‘Mud and Thread’ is a creative collaboration between textile artist Joy Merron and ceramic artist Gill Bliss.  Gill and Joy met during a lockdown project set up by Somerset Art Works, called ‘Somerset Reacquainted’. Initially the group’s only contact was through zoom calls; but Gill and Joy found common ground in their experiences and outlook.  This led to the suggestion that working together may present exciting and effective possibilities to push the boundaries of their material skills and broaden their individual practices. This blog (in conjunction with Instagram postings), will be used to document the journey of their collaboration, beginning in January 2021 and recording 18 months of their explorations, insights, and outcomes.

(The first three blogs (Jan, Feb and March) will be written as a block from our notes; and the next three (April,May and June) a short time after. This will bring the blog up to date with July, to continue posting each month. If you have started reading this while this catch-up is being done – please come again to find us fully caught up.)




Talking to other artists, it is clear that ‘collaboration’ can mean a whole range of things, and taking the time to discuss examples of successful partnerships helped to reveal a range of possibilities. 1  Joy and Gill are keen to find ways of working that bring the clay and textiles together in integrated solutions. They decided to use an object that they both felt happy to work with, but using it as a structure for experimental work rather than as a ‘product’ with set outcomes.  This follows the concept of a ‘boundary object’, which can be used ‘to help craftspeople and designers work together to support knowledge exchange and collaboration’ (Suib, Engelen and Crul, 2020 2); particularly the sort of tacit knowledge that is not easily put into words. As the form of a corona or flattened sphere is present in both of their individual work it was an ideal starting point, and Joy’s cushions were chosen to work with.

Engagement 3:  

Joy sent Gill some textile cushions.  Gill moulded one of them and made several ceramic cushions in different types of clays – these were to go back to Joy.   Gill would then interact with the textile objects using clay and Joy, in reverse, would interact with the clay objects using textiles. This process immediately highlighted practicalities about how the textiles and ceramic materials would be attached to each other – questions were raised about forward planning of things like holes and supporting structures. So there was a need for both artists to start understanding and accommodating each other’s working practices and material requirements.

The ceramic processes of mould making, drying clay, and kiln firing can take quite a time and the collaboration had to accommodate this slowing of pace.  To make use of the waiting time productively, Joy initiated a drawing project, which would act as research and help generate ideas for the material interactions.  This was to explore the theme of natural growth, using photos from Gill’s garden as a starting point, with plants and fungi emerging out of walls and paving.

Joy: ‘I have been exploring the cushion form, based on an ‘ojami’, because of its simple rectangular pattern shape and this seemed a good place to start.   (A link to a short history about the game of otedama and how to make them:  https://www.juggle.org/otedama-japanese-childrens-juggling-game)

As the process of mould making, casting and then firing is lengthy, I turned to my sketchbook to play around with ideas on the theme of emergence and how I could integrate threads with mud.

Joy’s sketchbook work and material experiments

I began a systematic exploration of threads and colour to create some free flowing samples that may integrate with the solid clay forms. Images of emerging growth were translated in free stitch on dissolvable film, making trailing and flowing branches, some as fractals.  Substituting the materiality of hard clay with found stones and pebbles, I wanted to emulate the contrasting flow of tendrils of growth and the impermanence of fallen leaves with the non malleable and solid grounded stones.‘ 

Joy’s experiments with leaf forms

Gill: ‘I haven’t made moulds for many years ( not since my last job at Aardman Animations in 2010) , and I was very happy to revive this skill. I tried to make each clay cushion individual by using different clays and surface textures, again re-experiencing things from earlier years in ceramics.   I needed to make holes at this stage while the clay was soft, as a way for Joy to add textiles, and tried to think about what might be useful or inspiring.  I found it difficult to know what would be helpful to Joy so just made a selection of different size holes – some quite expressive and others that might be hidden away.

To combine with Joy’s textile cushions, I experimented with modelling clay ‘growths’.  The drawing work was useful in understanding a variety of living forms: how they emerge and patterns of growth. After making a few, I realised they needed holes underneath that would take a fixing wire, as a means of attaching the clay securely to the textiles.’

Gill’s drawings and ‘growth’ experiments


1 Examples are: Alice Kettle and Helen Felcey working under the name ‘Clay and Thread’ to produce an exhibition combining china tableware, and an embroidered landscape cloth (2009).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Azc5Cy508o

‘Forest and Found’ are a working partnership in wood and textiles, which shares an aesthetic of natural, refined forms and surface qualities. https://www.forest-and-found.com

Manchester University set up a ‘pairing project’ (2010) for university staff working in different creative media. https://thepairingsproject.wordpress.com/about/

2 Suib, Engelen and Crul, 2020. Enhancing knowledge exchange and collaboration between craftspeople and designers using the concept of boundary objects International Journal of Design, 14(1), 113-133.



In order to think about similarities that might come together in their two practices, Gill and Joy set up a ‘Pinterest’ board on which to share influential ideas and artists. There was an obvious joint appreciation for textural qualities that enhanced the simplicity of raw materials; an interest in ideas that take nature as a starting point, and recognition of skilled craftwork.  For Joy an example is the work of Sudo Reiko who is known for pushing the boundaries of traditional Japanese textile processes using modern technology.  For Gill, Hans Coper has influenced her making of sculptural pots from composite forms as a way of extending throwing and hand building techniques.

Work by Sudo Reiko.              Work by Hans Coper

Engagement 2:  

Having undertaken a residency in Japan (2014), Joy has experience and enjoyment of Japanese aesthetics. 1 Gill’s research into western and eastern attitudes to ecology also touched on Japanese influences.2  These were shared interests, then, through which to begin exploring their relationships to materials and processes.

Examples of useful ideas include the notion of  ‘wabi-sabi’: an appreciation of simplicity, and the beauty of the imperfect or fading form.   Gill was interested in trying out a traditional Japanese ceramic process called ‘kirinuki’, which describes finding a form by carving into a block of clay.   Joy picked up on a translation of the word ‘kirinuki’ as ‘scraps and cuttings’ and related this to the traditional textile process of ‘boroboro’. This refers to the reworking and repairing of a garment or cloth, with patches and stitches that build up many layers over time, thus extending its useful life.

Gill:  ‘I made a start on the ‘kirinuki’ process with balls of porcelain clay.  The first process was to shape each into a solid bowl form and texture the outside using natural things from my garden such as seed heads, bits of bark and rough pebbles. I then hollowed out from the inside, which stretched and accentuated the textures.  Each bowl was refined with rhythmic hand movements, finished inside with loop tool markings and a foot-ring. I enjoyed this process, which is slower and more intuitive than the throwing that I am used to. Each bowl retained an individual character with small eccentricities responding to my touch. (I threw some lids to make the bowls into jars or tea caddies, which formed a connection to my individual work).’

Lidded jars made by Gill using ‘kirinuki’ method

Joy: ‘I have always relished transforming utilitarian and domestic materials through cutting and stitching so early in lockdown I found teabags were accumulating and wondered if they could be stitched successfully without disintegrating.  Working in a small space determines the scale of my work and small, repeated motifs then assembled works well in this context. I was in the process of completing these embroidered tea bag flower pieces as finished kimonos when our collaborative journey began.

Kimonos made by Joy from reclaimed teabags

During this time I was also foraging for seasonal materials, sheep’s fleece snagged on brambles and hedgerows and willow whips so began experimenting with these as my base materials. There is a common language between textiles and clay, coiling, folding and trimming. Alongside embracing the Japanese concepts of boro and kirinuki that utilise remnants, mistakes and flaws; these could provide a potential starting place.

How can I connect with Gill’s practice? I referred back to our shared vocabulary and started by making a simple coiled pot on the machine using strips of teabags. This proved difficult as the paper and fibre content of a tea bag is weak and tears easily, so I tried grasses and raffia.  Although inconsistent in their construction along the lengths, making machine stitching and forming tricky, the resulting series of randomly built coiled pots were satisfying to handle. Some I paired together to form pods. This imperfection of form felt right.’

Joy stitching teabags and raffia to make pots and pods

Reflection: We realised at this point that we were working quite separately – the things we were making could sit alongside each other for display, but we both knew this was not stretching the possibilities of the materials or making the most of working together.  While recognising our shared aesthetic interests would be valuable to the collaboration, the next step was to explore bringing the clay and textiles together to form integrated pieces of work, and we needed to find ways of working that would achieve this.


1More information about western interpretation of Japanese aesthetics here:  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/japanese-aesthetics/

2Imanishi,K.(2002). A Japanese View of Nature. Routledge Curzon, USA.


In January 2021, Covid restrictions meant that Gill and Joy were to start their dialogue through zoom meetings.  The first conversation uncovered their very similar histories as creative practitioners with portfolio careers – both had periods of work in industry, had been employed in higher education, and had experience as individual creative practitioners making functional items for exhibition and sale. They jointly related to ideas that carried an importance in craftsmanship with a resonance to material qualities. They each expressed a wish to challenge their practice and go beyond normal ways of working, so that their skills and understanding would grow from the experience of working with another maker.

Expectations of trust, and commitment to the project were important factors to establish. Gill and Joy felt that the work needed to grow and evolve organically, with a wish to experiment and extend capabilities being more important than a rush towards resolved outcomes.  A schedule of zoom meetings every two weeks felt right to keep a flow of interest in the project and follow progress.

Engagement 1:

A ‘call and response’ method is a well-documented way of starting collaborative projects and allows for makers who live/work at some distance to make a connection through sent items[1].    Gill and Joy followed this practice in their own way by requesting items under a theme that might act as creative triggers.  For Gill, a selection of Joy’s stitched flowers and printed samples made from recycled tea-bags. For Joy a collection of shiny, luminescent items including a small porcelain vase made by Gill.

Gill :  ‘Although my intention had been to work in clay, my initial reaction to seeing Joy’s stitched and printed tea-bags was to photograph them and start creating digital designs in ‘Photoshop’, using layers of imagery and repeat patterns ( see images below). This is a way of working that felt very safe to me and so I fell into it almost without thinking. I enjoyed the natural, earthy colouring of the elements which I felt related to the local clay I had been using recently.  I then thought about how the designs could be worked onto pots, either hand drawing in coloured slips/glazes or using printed transfers.  Joy could also use the designs to print onto textiles and so create items that became related across ceramics and textiles.

On reflection I realised that instead of exploring possibilities for new relationships, I had immediately fallen into old ways of seeing finished outcomes. I would need to break the habit of this way of working and dig deeper to find a more experimental approach to ideas, materials and processes.’

Stitched and recycled tea-bags sent to Gill by Joy and an example of the ‘Photoshop’ prints created by Gill

Joy :  ‘I have a passion for iridescent objects that change colour with light and reflections, so I had asked Gill to include objects with this property.  I received my box of goodies – a small piece of Gill’s ceramics, a spotted gift bag, tiny shell, piece of sea glass, packet of shiny critter stickers and a fractal gift card

My initial response was to be drawn to the qualities of the reflective light and kaleidoscopic colours, then the contrast between natural and manmade objects and the way Gill has played with balance in her ceramic piece. I jotted down some words that link my process to the objects lying in front of me; ripples in sand, Fibonacci sequence, circles and dots, fractals, balance and imbalance, natural and manmade, light and shadow.  I felt my first response would be to echo the form of Gill’s ceramic vase in fabric and stitch, splitting it into two halves. This was a way in but it didn’t feel authentic, more of a safe, tentative step within my comfort zone but it was a starting point.’

The collection of iridescent objects sent to Joy by Gill, and Joy’s initial response to Gill’s ceramic piece


[1]For example, see collaborative projects of Norton and Pondsford (http://groundworks.org.uk/wp/earthbound/;  Hosea, Foa, Grisewood and McCall (https://drawntogether.wordpress.com)