Carole Waller: in love with fabric offcuts

Making a piece of clothing inevitably involves wastage as unwanted fabric is cut away, but for textile artist Carole Waller every last scrap of fabric is put to good use. Recently she has been collaborating with two young artists to bring new creative life to her fabric offcuts

Carole Waller is a painter who makes paintings on unprimed cloth, which are then made up into scarves and clothes. She works on flat lengths of fabric, controlling the composition carefully for each section of the garment. The fabric is then cut out and constructed by her dressmaker. None of the fabric is wasted – all the offcuts are retained and used in some way. Carole has used them to make patchwork scarves, cards and bags, and what is left after that is donated to local schools for the art room.

Carole has recently been working on a creative project with local painter Zac Merle and Amy Harrison-Ray, a third-year textile design student at Bath Spa University. This was an ambitious collaborative experiment that was designed to give a new creative use to Carole’s fabric offcuts. “The aim was to explore what we might be able to do with offcuts of painted cloth from the making of my clothing, to make new experimental art pieces,” says Carole.

Carole met with Zac and Amy in her studio, and together they tipped out large bags of offcuts onto the studio tables and started to move them around the space. “At first I had no idea what I was doing and had no intention except to interfere as little as possible with the shapes coming out of the bags,” Carole says. “I wanted to see what they suggested, and remember the history of the fabric offcuts as a residue from the making of something else.”

Amy and Zac in the studio

Some of this collaborative work was recently shown in an exhibition at Sion Hill Gallery with paintings by Carole Waller, collage paintings by Zac Merle, and two large collaborative textile collage works. The biggest piece consists of a three-metre square ‘found’ cotton quilt, on which a landscape of appliquéd collage offcuts from the making of organic cotton jackets emerged. The design of the quilt was created by the three artists moving the pieces of cloth around on the quilt surface like pieces of a jigsaw to see what worked visually.

Carole’s brief to Zac and Amy was to alter the offcuts as little as possible – letting them retain their ‘memory’ of the missing pieces cut from them to make the jackets and other clothing pieces. So the final quilt shows the recognisable shapes of sleeves, collars, and garment pieces in the negative spaces around the colourful offcuts. “These negative spaces began to form their own narrative – internal spaces almost reminiscent of rooms in a building or maps with land-masses which remind us of the human form,” says Carole.

Textile techniques lend themselves to transformation and the idea is close to Carole’s heart. This way of honouring the shape of the offcuts also made sense for Zac for whom memory is a strong theme in his work.

This memory of clothing became a starting point for Carole’s most recent collection of painted clothes and scarves, ‘Offcut’. Her process was to draw from the collages and then made screenprints of the new shapes: “I so loved the cyclical nature of this transformation”, she says.

Carole also teaches textile printing and painting at her studio just outside Bath, sharing her love of colour and cloth and its unique language as a creative medium. “We all understand cloth – we all have some relationship with it and our clothes form part of our identity. They reveal and conceal aspects of our lives and loves, while also keeping us warm and covered up.”

Carole Waller can be visited at her showroom and studios near Batheaston by appointment.

Main image: Cashmere shawl by Carole Waller
Image above: Painted silk crepe de chine shirt dress by Carole Waller photographed in front of one of the quilts

Photography by Egle Vasi