WOMAN’S HOUR CRAFT PRIZE
Right: Dimple, 2016, sports sock, wool and acrylic yarn. Opposite: Darned Tracksuit, 2016
Celia Pym has raised the domestic craft of darning into an art form. Her beautifully repaired garments are often centred around grief, loss and tiny, but symbolic, acts of care. ‘Sometimes people give me an item that belonged to someone who has died,’ she explains. ‘Sometimes it’s a garment that got made by someone who died, or it’s just the thing they love the most and feel most comfortable in.’ By fixing them, she brings out a narrative in an everyday piece of clothing.
Her route to the prize has been circuitous. She initially studied sculpture at Harvard, before returning to the UK to train as a teacher. She taught for a couple of years, but kept a studio going at the same time and began to make increasing amounts of textile-based work. ‘Over three months I grew an enormous piece of knitting,’ she remembers, ‘and that idea of something growing really appealed CELIA
30 Woman’s Hour Craft Prize to me. I felt like a bit of a spider.’
She was spotted by artist Freddie Robins, who encouraged her to study textiles at the Royal College of Art, where she became increasingly interested in the relationship between clothing and the body. People would give her clothes and she began collecting, researching and thinking about the hand-made.
However, the catalyst for her current work occurred when she was donated a sweater that had belonged to her great-uncle, a painter whose habit of leaning forward as he worked had completely worn its forearms away. ‘I was touched to see in that damage how his body moved,’ she remembers. ‘I could clearly see him. Even more exciting was seeing my aunt’s repair. It was slightly slapdash but it did the job.’
After graduating she kept, in her words, ‘investigating holes and the different ways in which they brought me into contact with people’, as well as experimenting with colour. Intriguingly, she also decided to become a nurse. ‘I’d always fantasised that I’d make a great nurse. I wanted to get an insight into a more challenging kind of care.’ Her idea was to nurse during the day and keep the studio going in her spare time, but the two proved incompatible.
Nursing’s loss is the art world’s gain, and for the prize Pym will be showing two new sweaters: one from a GP and another belonging to an intensive-care nurse, along with text describing their stories and profile pictures. She will also be working in the V&A doing repairs for visitors and creating a new piece from a tracksuit. If you’re bringing an item along to be mended be prepared for a chat. ‘I really love other people’s problems,’ she says. ‘Often that’s the basis for me to begin my work.’ GG celiapym.com