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Home, a cloth memory book

This week Kathrina Hughes talks about the piece of work, a cloth memory book, she produced for a module in Creative Embroidery in NCAD which she undertook last year as part of a Certificate in Visual Art Practice.  

“This piece was inspired by home and everything that means to me and my family, both physically and emotionally. Home has so many meanings for so many people and our very essence can be tied up with our experiences of home. 

Home, Kathrina Hughes, element15

What does home mean? Where is home? And what does home mean to you?  I explored these concepts with my family, with some clear themes emerging:

“Home is a feeling”

“It’s that warm, safe and familiar feeling”

“Home is togetherness”

“It’s where our memories of family are”

“Home is where ‘our stuff’ is… and all that stuff we accumulate over the years together”

To combine all these feelings and memories into a project that would encapsulate the feeling of home, I experimented with various collections of family heirlooms, text and images.  I created a memory book in a concertina style.  It is composed of emotive words and interpretations of childhood photos which make me feel like ‘home’.

Home, Kathrina Hughes, element15

I used a linen fabric which I eco-dyed using leaves and flowers collected from my garden; my garden is full of a lifetime of memories also. I used some oak leaves, picked from trees grown from acorns collected from family holidays.  

The stitch style is simple — hand stitching. I find this simple process adds to the personal legacy attached to home’s memories and meanings which I am trying to convey. Hand stitching also makes you slow down and enjoy the process as well as form an emotional connection with the work unfolding before you.

Many precious and beautiful memories are now embedded into the linen cloth book, a treasure of my home memories.


Identity, loss and childhood memories

Continuing to look at the work of members who are pursuing further education in the arts, this week we feature Pauline Kiernan. Pauline’s work is always deeply personal and drawn from life experience:

“I have been a member of element15 since 2018 and I am also a student in Crawford College of Art & Design, Cork. In September I am due to go into 4th year, my final year, to complete a BA (Honours) in Contemporary Applied Arts. I work primarily in textiles and print.”

“For this body of work, I wanted to explore identity, loss, and childhood memories. I drew inspiration from these memories, family photographs, old letters and my mother’s stories. Going through my late mother’s belongings of keepsakes and letters, largely relating to my late brother’s illness and subsequently death which had a profound effect on me growing up as a young child in the 1980’s.” 

“I can relate to the contemporary artist Jennifer Loeber when she states: “I found myself deeply overwhelmed by the need to keep even the most mundane of my mom’s belongings when she died suddenly”. Like Loeber I want to transform these objects into tangible evidence of my brother’s existence whilst acknowledging my mother’s struggle in losing her child.”

“The last photograph taken of my brother was in his communion suit and the only piece of that outfit that has survived was the ruffle he wore buttoned to his shirt – very fashionable in the 70’s. Keeping this in mind I decided to make several collars with ruffle pieces using old worn shirts. While experimenting with transferring images onto embellished, distressed worn fabrics with different mediums, I decided to machine embroider and hand stitch these images directly to the distressed fabric, some more successful than others”.

“In the final stages of exploration, I started to play around with the collar ruffle pieces and took detail photographs, it was like a light bulb moment! I was so excited by these images it was as if they had a life of their own! Using Wen Redmond’s digital Fiber Art as a resource I manipulated these images, layering and fusing them with collage’s I made from my mother’s keepsakes and photographs”.

“These new images explore memory and personal identity further, helping to convey a sense of loss and confusion, layering fragments of daily life, memories and stories that kept him very much alive alongside the heart-breaking loss”.


In June this year, Helen McLoughlin completed a Diploma in Art & Design at NCAD with modules in sculpture, photography, painting, film and visual culture. 

Her graduating body of work explores barriers in relation to privacy, security, isolation and the fragility of our existence. 

210 x 190 x 32 cm
DPC, Bolts, Tape

Barriers can engender a feeling safety and security, or the complete opposite, depending on perspective.  Primarily using Damp Proof Course (DPC) membrane, Helen created a series of large scale structures and installations, which she sited outdoors.  DPC is used as a barrier in the construction industry.

150 x 190 cm
DPC, Dogwood Branches

Searching for the aesthetic in the unusual, and concerned with materialism and the throwaway culture, Helen works largely with recycled or found materials, low value building products and organic matter; she allows her materials to lead the work.  Photography is also integral to her practice.

185 x 130 x 230 cm (variable),
DPC, running water allowed to pull and evolve its form

490 x 300 cm
Hazel Rods collected locally, netting

185 x 213 cm
Photographs on acetate, recycled screen

Another Graduate

Next person to feature in our spotlight on members completing college courses this year is Barbara SeeryShe undertook 2.5 modules in her final year of a Higher Certificate in Visual Art Practice in NCAD:  Painting and Visual Research, Drawing and Sculpture and a 10 week module in Professional Practice.   

Painting and Visual Research puts as much emphasis on research as it does on painting.   Researching, documenting and developing one’s chosen theme and also looking into the techniques and styles used by artists who might have painted similar themes.   Life drawing, blind drawing and study of composition, tone and colour also form part of the programme.  Barbara’s interest was taken by structures and her mid term assignment was a painting of the Sean O’Casey pedestrian bridge in Dublin, which appealed to her for its complicated form and interesting shapes.   

Sean O'Casey Bridge, Barbara Seery


Continuing her interest in structures, Barbara looked to the rural environment for inspiration for the end of term project.   Her local area provided plenty to work on: vernacular farm cottages now used for storage, Dutch hay sheds painted a faded oxide red, barn doors, iron gates held upright with baling twine and corrugated metal sheds.  The final brief was to produce a series of six small paintings on the chosen subject matter (four of which are shown below).

Oxide Barn, Barbara Seery  

By concentrating on the simple forms of the structures and using a muted colour palette, she rendered these unremarkable buildings in a contemporary, rather than nostalgic, format.  The paintings are minimalist, with a flat, untextured finish on deep boxed canvases which support the contemporary expression.


Drawing and Sculpture gives students a chance to work in 3D.   Barbara created three installations to draw attention to the numbers of migrants dying whilst trying to reach Europe or whilst awaiting processing of their refugee applications in Europe.  The statistics are shocking.

Barbara used teabags in various forms as a metaphor for the lack of welcome offered to migrants seeking a life in Europe.  Tea is a universal comfort, a symbol of welcome and hospitality for visitors.  Rituals of welcome involving tea have been used around the world for centuries.

Some drowned refugees have been found with pouches of soil from their home countries sewn into their clothing.    In “Memento” Barbara used tea bags dipped in plaster to represent the weight of that memento of home. The orange thread is reminiscent of the life jackets that didn’t save them.  


The names of the countries of origin were written on the ‘tag’ of each tea bag – a total of 50 teabags were sewn between 3 metre sheets of skizzen paper (like tracing paper) to form two hangings.

For the second installation, “There are many Ways …”, Barbara took the statistics for one year, 2018, and recorded the many ways in which migrants died by writing the cause of death onto unused teabags.  By dipping the ends of the open teabags into wax they could be held open to resemble Chinese lanterns of hope moving in the wind.   Again, orange thread was used to hang the teabags and plaster casts of hands were made and fixed to a wooden pedestal underneath.


Barbara’s third installation comprised two scroll or banners using charcoal, ink, pastel and wax on rice paper.  Titled “Paths to Nowhere” no maps can prepare for the journey which ends in nowhere”.

The data used on country of origin and cause of death has been extracted from a list compiled by UNITED Against Refugee Deaths.eu, an NGO which has, since 1993, documented 36,570 deaths of migrants and refugees to Europe.  Barbara printed the list and displayed it with the installations so that viewers could see the full source material.  Unfortunately, the end of year exhibition did not take place in June but NCAD will be producing a digital catalogue in the autumn showcasing the work of graduates from its Continuing Education programme and its full time students.



Life Long Learning

It is wonderful to be able to embrace life long learning – to have the courage, time, interest and money to wade back into education.  This week, and in the following weeks, we highlight the work of members who have just graduated from the college courses they have pursued for the last few years in the National College of Art and Design.   It has been a bit of an anti-climax as, this very week, they should be showcasing their final pieces at the NCAD CEAD Annual Exhibition but instead the works of art are packed in boxes under the bed or stuffed in drawers or garden sheds.  So we asked them to release their work to the light of day, and let us see the products of their last few months of research and making.
First up is Caroline Fitzgerald who studied two modules in the final year of a Certificate in Visual Art Practice.   The modules, Creative Embroidery and Drawing and Sculpture, couldn’t be more different in every way : content, practice and even location within the college.
Creative Embroidery takes place in a calm, well light and airy part of the original building with views down Thomas Street through lovely tall windows.   Sculpture on the other hand, takes place in an appropriately rough and ready studio with lumps of plaster adorning the tables and chairs and plenty of scope for physical engagement with creativity and mess!
In her final project for the Creative Embroidery module, Caroline took her inspiration from an old spoon she found at her holiday home by the sea.  “It reminded me of a sea shell and, as I find it hard not to come home from a walk on the beach without collecting shells, this seemed to be a theme needing exploration”.  
Caroline developed notebook studies and samples looking at the shapes and textures of sea shells and then mimiced these patterns and shapes with stitch on fabric.  The background of this final piece is a digital image of a shibori and indigo dyed piece of organic linen.  “I used a combination of slow hand stitches using silk thread, and free machine embroidery in metallic threads, to create shapes and texture which are further embellished using gold and copper foil”.  The finished piece is 20 x 57 cm
Shell, Caroline Fitzgerald
Caroline’s final project for the Drawing and Sculpture module is titled “Walk The Walk, Talk The Talk”.
“The development of the concept of ‘walking’ to heal yourself, using it as a form of self-medication.  Going for a walk, one step in front of the other can be both mindful and meditative.  The very act of being in nature and the observations we make about our surroundings, the footprints we leave on the ground and the images we take with us to sustain us later when the need arises”
Caroline worked through the ideas for her piece on large scrolls of brown paper and created a virtical ‘rugged path’ as an integral part of the finished installation.

Detail of 2.5 m scroll
Brown paper scroll , ink, acrylic paint, handmade papers and fabric
For the 3D element of the installation Caroline used three bundles of wood (representing life), with fabric dipped in plaster, plaster mould, wax mould (with light detail), distressed and painted handmade paper and found objects from nature all tied up together with copper wire.
Congratulations Caroline on completing the Certificate and well done on the pushing the boundaries of your creativity.  We hope some day to see the final pieces assembled in one place.