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Sara Kelly, MA Textile Design, prepares for the MA Summer Show

ma textile design student sara kelly weaving workshop at brainchild
ma textile design student sara kelly weaving workshop at brainchild
MA Textile Design Student Sara Kelly weaving workshop at Brainchild
, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL
Written by
Gavin Freeborn
Published date
07 August 2019

As students on our postgraduate design courses prepare for their MA Summer Show which takes place from 6-12 September, we talk to Sara Kelly, MA Textile Design, about her work’s focus on sustainability and social engagement.

What is your final project about?

I am researching into the weaving technique of the backstrap loom. My work aims to educate and bring together communities through the practice of craft. Along with the critical research paper, my project will look at traditional weaving techniques of Mexico and Guatemala, to better understand these communities’ physical and mental connection to their craft in order to translate this to a British audience.

I am making a series of handmade backstrap looms that I carry through London with me for people to participate with and add to. The final result will be a series of long and narrow pieces, woven by a variety of people, all with varying experiences.

I use weft materials mainly sourced from second hand shops, proving the craft of weaving can be sustainable, inexpensive, portable and social. I am exploring the importance of the connection between the craft and the maker by documenting my interactions with the public using photography and videography, in collaboration with London-based photographer, Craig Matthews.

sara kelly, ma textile design student demonstrating backstrap loom weaving to the public
Sara Kelly, MA Textile Design student demonstrating backstrap loom weaving to the public - Credit: Sara Kelly Caption

I am interested in the response of the general public to a tool that is unfamiliar to many of them. From my research to date, there has been great interest in the loom from people of all ages, genders, cultural backgrounds, and professions. By taking multiple looms into the city of London and its surroundings, it can provide people with the opportunity to learn about a new skill/method of making.

My biggest concern is that many people don’t know how the clothes they wear are made. The aim of my practice is to use the unique, interactive and physical method of backstrap weaving to educate people in public spaces about the simple process that made our clothes and many of the textiles we come across every day.

Sara Kelly, MA Textile Design, facilitating weaving in public

Credit: Craig Matthews

Can you tell us about what you will be exhibiting at the MA Summer Show?

Thinking about how to exhibit my work, I have designed a timber structure to showcase the final pieces. The exhibition structure is designed so the audience can interact with the project. The ‘fabric start’ and ‘fabric end’ offers the audience the opportunity to view a long section of fabric that weaves itself through the structure.

The woven material takes the audience through a journey of knowledge about the project. I will showcase a series of tools, used for backstrap weaving, and a collection of photography/videography documenting the journey of the project, as well any relevant texts. The middle section highlights the tool itself, which directly links the material to the making process.

ma textile design student sara kelly's final exhibition proposal showing how she will display her work
MA Textile Design student Sara Kelly's final exhibition proposal showing how she will display her work - Credit: Sara Kelly Caption

Can you tell us about your time at Chelsea? What opportunities has the MA Textile Design course given you?

Over the past 6 months at Chelsea, I have been offered many opportunities. Firstly, my MA Textile Design Scholarship from the Ashley Family Foundation which covered my full university fees. This scholarship has allowed me to take more time to work on my project and reflect on the research I undertake at the college.

I have also been nominated by the MA Textile Design staff for the Tiffany & co. x Outset Studio Makers Award which offers 7 students a one year rent-free studio space in north London. Alongside these great opportunities, I have attended additional lectures, and exhibitions with the UAL postgraduate community which have been extremely interesting and helpful towards my practice.  I am working with Chelsea’s workshop technicians to design my final work for the summer exhibition.

Member of the public backstrap loom weaving as part of sara kelly, ma textile design's workshop
Member of the public backstrap loom weaving as part of MA Textile Design student Sara Kelly's workshop - Credit: Sara Kelly Caption

What have you learned from these experiences? How do you think they will be useful in your future practice?

I have learned many things during my time at Chelsea, including the importance of collaboration within the university. I have a new sense of confidence in my own work, after working alongside others with a similar mindset.

In my future practice, I want to continue to take a collaborative approach to my work and integrate more with communities across the UK. Everything that my practice has worked towards will lend itself to this future.

Connect with the project on Sara’s Instagram

Check out full details of the MA Summer Show