Art of dressmaking

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Yes, you can make a dress out of wallpaper or knit a gown using carrier bags. Yvette Huddleston reports from Holmfirth.

Knitting has become well established as a favourite national pastime in recent years, but a community project in Holmfirth has developed it into a real art form.

The Knit to Gather group grew out of a creative organisation called the Art Market set up by three Holmfirth-based artists – Victoria Robinson, Emma Kirkby-Geddes and Brendan Hesmondhalgh – who wanted to promote the work of creatives living in the area.

“A few of us were talking about how it was such a shame that a lot of the artists we knew were going down to London to show their work,” explains Robinson. “The town had quite a few galleries at one time but they were all closing down and we were concerned that there weren’t many places to show and sell our work. So we organised an art market – the idea was not just to showcase local artists but to have really good artwork for sale and commission here.”

That was back in June 2008 – and the intention was for it to be a one-off event but it was so successful that they put on another in November of that year and have been running them twice a year ever since. The 13th art market was held in June and they have grown substantially since the first with artists now travelling from all over the country to take part. “The applications come in and we choose the best work and also make sure that we have a varied selection,” says Robinson. “Everything from large-scale sculptures to paintings, drawings, illustration, jewellery, textiles, ceramics and metalwork.”

The events take place in Holmfirth’s indoor market – which also hosts a general market every Thursday and Saturday and a farmers’ market on alternate Sundays – and as a venue it works well for everyone. “It’s right in the heart of Holmfirth with good access and it’s affordable – and we can pass that saving on to the artists,” says Robinson. “Local people are used to going into the building – and the feedback from those who use the market regularly is that they like the fact that they go there to buy their vegetables and then sometimes they can buy some art.”

The art markets are a very family-friendly affair and there is always an interactive area where children can try their hand at making something themselves. Robinson and her team began to observe an interesting trend developing. “We noticed that a lot of the adults wanted to have a go and that got us thinking about adult creativity and how lots of people don’t feel comfortable making things,” she says. “At the art markets we could tell that they are having a really good time and in particular making things with other people – the community aspect of it.”

The spark of an idea had ignited. The theme of the most recent art market was wearable art and, as a symbol of that theme, the team had decided to make a life-sized figure placed on top of a caravan wearing a long gown. “We couldn’t make the gown out of cloth because it would get wet and it had to be done on a budget,” says Robinson. “So we talked about using things that were around – and that’s how we came up with the idea of knitting together strips of plastic carrier bags. We started to practise and it made a really interesting texture.”

Emma Kirkby-Geddes then had the idea of getting people together in the local pub – the Butchers Arms – and they ended up with around 50 people knitting. “It was a really lovely way of connecting with the community,” says Robinson. “We thought it would be mainly women but because it was in the pub people came and asked us what we were doing and quite a lot of men got into knitting. And children also wanted to have a go.”

The dress, which is made out of 200 squares of carrier bags knitted together, was on display at the art market in June.

The idea of wearable art has continued for Robinson and has now become the main focus of her own work. “I’ve been working with my mum Pam, who has been a professional dressmaker and tailor for many years, making a series of dresses and bodices out of wallpaper. I am also creating some new pieces for the November show in collaboration with wallpaper designer Hannah Nunn.”

The garments have been made mostly using a traditional tailoring method and the paper has been sewn together wherever possible, however, sometimes less traditional techniques have to be applied. “We have done some gluing and stapling – it has been about learning how to use the paper,” says Robinson. “We found it very inspiring and exciting – and also frustrating sometimes – we would make something really gorgeous and then rip it.”

The Knit To Gather project was such a success that another community endeavour is in the planning stages. “It was lovely at the show when people were looking at the dress and saying ‘I made that square’,” says Robinson. “They had a real sense that they had been involved in creating a piece of artwork.”