18-20 Burners Lane, Kiln Farm, Milton Keynes, MK11 3HB info@artsgatewaymk.org.uk 01908 635 903

Artist Profile – Jane Charles

We talk to textile artist Jane Charles in the latest of our artist profile series.

What medium do you work in?

I  work predominately in textiles, I love to dye, print and embellish. I do a lot of community projects with schools and groups, textiles is a great medium for people to have a go at. Lots of variations in techniques that most people can relate to in one way or another.

When and why did you decide you wanted to do this kind of work?

I did a degree in Fashion, but back then, before the internet I think we did degrees that were suggested by teachers, There were less opportunities, there are certainly more choices now, which is great. My work now is generally flat, so it doesn’t have to fit anyone! I still draw on my degree experience though with knowledge of fabrics, colour theory and a love of creating things out of fabric.

I have a variety of things I create: large quilts for schools and community projects either collaboratively or as private commissions, smaller pieces of work for exhibitions, work for direct sales – often using vintage fabrics and haberdashery I find, I enjoy doing good quality art fairs, meeting people and selling my work directly to them. For the last 5 years we have taken part in Bucks Arts Weeks and Compton Verney textile fairs, a great quality of makers I am proud to be part of.

Tell us something about the process of your work

I’ve been working in ‘creative textiles’ for about 11 years; when I first started it was very daunting just to follow techniques from the internet or books. I’ve got better at this as time has gone on and I’ve got more experience. I like to start with dyeing my own fabrics, with chemicals or more recently with natural dyes, some sort of pattern is added into the dyeing process which is fun. Then some sort of print is added to create layers, finally free-motion or hand embroidery. Textiles for me is all about adding subtle layers and finding the best materials or technique to create the result I am after. I think about my process a lot  before I sit down to make something. I make notes and then just get on with it – time in the studio is precious so I make the most of it.

Who has inspired you?

So many people I teach now had bad experiences of their sewing or needlework teachers at school, I was lucky, my teacher at school was great! Mrs Eddins was very encouraging and keen for us all to do well. I think she is still alive, I need to write to her and tell her what an inspiration she was.

What are your ambitions and hopes for the next five years?

I’d like to be able to expand my working practice to a bigger audience, outside of Milton Keynes hopefully.

Developing ideas and products that could be more commercial and generate more of a stable income for my family.

What motivates you to start and complete projects?

An interesting brief is a good start, often I am asked to create something specific which is wonderful. Currently I am working on a project with the Friends of Great Linford and the MK Parks Trust. The brief was to create a series of quilts that celebrate Great Linford Park Land and area and the social history. I’m working with about 10 groups of different ages in the community, finding techniques that will inspire people and embrace their own skills. It started with eco printing from the leaves in the Park, which has led to dyeing fabrics with natural materials as far as we can. We are now at the stage of adding embroidery and crocheted elements to the panels, making use of the skills the local women had forgotten they had, which is wonderful. I am also working with a local historian, finding old photographs and maps to include in the quilts.

Tell us about something you are proud of

The big quilts that hang in public spaces, The Old Bath House in Wolverton has 6 large quilts which celebrate it’s history and heritage, and I see them every week when I go to my yoga class. Last year I worked with young people from a special school. We printed the bedding and curtains for a guest house next door to the school, and they then get the opportunity to help run the guest house and help in the community café; that’s been a great project to be involved in.

The Old School project has also carried on with a weekly craft group and now with the current situation of isolation for the COVID 19 pandemic, we have developed a quilt project that people can contribute to in their own homes and then we will stitch all the panels together when this is all over to make a quilt for the Old School Hall. I’ve also turned the artwork for the Old School  into a tea-towel design which will be sold to raise much needed funds. I’m really proud to still be involved in this project.

What is really challenging about your work?

The big quilts take some planning and an awful lot of space to lay out and make up. After weeks of working with groups of people, I am often left to pull it all together to make something great to look at and that works in the space; this is sometimes a challenge. “it always seems impossible until it’s done.”

How did you become involved with Arts Central

The arrival of Arts Central 6 years ago was perfect timing for me to have a studio, until then I had been working from home (a small terraced house with 3 growing children and a husband), space was limited and dwindling, I was pretty desperate and there was not much space around for crafters – some for fine artists but not crafters like me.

So I’ve had a studio since the beginning when it all started at Station House in 2014.

How has Arts Central contributed towards you achieving your goals?

See above!

AC has given me space to work, make large quilts. Space where I can switch off from family commitments and focus on my projects. Over the years I have also met influential people and made great connections in the arts scene of Milton Keynes, something I would not have done without Arts Central. I’ve also enjoyed the challenges AC and Arts Gateway have thrown my way, and running the exhibition space at the Cornerstone Gallery has been great, giving people space to show their work. I also got involved in the MK:litfest in 2019, interviewing the writer  Kassia St Clair in a sold-out Gallery Sky room – I was terrified. But those who saw it said I was very good and they enjoyed the conversation…. this would never have happened without Arts Gateway and the opportunities it has developed over the last 6 years that I’ve been connected with.




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