At the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, the Crea team visited the Colour Notes exhibition by the textile art group Studio 21. Long-term member Sam Harvey kindly agreed to be interviewed, and we began by asking her how the group got its name…

Studio 21 is 21 years old this year! The group was formed in 1997 by 21 graduates from the Stitched Textiles Diploma run in Windsor, UK, until a few years ago. The aim is to develop and extend innovative textile-based techniques and to challenge and expand on traditional expectations in textile art and stitch.

All the artists are very diverse as well as being international, so what unites you all?

Although some of us originate from overseas and have diverse backgrounds, we are all based in the UK. An important element of our group is that we meet up regularly, which tends not to be suitable for overseas members.

Our preferred techniques, materials and subject matter are diverse and mostly experimental, but we are all committed to challenging ourselves and each other to create innovative work – this is what unites us. It is probably best to have a look at our website (www.studio21textileart.co.uk) to see what I mean.

How do you decide on the themes for your group exhibitions?

The themes tend to evolve from a few months of challenges and exercises undertaken within the group. The evolution might not be obvious: The Sewing Machine Project evolved from drawings with and of household utensils; Chinese Whispers emerged from a sound-based drawing workshop. Colour Notes came from looking for something different from our previous exhibitions.

A theme is important for achieving a coherent exhibition, something we feel is vital. We also find it extremely challenging, as individual artists, to create work of the high standard we demand of each other to a theme, while remaining true to our individual practice. Each of us finds this challenge an important way to maintain and develop our work.

Tell us about Colour Notes

This is an exploration of how each Studio 21 artist expresses and interprets their own response to the colour palette through narratives and memories. It’s a deliberately open-ended theme which required the group to look beyond the theory books and work intuitively, inquisitively and even emotionally, creating a varied selection of thought-provoking and inspiring studies.

Colour Notes was the result of a lot of individual and collective discussion and thought about what our use and choice of colour means personally. We were surprised at how challenging this was, particularly when questioning why we chose ‘our’ palette.

The exhibition is travelling to the following venue this year. Further dates will be announced soon.

Farfield Mill, Sedbergh, Cumbria
27 November – 31 December 2018

What recent projects have been of particular interest to the public? Do they enrich your practice as well as educating people through stitched art?

Our previous exhibition, The Sewing Machine Project, was so well received at the SIT [Stroud International Textile] Select Festival in 2016 (we were awarded the Hartlebury Award) that it then travelled with each of last year’s Knitting & Stitching shows. Stewarding this exhibition was interesting, not just for the response to our work, but the discussion and recognition which it triggered in the visitors. Different pieces resonated with different people and the stories were really fascinating to hear. In retrospect it would have been interesting to have collected these responses!

What has been the most rewarding moment or moments for the group?

Personally I find hanging an exhibition is the most rewarding time in Studio 21. It is only at that point that the pieces come together and we can see the results of the years of workshops, chatting and exploring ideas. Usually hanging is a challenge as we are all so individual, but when it all starts to come together, that is special.

This is closely followed by listening to visitors and chatting with them as they enjoy our work. And, of course, winning a prize and being included in ‘best’ lists is peer recognition – and that is always validating.

What projects do you have planned for next year and beyond?

We’re not yet ready to announce the details of our new theme, but we are working towards a new exhibition for 2020. We tend to work for a couple of years on each project to give it time to evolve and allow us to interpret our ideas to the full.

Thanks for talking to us, Studio 21, and we look forward to seeing your next exhibition!