What is the emotional value of the items we hold on to, and how do we uncover their histories? Eternally Yours, a new exhibition at Somerset House in partnership with TOAST, poses this question and invites us to appreciate the worn and aged. The free exhibition, exploring ideas around repair, care and healing, presents diverse examples of creative reuse – from historical samples of Japanese techniques such as kintsugi and boro to the work of contemporary artists whose work is rooted in mending.
Accompanying the exhibition, there are weekly artist-led workshops in the TOAST Renewal Workshop Space in the Courtyard Rooms, covering an array of topics – from sashiko with Molly Martin and kantha embroidery with Ekta Kaul to ceramic repair with Bridget Harvey and darning with Ella MacGregor and Skye Pennant. In keeping with our commitment to seeking out ways to extend the life of garments, TOAST Renewal repair specialists are also offering mending consultations in the space each Saturday until 24 September.
Additionally, an exciting display of works from participating artists highlights the unique ways they have repurposed TOAST materials. Each is an expression of creative mending and repurposing techniques – Tom Collison has created a sculptural furniture piece, while Isabel Fletcher and Amy Goacher have reinterpreted and reconstructed garments. Bridget Harvey has imaginatively repaired ceramics, and Ekta Kaul has created a kantha-stitched textile piece. Below, we speak to each artist about the works they have created for the display.
“As an artist I have always been fascinated by the process of regrowth in trees, how a damaged tree creates reinforcement to fight a virus by the formation of large burls.” Tom Collison explains. His piece, Oddment Chair, has been crafted from wood and remnant textiles. After graduating from the Royal College of Art, Tom began to work as a maker for renowned artists and designers in London, as well as debuting his own designs for events including Brompton Design Week and London Craft Week. For Eternally Yours, he has used remnant textiles from TOAST garments and wood collected from lumber yards. “I'm always interested in using pieces which are rounded or contain too much bark for production.”
He has always been fascinated with nature, its growth and the peculiar unpredictable forms it creates. The idea of repair and healing is prominent in his work – he often replicates the process of nature’s renewal by creating patches and soft forms out of textiles. “My process of working revolves around the principles of mending, much like the process in which a tree repairs itself,” he says. “I use this notion and translate it to textiles, creating patches to strengthen an item and celebrate its imperfect beauty. My work plays on the idea of patching and layering as a form of mending – exaggerating the patches through stuffing to emphasise the imperfections and strengthen the object.”
“My piece for the TOAST x Eternally Yours exhibition showcases the beauty in waste materials as the basis for repair,” says Isabel Fletcher of Fragmented and Joined: Fabric and Thread. A London-based artist working with found material offcuts to create functional works of art, Isabel takes inspiration from often overlooked and undervalued textiles. “The starting point for the piece was working with a damaged TOAST dress and remnant fabrics, from which I identified details and motifs to explore through my own varied textile techniques and mark-making,” she explains.
The piece exposes construction details in the form of seams and raw edges, as “faulty” stitches are brought to the forefront through manipulations of thread tension. “In addition to the TOAST fabrics, I incorporated silk offcuts and colour through vintage wool yarn, natural food-waste dyes and leftover screen-print paste.” Isabel says. “Allowing the waste materials to guide my process, the final composition of the piece was brought together through intuitive draping, stitching and assembling rather than working to a predetermined design.”
Amy Goacher is a knitwear designer specialising in sustainable fashion. Focusing on knitted textiles and embroidery techniques, she utilises slow design practices whilst redeveloping and up-cycling garments which would otherwise go to waste. For the display, she reworked elements of TOAST knitwear pieces to create a striking piece titled Regenerate. “In response to the exhibition title, ‘Eternally Yours’, my work explores themes including renewal and restoration through textile-focused, handcrafted techniques,” she says. Focused on the re-development of yarn and knitted textiles, the piece incorporates hand-knitting, crochet, traditional embroidery, and Swiss darning.
“Utilising materials provided by TOAST, the piece demonstrates how thinking laterally about what we already have to hand can challenge our current, negative interactions with clothing. I hope to encourage others to ‘breathe new life' into clothing, which would otherwise be disregarded.” Exploring techniques similar to those used to create this piece, Amy has revitalised a selection of archival TOAST fisherman-ribbed sweaters for the TOAST Autumn Winter 2022 collection. She has added intricate hand-embroidered patterns using remnant yarns, making each unique.
“Repair-making is a practice which gives us the opportunity to enjoy our things for longer and in different ways, while also preventing so much stuff going to landfill,” Bridget Harvey explains. “I find it a contemplative way of making, looking at what I have to hand and responding to those things.” An interdisciplinary artist, maker and educator, Bridget works with found objects and materials such as fired ceramics, wood, and textiles.
Together Again, her piece for the exhibition, brings together the colours and textures of TOAST textiles with broken ceramics. “I’ve explored different ways of repairing and renewing these otherwise defunct dishes.” Bridget is interested in how making and repairing helps us understand ourselves and what we do/own, aiming to generate new understanding and add meaning through craft. This perspective developed when she was studying for her PhD, which explored the craft of repair and its narratives. Additionally, her artist residency at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2018-19 explored the relationship of repair to conservation through artefacts, a publication and an exhibition.
Ekta Kaul is a textile artist known for her narrative maps that explore places, history and belonging through stitch. She works on public and private commissions and her work is held in several permanent collections including at the Crafts Council, Liberty of London, the Gunnersbury Museum and those of private collectors. For the display, she has created a piece titled Threads of Connection. “It explores my search for my maternal grandmother, who I sadly never met,” Ekta explains. “She grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal and passed away when my mother was only nine years old. I tried to look for her – but with not much to go on than the street where she lived 80 years ago, I only found dead ends. In response, I have tried to find her through my stitches. This work maps the neighbourhoods of Kolkata that I imagine she would have known in her childhood. As I walk by the Thames in London, I imagine her walking by the Hooghly River.”
The piece is made up of ground cloth created using off-cuts from TOAST and Ekta’s studio, while the Kolkata map is stitched using simple running stitches, the stitch most frequently used on kantha. “Kantha, which originates in Bengal and gives a new life to old cloth, seemed like a fitting segue into exploring our lost connection,” she says. Ekta is also a highly experienced educator and teaches at the Victoria & Albert Museum, West Dean College in the UK and internationally. For her work, she has received awards from the Crafts Council and the Arts Council England and was the winner of the 2021 Cockpit Arts Textile Prize.
Eternally Yours is at Somerset House until 25 September 2022.
Book tickets for in-person and virtual TOAST workshops, and repair consultations in the TOAST Renewal Workshop Space.
Photographs of Tom Collison and Bridget Harvey by Liz Seabrook.
Bridget Harvey wears our Patchwork Cotton Skirt.