Aimee Betts is a embroidery and textile designer specialising in traditional forms of stitching, knotting and fabric manipulation, which she translates into the contemporary design. Aimee’s versatile abilities have been applied widely – from textiles, to lighting and architectural installations. Graduating in Mixed Media Textiles from the RCA, Aimee works as a Specialist Stitch Technician at Chelsea College of Art & Design. She is also an alumnus of the Crafts Council UK Hothouse programme.
Aimee Betts is an embroidery and textile artist specialising in traditional forms of stitching, knotting and fabric manipulation, which she translates into contemporary designs. Aimee’s versatile abilities have been applied widely – from textiles to lighting and architectural installations. Graduating in Mixed Media Textiles from the RCA, Aimee works as a Stitch & Fabric Art Practice Leader at Goldsmiths University. She is also an alumnus of the Crafts Council's UK Hothouse programme.
Aimee Betts combines fast processes such as digital embroidery and circular knitting machines, with the slow process of hand embroidery and braiding. Every project begins with a research trip wandering through museums and galleries to uncover hidden stories. Aimee's process involves deep consideration of the materials and techniques chosen, and she particularly likes her work to inspire a tactile response.
1. What motivates you to make?
I’m motivated by an inherent curiosity to learn and explore textile structures and apply them to different surfaces. I come from a long line of textile makers from the East Midlands, and my ancestors can be traced back to framework knitters and stocking makers during the 19th century. Textile manufacture in the Midlands is part of the rich tapestry of British craft.
The women from my family have all worked in textiles at some point in their lives. Locking, linking, and repairing jumpers ready to be sold to the nation’s favourite high street stores. As a young woman, my Nana worked as a Warper in a Leicestershire mill, which specialised in making webbing for the armed forces. The job of a Warper was to take cones of threads by the hundred and organise them to make a warp ready for weaving. This was a physically demanding job, which involved tying on hundreds of ends at a fast pace. I don’t remember learning craft as a child, and I’m only just learning about my textile heritage, but it seems as though textile making is in my DNA.
When I was studying Constructed Textiles at the RCA in 2010, I did a project on hosiery. Not knowing anything about my ancestral background, it just felt right to talk about it.
2. What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?
I am drawn to ethnographic collections showcasing objects that are made using simple, ancient technologies, such as a needle and thread, to create sophisticated technical outcomes. I like to imagine when communities would gather together to make objects for survival, comfort and celebration. I have quite a few ‘How To’ books in my studio demonstrating different methods of making, from needlework to knotting, from pattern cutting to lampshade making and leather braiding.
My favourite publications are from the Dryad Press, who produced a series of leaflets published in Leicestershire from 1920-1980, detailing how to make anything and everything from rush mats to needle weaving embroidery. These books are an endless source of inspiration and show you how to make objects for your own home. I hope people see in my work that there has been a deep consideration of the materials and techniques chosen. I’d like for the audience to have a tactile response to my work as they imagine themselves feeling the weight of the object and getting lost in detail.
3. What is your unique approach to your craft, and how have you honed your skills?
My first ever textile-related job was freelancing for a textile design studio in Nottinghamshire. I worked in a small team, and we made samples that sold to luxury fashion companies.
Fashion is often seen as a dirty word from a craft perspective. Still, the experience gave me an amazing discipline, a vigorous attitude towards sampling and a good understanding of quality. It also introduced me to lots of wonderful processes such as dyeing fabric and working with leather.
Since graduating from my MA, I have continued to work part-time as a Stitch Technician, juggling teaching with practice. I work best when I’m in a textile workshop surrounded by machinery, equipment, and brilliant minds. I love nothing more than combining hand and machine processes to create something from nothing. Looping and circular structures are a consistent theme throughout my practice, explored through hand embroidery and braiding. I use a Lilliput circular knitting machine to create tubes of knitted cords for embroidery and braiding in my studio. These machines were built in the 1960s and are still being used in knitting and hosiery factories in the Midlands today.
I often collaborate with other makers and outsource production when designing with processes that aren’t my skill set. For example, I work with a wood-worker who hand turns my lamp bases and handles on a lathe, and a metalworker to create the frames for my mirrors. These then provide a base for me to apply my techniques.
4. What is your definition or proudest moment as a maker so far?
Developing the Ricasso Handles in 2016 was a defining point for me. The handles are made up of 3 components, the bracket, the wooden form, and the leather braiding. These components required me to discover and learn industrial processes and materials unfamiliar to me at that time. This approach has stood me in good stead for developing new products, as I’m continuously researching materials and processes outside of a typical textile discipline. The Ricasso collection was later developed to include mirrors and lamps and have become a signature style for me.
5. What is your dream project?
I’m eager to get out into the world. It would be wonderful to carry out some object-based research, delving into an archive or two, and rediscovering historic processes linked to textile manufacture in the Midlands.
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