Moldy fabric. Enough to send a shudder through my very being and leave me gasping with the tragedy of it all. But Elin Thomas, hailing from Bristol in the UK, utilises the forms of lichen and mold in her delicate crochet, using them to richly decorate purses, wallets, and jewellery.
Elin was always fascinated by the underwater world, and started by crocheting the hyperbolic forms of tropical coral. But she decided that it wasn’t true enough to who and what she was – a city-living, non-scuba-diving artist with Welsh and Scottish roots. Looking a bit closer to home, she became intrigued by the beauty of common lichens and molds under the microscope – a quite natural progression, as her father works as an organic chemist. This idea has now been further honed by the inclusion of Harris Tweed as the base of many of her pieces – a luxurious handcrafted cloth from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, which uses dyes made from lichens to create subtle and rich coloured tartans.
In many ways, it has been a long road for her to get to this place, first completing her BA (Hons) Fine Art in 1995, and her MA Visual Culture in 2003 at the Bath Spa University College, UK (an institution with a title which seems to cover all bases…)
Anyway, I spoke with Elin recently about her influences.
“When I was really young, I was obsessed by anything miniature (like lots of people). I often used to challenge myself to do series of things getting smaller and smaller. I still have a tiny 3cm high dress I created which went into a tiny wardrobe made from a matchbox. If you love teeny tiny things, check out this guy – http://www.willard-wigan.com. He’s a truly amazing man.”
Sadly, at the end of last year, Elin was suffering badly from RSI through too much crocheting. She took a tough three months off, doing absolutely no crocheting at all to get rid of it. “I’d had it all year in a mild way and I foolishly carried on thinking it would go away of its own accord but it didn’t. Now I do one day on and one day off, I take regular breaks and do Pilates hand exercises. I’ve also taught myself to use the computer mouse with my left hand.”
She says her single biggest obstacle in her work is “Undoubtedly myself! I have a real problem finishing things as my head is always in the next design or cooking up a new project to get excited about. I struggle to slow myself down and complete everything. What shall we say? For me there is an excellent opportunity for growth in this area of my life.”
As for what specifically influences her work these days, she has confessed to a totally magpie nature, and counts among her inspirations everything from Bjork to Picasso to Art Nouveau, and especially loves the glass and furniture of Émile Gallé.
Her creative space she describes as messy and productive, but says she would feel pretty embarrassed having to show the world a glimpse of it! Despite the reality, there is still room for fantasy. “I love those pictures of predominantly white, minimalist studio spaces with everything neat and in order. I can only dream…”
And her best piece of advice?
“Tidy up at the end of the day, prepare your space and write a list for tomorrow before you pack up for the day.” (hmmm, perhaps I should try this one day myself…. ;D -JG)
With sincere thanks to Elin for sharing her words and images.