City Lit Blog

Q&A with Shirley Hunter- 'Advanced Textiles' 2018

Story added 4th Jun 2018

Shirley Hunter


With the 'Crossing Borders' Textile Art show opening on 26 June, we caught up with exhibiting student Shirley Hunter to find out more about the work she has made over the past year, experience of the course and future plans.


What inspired you to sign up to the ‘Advanced Textiles’ course at City Lit?

I attended 2 modules of the ‘Creative Stitched Textiles’ courses starting back in 2016.  While attending the second one, my tutor, Rachel Gornall, encouraged me to apply to get on the ‘Advanced Textile’ course.  My first thought was that I wasn’t ready for it.  But I’m a great believer in opening the door when opportunity knocks, and despite feeling simultaneously excited and petrified, I applied and, eventually, got on the course.

What was your background prior to signing up to your course at City Lit?

My background is quite varied.  I have a degree in economics from a very long time ago, but I’ve always had creative projects (personal and professional) threading through my life.  I’ve worked as a dressmaker, a children’s knitwear designer and an interior designer.

Have you always had a passion for art and design, or is it something that has developed more recently?

I have always had a passion for art and design, which I like to think I inherited from my grandmother who was a keen dressmaker and one of the most stylish people I’ve ever known. It’s only recently, though, that I’ve had the courage to take it seriously and make it the priority in my life.  My earliest childhood memories were of begging people to teach me how to sew, knit, crochet -  anything that involved using my hands to make.

Ahead of the forthcoming exhibition, can you tell us a little more about your final project and the influences behind it?

One of our first assignments was to find inspiration and respond to something at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I felt drawn to the ‘mood’ of the Islamic Gallery.  I developed an interest in how the calligraphic, arabesque and geometric lines and shapes found in Islamic art have been used as a means of recording and transporting stories across time, geography and cultures.

During the first year of the course, I focussed on 2 dimensional experiments that explored these influences through mark making, colour, texture and scale.  Using a variety of techniques, including mono printing, fabric manipulation, heat transfer processes and stitch,  I produced small collaged pieces.

Early on I found the use of a view finder very helpful as a means to focus in and see areas that previously weren’t obvious and might contain elements to develop. I took this concept further in the second year by cutting up some of my earlier mono prints and folding them into small books which gave me more ways of seeing and also took me into thinking 3 dimensionally.  

My interest in folding intensified after working with Caroline Bartlett during sessions where we folded both paper and fabric to create rhythm. I then began to explore more folding techniques and landed on the one that I’m currently using.  It’s developed into a backdrop to build upon with print and stitch.

My final pieces are a non-linear, visual narrative expressing my own personal journey across time, geography and culture.

How has the course transformed your approach to your work? Has it helped you with mapping out your future goals in any way?

The biggest transformation is a deeply personal one.  At the beginning, I had a lot of confidence in my abilities to make things happen when I had a clear goal in mind.  With very perfectionistic tendencies I could go at a goal like a terrier with a bone.  But  I had very little confidence in my abilities to relax, explore and allow things to unfold.  

While I could intellectually understand this concept, I couldn’t apply it to my own process and was therefore very plagued by chronic anxiety.  When my anxiety got too intense, I would mentally ‘quit the course’.  Fortunately, I never did.  And with the consistent and tireless  guidance and encouragement of my wonderful tutors and classmates, I stayed.  Through developing good practices - developing sketchbooks, written reflection and just simply “having a go” -  slowly, the volume of my internal critic has decreased and allowed for other parts of myself to emerge.  I now feel more established in the art world and am actually enjoying the process!

What’s the dynamic like on the course?

The course work is fast-paced and demanding and the tutors are all highly experienced and skilled.  They constantly challenge our perceptions and ways of doing things, pushing us further than we imagine possible.

We are a group of 10 self-directed, strong, culturally and temperamentally different women that have for the last 2 years worked together in a very small room, doing activities that, not only, often require a lot of space, but, at times, and, to differing degrees, take us out of our individual comfort zones.  While we have experienced many “bumps in the road”,  it’s a testament to the commitment, integrity and generosity of us all that we have worked through things, formed a bond and friendships, and stayed focussed on our shared love of creating and making.

What’s the best thing about studying at City Lit?

Hands down, finding a tribe of people with shared interests and having tutors of a very high standard (all my tutors have been practicing artists), who from the first day of any course I’ve attended (18 to date), take learning very seriously, set high expectations and then set about getting you where you’d like to go.

Finally, have you got any exciting plans going forward?

I plan to continue developing my 3 dimensional folded pieces as I believe there’s a lot more to explore.  I’m beginning to explore how these pieces can be taken back into 2 dimensional work through drawing and photography, which through my digital printing studies, I hope to develop into products (fabric, etc.).

I will definitely continue to study at City Lit as I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on offer.  I’m considering another long course, perhaps the Foundation in Art and Design or the Extended Drawing for Artists and Makers.  

I’m also a member of several sub-groups that have developed from the various courses I’ve attended so I’ll continue to meet up with them to share and collaborate.


Artists statement

Shirley Hunter - Peregrinate

Stemming from an interest in how the calligraphic, arabesque and geometric lines and shapes found in Islamic art have been used as a means of recording and transporting stories across time, geography and cultures, Shirley has used a repetitive and rhythmic folded surface as a means to explore the passage of time.  

The undulating shapes draw the eye around, over and through the surfaces, revealing surprising relationships between line, marks, colour and texture.  The surface has been torn and repaired, disrupting the narrative and inviting the viewer to take pause and look closer.  

The nomadic act of assembling (unfolding), disassembling (folding)  and transporting the pieces is meditative, calming and satisfying, touching on different places and influences over time. 

Cotton organdy, textile dyes, stitch

Peregrinate: To journey or travel from place to place.  To travel through or over. To live in a foreign country. To go on a pilgrimage.


'Crossing Borders' Textile Arts is open from 26 June - 1 July 2018 at Espacio Gallery (Private View: Thursday 28 June 18:00-21:00)