Skirtgirl’s work is more than a garment

THE BONHOGA gallery prog­ramme for 2009 opens with an exhibition from established and innovative textile designer Alison Willoughby entitled Skirt.

Renowned for her highly individual and hand constructed intricate skirts, she was initially known as Skirtgirl. However, she has since branched out into mens’ wear and women’s wear, and more recently into shop and gallery installations.

Alison became interested in textiles while studying Foundation Art and Design at Trowbridge College in Wiltshire. She started by experimenting with pattern, working on different types of paper, using dyes, inks and textures and it quickly became apparent that textiles was an area in which Alison had great talent and it was suggested by her tutors she specialise in the discipline at university.

She was accepted into the Glasgow School of Art to study a BA in Printed and Knitted Textiles and it was here she was able to work with fabric, focusing on print tech­niques, knitting and deconstruction, and incorporating haberdashery materials, such as mourning pins from her grandmother’s attic, into her work to create interest and pattern.

On graduation, Alison went on to gain an MA in Constructed Textiles Mixed Media from the Royal College of Art in 2001.

It was no surprise that Alison turned her hand to art and fashion, as her relatives’ occupations in­cluded tailors, boot makers, artists, architects, photographers, gardeners and seamstresses. She recalls her mother’s dressing-up box – full of old petticoats, taffeta skirts, ostrich feathers and clothes from the 1930s to 1960s passed down through the generations – and the fun she and her sister would have wearing them around the house. Bonhoga will copy this idea and provide a dressing up box in the gallery for children to dress up and be photographed in their chosen ensemble.

It was while studying at the Royal College of Art that Alison began her career as a skirt maker. For her a skirt is more than just a garment – it is a work of art in its own right. Made without darts, they are flat, unaffected, timeless, classic and simple; they are the canvas on which she works, and she enjoys adding structure and interest to them with three-dimensional objects such as glass spheres, hat pins and lighting filters.

She experiments with various techniques: moulding and illumina­ting, screen printing with paper stencils, foiling, mark making, embroidery, hand stitching, ruffling, tailor tacking, cording and cut work with scissors to create sliced, carved, shaved, chiselled and sculpted pieces.

Much of the inspiration for her pieces comes from the depths of the inner city: lanes, alleys, passages, streets and terraces – places that are neglected, ever-changing, disinteg­rat­ing and subsiding. Crumbling walls, fly posters laid one on top of the other, weathered peeling paint, marks and stains, the kaleidoscope of colour, texture, tone, scale, shape, proportion, pattern, line and placement.

She records these images through photography, amassing hundreds of stills to dissect then translate into fabric samples, and later into skirts. Once the process is complete, the finished skirts are designed and made by Alison herself.

She works in a variety of materials and is con­stantly collecting unusual textiles, such as the insides of ties, hats or jackets to use in her work.

Part of her process is to layer fabric samples, one on top the other, then cut shapes out of them. These are then sewn down the middle and opened out to create a three-dimensional object, which is, in turn, placed in situ on a mannequin, sketched, and eventually sewn into position on the finished skirt. No inspiration or technique is let unexplored.

Alison likes to work and handle her fabric by ripping strips, gathering ruffles, corrugating squares, scoring lines and shaving circles. There may be accidents with a drop of ink or printing pigment, but these are incorporated into the finished product.

Alison’s skirts have been worn as garments and displayed in glass cases on the wall. She would now like to venture into installations. She was awarded the prestigious Crafts Council Development award in 2002 and has shown at the Chelsea Craft Fair, and more recently at Origin. She previously completed commissions for Liberty and the Arts Council of England.

Her solo shows include the British Council’s window gallery in Prague, visited by the Ambassador of the Czech Republic; Urban Outfitters in both London and Glasgow, Black Swan Arts in Frome, Somerset and The Atrium Gallery, Glasgow. She has designed for Oilily, ZPM, Susan Cianciolo, Julian Roberts, and Tait and Style Knitwear in Orkney and she also regularly undertakes private commissions.

Skirt opens with a preview on Sunday from 2.30pm to 4.30pm and everyone is welcome.


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