A Maker’s Hand: Sophie Wilson, 1690 Store

24 June, 2022

As part of our The Petersham Nurseries Maker’s Hand series, artist and ceramicist – Sophie Wilson created this beautiful piece for us.

From her kitchen table, she produces characterful collections of wonderfully purposeful ceramics, each with their own unique story. Using techniques inspired by Blackwork embroidery first used in England in the 15th and 16th century, this is interpreted into ceramic form where terracotta, white slip and sgraffito imitate the sewn technique.

“In a culture of ones and zeros, it seems to me that being flawed, authentic, even calm is as about as subversive as it gets.
I wanted to bring this idea into the collection I created for Petersham Nurseries, deciding that the decorative motifs had to be organic: plants and animals in true state. The prominence of the quite phallic oysters and stamen in Unfinished Blackwork is there to demonstrate the essential - and therefore in my opinion unremarkable - thread of sex which defines all living organisms; the orange blossom, historically a symbol of purity and innocence, to absolve our shame or scandal if necessary. I sort of like the idea of an obedient seamstress working this awareness into her quiet, measured project by candle light: her own modest rebellion.”

Sophie Wilson Artist & Ceramicist

The Blackwork style

Blackwork was the most common domestic embroidery technique in England in the 15th and 16th century. Traditionally worked in iron-dyed silk thread, black counted stitches created high-contrast geometric patterns on heavy, plain-weave white or off-white linen or cotton. Later styles incorporated larger designs using flowers, fruit and beasties, connected by curvilinear stems, the ornaments shaded with a spray of seed stitches to produce greater tonal value. The decorative style lends well to the monochrome of 1690 Unfinished Blackwork where terracotta, white slip and sgraffito imitate the sewn technique. The ceramic form takes from early 17th century English Delftware tankards, inverted.

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