Interview: Kate Rolison

Kate Rolison is a vintage addict with a love for embroidery and design. I was lucky enough to have an interview with Kate about her work. 

Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

A little tired from a busy week/end, very relaxed.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I'm proudly born and bred in Walthamstow, North East London, birthplace of designer, socialist, and founder of the arts and crafts movement, William Morris. I studied a very obscure and no longer existant degree at Dartington College of Arts, on a course which involved spending long periods of time inside a tree, amongst other things. I learned traditional embroidery techniques at the Royal School of Needlework in Hampton Court Palace. I work with young people with disabilities who amaze and inspire me on a daily basis, and I own too many plants.

Describe your style.

I'm straight out of 1965, but I ocassionally dip into 30s - 70s fashion and am into Doc Martens. I am the Queen of Crimplene.

I adore your work. What inspired you to start doing textiles, sewing, embroidery and design?

I think I was always into colour, pattern and texture. When I was little I read a very interesting book (I haven't been able to find it since) in which one of the characters made a landscape out of fabric, and was able to magically enter it as a real landscape. For my Christmas present that year, my Grandma cut up an old midnight blue velvet dressing gown for me to use as the night sky. My Mum then made the landscape to my exacting specifications! My grandparents had it framed and it's now hanging above my bed.

I had a psychotic episode just before my second year of university, and wanted to be creative in my first week of recovery, but couldn't manage much. My Dad bought me a handpuppet kit from Wilko to make for my little cousins. When I had made them, I wanted to keep stitching - and the rest is history!

Have you always been into textiles, sewing and design?

I made a dress based on the Amazon rainforest for my Textiles GCSE, with hand printed unfurling fern designs hand embroidered with sparkling threads, and a skirt made from silk petals. My first ever couture creation was made with my little brother from a black bin bag and hot pink feathers - so I would have to say yes!

How has your creative process changed since the start?

I use an embroidery hoop now - my first efforts in my recovery from being ill were horribly puckered! I also try to draw more, despite being terrified of doing so! Having a digital drawing tablet (Windows Surface Pro 4) has helped immensely!

What tools or materials could you not live without?

Needles, evidently (though I lose them daily and scratched my face with one I'd popped in the sleeve of my dress earlier today!), embroidery hoops as mentioned above, 60s and 70s fabric, my needle case, my little Japanese lady scissors from Tiger.

Who inspires your work?

Louise Bourgeois, incredible textiles artist and explorer of the psyche, Joanna Newsom for her loquaciousness, and the authors of the Jolly Pocket Postman.

Do you have any favourite pieces of design work or textiles that you adore at the moment?

My vintage folk art quilt I found on eBay - it's mad, covered in badly embroidered puppies, a house, horses - you name it, it's on there!

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to start doing embroidery?

It will help you to relax, but only if you're not too precious about it. And, if in doubt - you only need back stitch!

Do you have any advice for designers?

I am most certainly not a designer, just a very scruffy DIY artist - my advice to designers is ask a designer!

Why is craft important to you?

Because it means clever, skilled, witchy - I adore its etymology.

You currently run various workshops and a craft club in Walthamstow. What was the reason behind setting up Object Book?

To have a physical space for our workshops and build links with the Walthamstow community.

Why did you call it Object Book?

Because we (and especially Chloe Spicer, our founder) are interested in books, and not necessarily just reading them - but also books as objects, as ingestible and absorbable, danceable, huggable.

How has this helped your creative process?

It's given me permission to really go wild with my work - and given me permission to stop asking permission, and trust my ideas!

What are you currently working on?

A Choose Your Own Adventure Quilt (remember Goosebumps books - to enter the dark forest, turn to page 14, to cross the swamp, turn to page 32?), a series of hand embroidered blouses - one for each season, shot on location... a million other projects are percolating away.

Do you have any career plans?

The word "career" scares me. Plans scare me. I'm a bit of a will of the wisp.

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

I've made some wonderful friends and been afforded some brilliant opportunities; I can't imagine I would get much work without it!

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram?

Hopefully (fingers and toes crossed and double crossed) the beginnings of an embroidered graphic novel about my journey to recovery and how stitching saved me.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to set up their own Instagram?

Be yourself; be truly yourself, and you'll bloom.

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

I met Gareth Brookes, creator of (I think) the world's first hand embroidered graphic novel, The Black Book, at DIY Cultures Festival at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green. I told him I didn't feel I was really getting anywhere with my art, and he said "Just keep doing what you're doing - I did". So I have!

You can follow Object Book through Facebook and you can find this lovely lady on her Instagram. She is always posting vintage clothes, crafts and her love for plants.