm x 32 cm
Paper mache and machine embroidery mounted on rods in perspex box frame
Amanda Cobbett’s work is inspired by the nature around her. She uses papier mache and machine embroidery to create fascinating life like objects, encasing them in perspex boxes reminiscent of Victorian display cases.
When did you discover your passion for textiles?
Both of my grandmothers and mother have always sewn and involved me from a very young age. I used to get out my mothers sewing machine and try and make something and I also used to cut up a lot of paper in the process! I’ve always had that overwhelming desire to touch everything, explore a texture so all forms of textile excite me.
Can you tell us about your background in textiles?
I took a G.C.S.E in textiles at school and remember my very old fashioned textiles teacher being horrified that my cushion project was in the shape of a giant hamburger with lettuce and tomato! I loved the experimentation but she just wanted perfection in the form of a garment though she did teach me discipline and how the cut of a fabric creates a shape. I decided to not continue textiles at Sixth Form and instead took A levels in sculpture and art/art history where I was allowed to experiment with all sorts of material. I then went to Epsom College (now UCA) where I rediscovered my passion for cloth and combined that with design. I went on to take a BA in printed textiles at Chelsea College of Art (now UAL) and thoroughly loved every minute of designing printed fabrics for garments and furnishings after I graduated. About 10 years ago we moved to the countryside and after having our daughter I decided that I needed a change of direction, so in a bid to stay at home and armed with a secondhand sewing machine and some scraps of donated fabric I went full circle and set about sculpting little objects and it’s grown from there to what it is today.
How do you describe your work?
My work is perhaps a bit quirky but mostly I hope that it’s desirable. Each of the studies have been carefully curated and are displayed in deep perspex boxes which are like a contemporary version of a Victorian display case. I want each piece that I create to look freshly picked from nature but on closer inspection to see that it’s main components are thread and paper.
You use a range of techniques, how long did it take you to discover these?
Making the fungi was trial and error. I tried loads of different techniques before finding a solution that worked for me. My main focus is still the thread, I love using Madeira Threads and usually use a different colour on the spool to the bobbin, I also use a lot of neons, metallics, ultra violet and light reflective threads too. My mother in law who is an excellent hand embroiderer introduced me to dissolvable fabrics and I quickly discovered that I could use these to sculpt with.
Where are you based and do you work in a studio?
I am based in the Surrey Hills and work in a small studio which is in the house but as work is progressing at a pace I seem to be spreading out beyond the studio.
How do you work?
If I have a new idea or technique I want to try it usually starts at the sewing machine, I’m not a tidy person whilst I’m at work and quite often I’ll find an old scrap of something lying around or even a previously abandoned idea and maybe it will spark a new way of trying something. I also love photography and use my camera for colour reference whilst I’m out and about.
Can you talk us through a typical working day?
I am surrounded by fields and woodland where we live and so I’m inspired by what I find on my dog walks, my pockets are usually peppered with old bits of bark, acorns, lichen, clumps of moss, stones and sometimes a fungi or two although these are more likely to be photographed unless I’m sure that they aren’t highly poisonous. The dog and I then come back to settle in the studio for a good few hours of sewing and Radio 4 until the kids come home from school. I sometimes sneak back into the studio at the end of the day when the house is quiet and everyone else has gone to bed.
What is your proudest moment so far in your textile career?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many great textile moments since graduating from Chelsea, it’s been incredibly exciting to see something that I’ve designed, on the high street, on a catwalk, in a magazine and even on the television but there is nothing more satisfying than someone buying a piece of my work because they love it as much as I’ve loved making it. I’m probably busier now than I’ve ever been and that feeling of pride and total satisfaction in making just keeps getting better and better.
What do you think are the challenges for textile artists?
In the 50s, 60s and 70s textile Artists were seen as contemporaries to fine artists but somehow since then things have changed and textiles doesn’t hold that same value that it once did yet some techniques are more time consuming than creating a painting for instance. Unfortunately textiles has become the poor relation to other contemporary crafts too but I’m hoping to help redress that balance because it can be an amazing medium to work in and it doesn’t need to be used in an obvious way. I’m a huge fan of Grayson Perry because he actually gets that contemporary craft especially textiles has a valid place in art.
Do you have any advice for aspiring textile artists?
Enjoy Making. Have pride in what you do, keep it fresh, know when to stop and not overwork a piece, don’t skimp on framing, value your work and so everyone else will too.
Amanda will be exhibiting at MADE London, One Marylebone London NW1 4AQ 20-23 October 2016 and The Affordable Art Fair Battersea with Byard Art 20-23 October 2016