News, Textile Design

Balancing Tensions – What do you treasure?

By Sophie Hawkesford – Print Designer
BA (Hons) Textile Design Graduate 2014
Embroidery Lecturer and Textile Artist Zoë Hillyard recently curated her first Solo Exhibition ‘Balancing Tensions’ at Anthropologie’s Kings Road Gallery, London from Thursday 7th September to Sunday 22nd October. Zoë is known for her work in ceramic patchwork; a contemporary technique whereby broken ceramics are reconstructed using fine fabrics and impeccable hand stitching. The show contains an alluring collection of colourful and mismatched vessels in all shapes and sizes.


In conjunction with London Design Festival Zoë hosted an event where she invited members of the public to come and stitch an art piece with her, asking the question ‘What do you treasure?’ At the end of the live event Zoë combined the stitched fabrics to mend a broken ceramic vessel, creating a collaborative version of her work for the Anthropologie gallery.


I was lucky enough to pay a visit to the gallery before the end of the live event, to add my contribution to this collaborative piece, a great opportunity for me as a freelance designer. Before attending I sat down for a chat with Zoë to gain some insight about her working process and inspirations. I was intrigued to understand the origins of the title ‘Balancing Tensions’. Zoë explained the collection is a fusion of hard and soft materials, a combination of two very different creative disciplines to create a harmonious vessel.


Many of the ceramics Zoë uses are kiln cracked (during the process of being fired in the kiln the ceramic cracks) and have been donated by ceramicists who consider them to be flawed. Zoë emphasised this collaborative use of materials inspired Balancing Tensions as it highlights the importance of seeing beauty in the flawed. Are these kiln cracked ceramics beautiful or ugly? Some people see beauty in imperfections whereas others strive for the perfection of beauty. Zoë’s exploration of this perspective represents the idea of tension both physically and conceptually.


Physically the broken pieces are reconstructed under tension, being precisely held together by stitch. Zoë’s painstaking work allows her vessels to grow proportionally establishing a minute balance, fighting gravity. Conceptually Zoë’s work heralds Mongolian influence and is greatly inspired by the balance of ecosystems – the tensions between rural and urban living. She feels there is a constant trade off to gain what we desire in life and felt the title covered a whole range of ideas she explored whilst creating the collection.


Zoë highlights a concept I feel should be present in all designers’ and consumers’ thought process – how can we revive and reuse? The majority of the fabrics Zoë uses are vintage silks, many of those used in Balancing Tensions are Liberty silks; a nod to the collaboration between Anthropologie and Liberty at the Regent Street store. She strives to develop work which makes better use of materials that already exist. So much fabric is forgotten or goes to waste yet this exhibition is the perfect representation of how designers can take responsibility, to continue to showcase the beauty of materials at our disposal.



During the ‘What do you Treasure’ live event visitors were invited to embroider a mark on fragments of silk representing what they value in life. After a hectic day travelling all over London, I welcomed the chance to take a moment to be mindful about my life. I didn’t have time to plan out what I might like to stitch, hence my mark was very impulsive. My inspiration came from the six months I spent travelling North America and Canada last year. Three of those months were spent with my Canadian best friend in British Colombia. I desperately miss her and will always have a place in my heart for BC.


The piece of fabric I chose reminded me of the incredible lakes and waterfalls I found whilst hiking in BC. My mark consisted of a dotted line, two circles at each end and a number. 4662. The number of miles between my best friend and I. Every day I miss Shelby, but every day I treasure the friendship I have with her. Our friendship is an embodiment of ‘balancing tensions’ because despite the distance, despite the time difference and despite the lack of money to visit each other, our friendship is incredible. We’re flawed, sometimes we’re broken and we’ve most definitely seen each other at our ugliest, but, those things combined make for a beautiful friendship. Shelby is always supportive and extremely (some might say overly) enthusiastic of everything creative I pursue in life. What an amazing way to show off my friendship, a fusion of cultures and personalities through Zoë’s bold, colourful and innovative ceramics!


Thank you Zoë for giving me the opportunity to materialise my appreciation of Shelby in a beautiful piece of art.


Balancing Tensions by Zoë Hillyard is open until Sunday 22nd October at The Gallery at Anthropologie Kings Road.
For more info on Zoë’s work head to her website.


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