MA Crafts graduate goes back in time for BBC series
Cut off from 21st century life, a group of six artisan makers were transported to a remote Victorian Arts and Crafts world where they were tasked with breathing life back into an original property.
MA Contemporary Crafts graduate Niamh Wimperis was one of the crafters in the four-part BBC series ‘The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts’, where she took on the role of expert embroiderer.
As a response to the industrial revolution, the Arts and Crafts movement was a stand against the dehumanisation of workers and mass-produced goods. These pioneers believed that working collectively, a pride in the hand-made and a return to nature would enhance the lives of many and create a better society. This series sought to explore whether these ideals can continue into the modern world.
Making hand-printed wallpaper, bespoke craft furniture, furnishings and ceramics using archives and original source material related to the home and community, the team of crafters transformed the property into a spectacular Arts and Crafts showcase.
We caught up with Niamh to find out more about her time filming the show, and how it might influence her future work...
Tell us about yourself and your practice...
I’ve always been creative, and never lost that childlike joy in making, regardless of the medium. I just get so excited when I feel a piece coming together!
The Arts and Crafts movement definitely influenced me, I grew up knowing about it, thanks to my mum. We had Pre-Raphaelite paintings on the walls at home, I think it became a huge part of how I create. Like them I take inspiration from nature. Embroidery is a way for me to connect with the past, in a modern way. My work is very colourful, my favourite pieces are the realistic leaf series I’m working on.
You studied your undergraduate degree and your MA in Contemporary Crafts with us?
That's right, I loved the idea of being in a building filled with people all there for the same reason, people driven by the need to create. That's why I returned to do my MA after completing my undergraduate degree.
Did your personal practice change or evolve during your time studying?
I did my BA in photography, and didn’t discover embroidery until after I graduated. I realised photography wasn’t my thing, too technical, too many variables. I love that in embroidery you just instinctively feel what’s right for the piece, and, if it goes wrong you can just undo your stitch!
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing creatives fresh out of studies?
The balance between work life and creative life is really hard - I still haven’t got it right. I live in London now and work a full-time job Monday to Friday. It’s so easy to burn out or feel guilty for not creating every spare second of the day. But it’s just not feasible, and you have to be kind to yourself.
How did you hear about the opportunity to be on the show, what appealed to you about it, and what was the application process like?
My dad sent me the call out for the show on Facebook. He’s my biggest supporter, and always believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. I liked the idea of it, and I applied thinking I would never hear back. Then I got a phone interview, followed by a Skype interview, and then 12 applicants were invited to a casting day in Bath. From that, the six of us were chosen to go into the house.
How did you feel when you heard that you'd been chosen out of thousands of applicants?
Completely stunned. Overjoyed, obviously, but with a little voice at the back of my head saying “I’m not good enough”. I suffer from Imposter Syndrome really badly, the experience of feeling like you don't belong - you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud, I think it especially comes out in episode two when I have to embroider the bedspread. I was so scared they were going to look at my work and think it was rubbish.
What was an average day of filming like?
Fairly long! We would wake up around 8am for breakfast and to get our mic packs put on, and then we either just had to crack on with what we were working on, or do whatever was planned for the day; including Morris dancing, beekeeping, and performing a truly cringe-worthy play. If we were about to do something exciting or noteworthy, then we’d have to stop and get one of our brilliant camerawomen to capture it.
We’d usually de-mic around 7pm, sometimes later if we were filming the evening meal, but the work didn’t stop just because the cameras had gone. We really did work pretty relentlessly, all through the day and well into the night. But sometimes we’d allow ourselves the evenings off, where you could find us around the table with a glass of wine playing card games!
Sounds exhausting but very exciting! What was your highlight from filming the show?
I have so many, some that are captured on camera, like the beekeeping, or seeing Gainsborough fabric mill, and some that aren’t, like watching shooting stars at 4am with the other crafters. My overall highlight was having the privilege of getting to know five other incredible craftspeople, they each taught me something and I’m so glad to have them in my life.
And what did you learn that might impact your practice in the future?
I’m going to be less scared. I’m going to doubt myself less. I know that I can do it, and I know that I’m bloody good at what I do!
So what's next for you?
I would love to reduce my hours at my 'normal' job and make more work! I’m in the process of setting up embroidery workshops here in London as well.
Head to Niamh's website to see more of her embroidery work and to stay up to date on her practice. You can also find her on Instagram, @wimperisembroidery.