How did you come to be a textile artist at Cockpit?
The textile artist part goes way back to my school days, where I struggled because I’m quite severely dyslexic, but I was confident at art. Then I did an art foundation at Loughborough University and was extremely lucky to get a scholarship with Sarabande Foundation, founded by Lee Alexander McQueen, to cover my uni fees. At the time I didn’t know how to sew, or how to thread a needle, I glued everything down! But they saw the potential and I just needed to develop my skills.
I graduated in 2020 during Covid and had to come home and miss the degree show. I started to ask myself “how do I make money from this?” Then I took part in a group exhibition called ‘Feet in the ground, head in the sky’ at Modern Painters, New Decorators in Loughborough, which helped me see that I could be an artist.
I knew fellow Cockpiteer Esna Su from Sarabande, and she told me about the Make It Award at Cockpit. I applied and won the award, which meant I could move to London (from the Black Country, near Walsall, where I’m from).
Cockpit is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Having the space to develop my creative output, without the distraction of having to find space and quiet around my family and dog in my parents’ conservatory. Cockpit gave me the creative space and time to figure out what’s my style, and the mentoring to help reach my goals.
Since today is Earth Day, can you tell us about your ‘customisation & repair’ workshop?
I’m very much of the mindset that “waste is today’s materials”. How can we extend the lifespan of a material? We live in such a take take take culture, with big brands encouraging us to just keep buying things. We’ve lost the mindset of mending, and the skills to do it. In the past, these were essential skills you were taught at school, and you’d pass them on to others. I always give people a booklet to take home, to practise their new skills and share them with other people. Craft is all about sharing and communities, friendships and connection.
Craft can also be quite elitist, and I like to bring it back down to a level where everyone can take part. And I find my mental health improves by helping other people; the greatest form of happiness for me is seeing people engaging with each other and leaving with a smile on their face, knowing the process has improved their wellbeing as well.
Alice’s range for the Hayward Gallery, on display in their shop window
You have collaborated with TOAST and the Hayward gallery in your first year since graduating. How did that come about?
The Hayward Gallery just sent me an email and initially I thought it was spam! Their head of merchandising had found me on the Cockpit makers’ directory, and they invited me to create a range for the Louise Bourgeois retrospective. I made bespoke quilts, some of my bum sculptures, one-off cushions, all from zero waste materials and naturally dyed, and coasters from offcuts so there was no waste. Apparently it all sold really well.
For TOAST I took part in ‘The Renewal Project’ where they invited eight makers across the world and gave us TOAST items that needed repairing. Richard McVetis and Hannah Refaat from Cockpit took part as well. And the money raised went to a Crafts Council initiative. I was given two items, one being a fabulous linen apron that had a little hole on the strap, so I darned that. And I’m all about pockets — historically they thought women didn’t need pockets, so as a feminist stance I put on loads of pockets. I want to say to the wearer “you’re smashing it, you need all these pockets!”
Can you tell us where you got the idea for your Bum Sculptures?
They basically come from the fact that I love the human form. I went on a road trip in California in 2019, and at Joshua Tree National Park near Yosemite, I saw these amazing, massive boulders the size of houses, really organic, the curves reminded me of human forms, and of bums. I always start with drawing and sketching, then that gives me the visual of what I’ll make in textiles.
When you’re feeling lonely, you’ve got the curve of the bum to nestle into, it’s like cuddling a person. My ambition is for people to come to me with fabrics that really mean a lot to them, and I take that raw material and make something custom like a quilt or a bum cushion. I recently made a baby quilt for a friend’s new baby using fabrics that meant a lot to her, that was really special and emotional moment.
Alice’s sketch of boulders in Joshua Tree National Park, which inspired the Bum Sculptures
How did you get into Natural dyes?
During Covid I started experimenting with natural dyes. I had walked the West Highland Way in Scotland and was inspired by the plants and the river systems which had this warm whiskey hue, thanks to the peaty soil. I loved the colours that created, so when I got back to the studio I started playing with food waste like onion skins and avocado. I also gather fallen flowers and I use pigments like turmeric because someone gave me some that had gone off, and I always try to put waste items to good use.
Now I offer natural dye workshop where people can make their own silk scarf and learn how to become a colour alchemist!
Alice sketching in the Highlands
Peat-dyed rivers on the West Highland Way
So what’s next for you, Alice?
My goal in life is to be a community installation artist, using waste materials to create organic sculptures with communities where they can project themselves onto the artwork. I got to do this last year as part of Lewisham Borough of Culture, where we made the wearable quilt with members of the community.
I’d like to help overcome the elitism of the art world and enable all people to be involved, bringing craft and people together to create an immersive experience out of textiles. My ultimate goal is to fill the Turbine Hall with a piece that facilitates people to become artists themselves.
How can someone buy or commission your work?
You can contact me for commissions (email is best). I can make something completely custom, with cushions starting from £100, bum sculptures £200, and quilts from £400.
I’m looking forward to offering workshops again soon, once the fabulous new community space opens at Cockpit Deptford — it’s currently under construction and due to open in September.
You can nab a place on a bespoke 3-hour workshop with Alice as a thank you for supporting our crowdfunding campaign, which launches this Tuesday. For more info and to sign up for updates, click here.