Jan Miller PSG :: Betty Chadwick


Jan Miller

The well-remembered details of a skirt are not supported by the photographic evidence. Made by Mum from a wool fabric – grey/green, thick, stiff and unbending in such a short length and with an unsettling diagonal. Today I would identify its origins as a cavalry twill overcoat; then it was unremarkable and unlovely except for the addition of a pocket, shaped like a plant pot with lazy-daisy flowers on it. The embroidery was similar to that worked on my shoe bag. I was shown how a single petal could became joined, from within, to another and another and another to make a chain. When would I be able to make my stitches flow in such a smooth line?

Mum’s home dressmaking was intertwined with her memories of her sister’s dressmaking business. Young heads were filled with often repeated family stories of gatherings, ‘occasions’, relatives, places and neighbours, woven together so tightly, embellished and layered with details which we had never experienced ourselves, until single phrases alone would invoke the story.

Home held a store of collected fabric lengths: cottons from Lewis’s, flannelette from Wales, tweed from Scotland, silk from India. Each had secured its place by the circumstances of its history. Each was periodically considered for use – and of course rejected – but this home ‘handling’ collection showed that whilst colour was primarily in mind, touch and feel were essential to make a successful finished garment. Shopping continues to be characterised by how textiles feel and hang – whether in Liberty’s, Top Shop or a local market it is always a tactile experience.

I re-group objects from this family collection. The photograph of the remembered skirt, the embroidered shoe bag, patterns on stored fabrics, a handstitched Hungarian blouse (almost uniquely saved from a lifetime of clothes) all share motifs, backgrounds and colours with other favourites – a button tin, a Moorcroft vase, a Royal Doulton ‘Top o’ the Hill’. This makes a new story.

Homework by Jan Miller in Creative Dialogues

Homework by Jan Miller in Creative Dialogues


In her eighties, Mum joined an art class. Not known to have ever explored watercolour painting she quietly became absorbed in this new medium. The resulting work resonates with her love of textiles, the colour combinations and juxtapositions, the folds and the layers, the patterns and attention to detail – all that she taught by example so well.

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