Textile artist Diana Harrison talks about the inspiration for ‘Box’ and discusses the techniques used in creating it.
This video was made as part of the exhibition Quilts: 1700 – 2010, at the V&A from 20 March to 4 July 2010.
The inspiration behind this piece was boxes. Boxes collected on my journeys back from work, as I walked up the Northcote Road, there'd be lots and lots put out for re-cycling outside all the shops. And I would collect them all the way home, open them out, examine them, take them apart and sometimes find things in them and sometimes not. That really was my starting point. I just loved the shapes of them. I loved the faceting of them and the way they constructed themselves and de-constructed themselves. That started me off thinking 'how can I represent this, how can I make this into a quilt. I wanted to create something that was possibly bed quilt size, so it had a sort of ambiguity to it. The sizing of the piece on the wall it's representing a bed quilt. Other references from quilts are that I really like the historical ones that have the seams broken as they go over the four poster bed at the corners. So they are missing their corners. I've always like the outlines of those actual quilts. So I think this one and particularly the one on the floor which is the lid of the box, was representative of thoses pieces, but it didn't have to have a complete outline, it was faceted.
To start this piece I was given a sabbatical semester from my university which allowed me the thinking time really, from one day to the next without the constant interruptions of life and to be able to think what I wanted to make. I made it perhaps later. It took a long time in between doing other things, but it was really that creative artistic time in the studio, playing with boxes, really sorting out in my head what I wanted to do that was so valuable. And that's a sort of time I have never really had in my life because I have always been teaching alongside whatever else I do.
My studio is in my home which is small, it's in London. I work in the big front bedroom of a typical four-bedroomed house. That doesn't allow me that amount of space. I also screen print and discharge print and steam my work as part of the finishing process. And this all gets done in the garden. So I'm literally running up and down the stairs to the bathroom with a very mucky screen and then having to wash things off in what is a domestic context.
The pieces that I have made over the years have invariably been commemorative of some sort or memorative. I think because of the time these pieces take, that even though the initial idea may be tactile, found objects, something that's triggered me off to make something, during the time that these pieces take to make, life happens and therefore these pieces take on the context of that time in your life and they become very personalised by that.
This piece started its life at a time when I was facing redundancy and feeling the effects of that and that one was sort of washed up, empty box, you know, squashed on the road, run over, whatever. It was that feeling that I felt about these empty boxes and it sort of coincided with that timing.
My work is very much about the cloth, the materials, the making - the relationship between the print and the stitching. I will start off by bonding together the fabrics - in this case it's cotton on the underneath, there is an interfacing in the middle with bondaweb and a gluey sort of substance and silk on the top. So I'm making a sort of a sandwich, a quilt. The the whole piece is stitched together. The cloth is all pre-dyed black, dyed by myself so that I know what it will discharge to.
The stitching is making the thing very solid for me. I enjoy the lines. I enjoy even the hours spent doing the stitching because it gives me a sort of contemplation time, thinking time. I sample and find out whether I want - what width I want the stitching, find lots of ingenius ways with masking tape of being able to stitch in straight lines. It's just an important part that also makes it a quilt. The detailing seen here, with these lines coming in with the tiny burnt holes is in fact where the sellotape or the packing tape appears on the lid and it's actually the same width as the brown packing tape that you buy. These points of this cross join up in the eye anyway so that you can actually see where the piece would have been constructed.
I do think it's one of the most difficult things in the world to do - to embed a contemporary quilt within the beautiful, historic pieces that are known and loved. And contemporary quilt makers are not necessarily following exactly in that tradition and nor am I. But at the same time, I think that it's important that we are recognised as well as the makers from earlier times. We are working under incredibly different circumstances that are modern day and therefore you will engage in modern day making as well. You know a lot of printing is now all going over to digital printing and that's going to make a huge difference to the sort of patterning and cloths that are going to be coming out.
So finally this piece has coincided with the death of my father and I would like to commemorate it to him in a way. But all the way through, towards the end, I kept saying 'Hang on in there, I'm going to have this piece in the V&A' and extraordinarily, really extraordinarily, he died the night I was sewing the Velcro on the back of it and I find that very strange, but I know he'll be proud of me.