A recent survey revealed that one in five British people took up sewing or embroidery during lockdown. Award-winning artist Hannah Brew has been passionate about the craft for years, enjoying the slow process of beading and surface pattern design. Brew is a final year student at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). The designer’s graduate project responds to the pandemic, drawing on experiences of working on community textile projects with mental health charities. It’s a process that has led Brew to showcase at Graduate Fashion Week and be shortlisted for the Zandra Rhodes Fashion Textiles Award. To mark the launch of UCLan’s Digital Degree Show 2021, Aesthetica speaks to the artist.
A: What is your name, course and graduate project?
HB: My name is Hannah Brew and I have spent three years at UCLan studying Textile Design (BA) Hons. My project, Prepossessing Poisons, explores how our perception of hidden dangers has changed since the global pandemic. We were told to wash our hands because we couldn’t see the virus living on our skin. As someone who has been involved with mental health charities, I recognised how this could be a trigger. I felt a need to see what other deceiving dangers could be out there – which led me to my discovery of sea slugs. With over 3,000 unique species, they have different characteristics such as teeth, gills, colours and patterns. They use their beauty to lure in other creatures as they are, in fact, fatal. They can and will kill. I wanted to replicate the quirks of these exotic slugs through surface patterns and fashion.
A: What types of media do you work with? Why are you drawn to this approach?
HB: When I started my project, I was inspired to replicate the delicate structures underneath the tops of poisonous mushrooms. This idea developed into lively embroidery pieces comprising layered beads, sequins and stitches. I loved this approach, as the different combinations and heights of beads moved in various ways – replicating different species of the poisonous sea slug. I spent time altering my drawings into repeat patterns using Photoshop, and then later had them printed digitally. After that, I quilted the samples using machine embroidery. I am someone who likes to push boundaries, mixing digital and hand craft skills. I had sequins shaped from my original drawings – laser cut from Perspex and then hand sewn to my fabric pieces. These replicated the unusual characteristics of the slugs whilst also giving me an opportunity to experiment with movement.
A: Where do you find Inspiration? What drives you to create?
HB: The different communities I am involved with inspire me. Their stories and drive to overcome hardships makes me reflect, which brings a sense of emotion to my work. I am inspired to create pieces that deliver deeper messages – exploring topics that are deserving of conversation.
A: What do you hope audiences take away from your piece?
HB: My bright colours and bold patterns are a symbol of happiness. I want to overjoy people viewing my work, but I also wish to shed light on a topic that is worth talking about. I have focused my project on sea slugs to represent hidden dangers. A lot of people don’t know what the different species look like; I saw this as an opportunity to introduce people to these wonderful creatures and bring a smile to viewers’ faces, whilst asking them to reflect on a deeper level.
A: What are your future plans? Do you have any projects/ideas lined up?
HB: I am taking great pleasure in being an intern at Gawthorpe Hall, a National Trust listed building holding one of the largest textiles and fashion archives in the UK. This involves me researching and coming up with ideas to connect the younger generation to the beautiful collections they hold, which come from all around the world. As part of this experience, I am involved in community projects – giving workshops to build creative skills in young people. The aim of this project is to celebrate heritage whilst connecting communities to the museum for enjoyment and education.
A: What can viewers expect from UCLan’s 2021 degree show?
HB: This past year has given us time to reflect; it’s been an opportunity to really develop our practice and ideas. This really shows. Something I personally love about the show is that everyone is so wonderfully unique. Through seeing the work, you can appreciate the time and love they have put into their crafts – from illustration to architecture to fashion promotion and, of course, textiles. The exhibition celebrates our individuality, and it is a pleasure to witness the creativity and dedication through a difficult year.
All images courtesy Hannah Brew and UCLan.