Jennifer Corkish

Jennifer Corkish, Her Work and Her Upcoming Sea Change

The term sea change couldn’t be more fitting for the future of quilter Jennifer Corkish, who is moving from the Southern Highlands to the south coast of NSW. I spoke with Jennifer about plans for her new studio and how the new house will affect her creative process. By Caroline Adams.

Those looking for a sea change are usually keen to move to a more peaceful life by the beach, but Jennifer Corkish is looking at her move as a chance to change her outlook, take on a new creative bent and challenge herself in her art. Jennifer was originally a Sydney girl, but 20 years ago she moved to Mittagong in NSW’s Southern Highlands to bring up her son — “though he’s now moved back to Sydney for his work in film!”

It’s time now for a change of residence and she is waiting for the right house to appear in Callala Bay, a small town on the south coast of New South Wales. Callala Bay is situated on the northern shore of Jervis Bay, about 20 minutes drive from Nowra and 10 minutes from beautiful Culburra Beach. Thankfully, this is not far away from her friends and teaching commitments at Berry Quilt and Co, so she is hoping it will be a good fit for her.

Jennifer Corkish Stitching

“I hope that having a sea change will allow me to have time to work on my creative self, enabling me to work on textile/mixed media exhibition works and do some further study,” says Jennifer. She describes herself as a “teacher of traditional appliqué and reproduction quilts”. She completed the Advanced Commercial Needlework Diploma with a distinction in 1992 at Dover Heights TAFE. This was followed by a Certificate 4 of Fine Arts at the then Sydney School of Colour and Design. Further study, via embroidery and quilting classes, have been inspirational to Jennifer, as has her extensive library of books she has gathered over the years. “I have sewn all my life, learning from my mother, and I don’t think I can remember any time I have not had a needle and thread or knitting needles and wool in my hands,” she says.

Create Jennifer’s lovely Boro Table Runner!

The thing that struck me about Jennifer Corkish was her love of nature and how she reuses fabrics and ties that into her work, giving it that special something. The inspiration she gleans from nature will change with her move. It will change from the country and bush, with all the grasses and colours, to the water’s edge, sea life, textures in the sand created by the waves, and rock pools. “I think my colour palette will reflect nature, the subtle changes in the sand, yet the depth of colour in the sea. I plan to use found objects and recycled textiles. I found some baby wraps and clothing while cleaning out mum’s glory box so I will see where they take me. The fabrics just need to be stitched and repaired as they are so old and frail with a story to tell.”

Her Bird’s Nest dress, pictured here, “was a bit of fun, to see what I could come up with”. One night an idea came to Jennifer about this dress with the bodice embellished with crushed egg shells. A friend suggested that she call the local McDonald’s to ask for the eggshells and she eventually picked up more than 300 shells from the outlet.

Jennifer Corkish Studio

“A large green garbage bag of slimy egg shells was where I started,” recalls Jennifer. “They had to be washed and soaked in eucalyptus solution, drained and dried, and then I had to peel out the membranes from each piece of shell. Next step was drying them out in the oven before I crushed them by hand to make sure the pieces were the same size. The bodice was moulded over a model made of muslin and BondCrete, the egg shell pieces were then attached in layers also using BondCrete. The skirt was made of tulle with sticks from a local weeping willow tree and a beautiful bird’s nest given to me by a friend. The bird’s nest from my garden was then attached at the waist,” explains Jennifer when describing the arduous task of making this project.

Make our practical and lovely Boro Style Purses!  

The Bird’s Nest dress was part of an exhibition created for the foyer gallery in Wingecarribee Council Chambers for June, 2016. Several pieces were then exhibited in the Southern Highlands Textile & Fibre Network exhibition in the Bowral Art Gallery in August, 2016. It then travelled to the Berry Quilting Retreat, run by Elizabeth Dubbelde, who formally owned Berry Patchwork.

So what will this new location bring to Jennifer Corkish? She hopes her new studio will have work stations where she is able to keep both her machines set up to work with another station for drawing, printing etc. An outdoor sink will be a must so Jennifer can dye and rust. “I have my father’s recliner, so I hope to have a corner where I can just put my feet up and read. I suppose you would call it a library corner,” she adds.

Jennifer Corkish Birds Nest Dress

As with any move, this is a chance to clean up and sort out. And as crafters we all know that things pile up around us. “I love books and textile magazines but have realised that I must cull and just take my favourites,” says Jennifer. “And scissors! I discovered that I have over 25 pairs after inheriting some from mum’s sewing supplies. So I will be going through my shelves carefully and just taking essentials — maybe only 10 pairs of scissors!” she laughs.

Check out our gorgeous Japanese Flowers Quilt!

Jennifer’s stash of fabrics is sorted into reproductions, brights, commercial prints and hand-dyed, including her own rust and eco-dyed fabrics. There are about six boxes of machine threads sorted into colourways to make it easier to find, although she stores some of her favourite basics in a dish next to her machine. “My hand-embroidery threads — the Stranded — are in boxes in no order but I have boxes of colour ranges of linens, wools, silks, cottons etc — more than I will ever be able to use. Then there are bags and bags of tapestry wools — I keep saying I’m going to get rid of them but the minute I do I will find a use for them!”

After cleaning out her mother’s glory box, Jennifer’s stash grew. She found her and her siblings’ christening dresses, baby clothes, baby blankets and wraps. “One great find is my grandmother’s burgundy velvet coat worn at her son’s wedding, which I plan to embellish in stitches and it will become part of an exhibition,” explains Jennifer.

Jennifer Corkish Work

Nowadays Jennifer Corkish is enjoying using old fabrics and clothes as they have their own story to tell and they are softer to stitch. She is also a keen student of Japanese Boro and this has been an important influence in her life. “I just love the way the Japanese didn’t waste fabric, repaired and hand-stitched out of necessity. My love of hand-stitching allows me to add lots of smaller pieces of fabric that would normally be thrown away. The fabric just seems to tell me where to stitch, and I get into a meditative state when stitching with no rules. Boro style has given me so many ideas and unlimited inspiration, and I love watching students understanding and loving the process.”

Between now and the move, Jennifer is working on a new quilt called Garden Fantasy, based on a parterre garden, with lots of appliqué and embroidery. There is a Boro quilt she is also working in pieces, which she can pick up and work on at any time. Her creative juices will be fuelled by attending a few workshops. “I am really looking forward to attending a two-day workshop with Berry Quilting with Anne Kelly from the UK, and then I’ll head down to Sale and Ballarat for Fibre Arts Australia. It’s run by Glenys Mann and we are being spoiled with two international tutors, Hannah Lamb and Caroline Bartlett.

“I just love learning from and being inspired by other tutors. You can never learn enough,” says Jennifer. We can’t argue with that and wish her all the best in her move and settling into a new creative groove.

Find out more about Jennifer Corkish

Jennifer Corkish teaches at Berry Quilt & Co.


Facebook: @berryquiltandco