Friday, January 11, 2013

Interviews as Inspiration ~ Cas Holmes


I discovered Cas Holmes' work when I got her book,  ‘The Found Object in Textile Art’. The book and her style have influenced me greatly! Then, I tracked her down, and bought one of her pieces, because I loved it, and I love to have art work that inspires me. Hopefully Cas will be coming to the US in 2014, and specifically San Diego to teach a workshop. I'm working on it!

Jane LaFazio: Please start by telling us what you do.

Cas Holmes: I am an artist, teacher, and author. All my work is with found materials both in my own practice, in workshops, and beyond. My partner Derek, is unsure of what to 'dispose of' which is just as well as he often gets to use it too. In recessionary times, a sustainable approach to textiles is fast becoming a trend. In my work and my life this desire to re-use is part of an ethical choice.

Cas Holmes studio (and her old Bernina sewing machine)
JL: Where do you live? Describe your home and studio and town.

CH: My home, is a very small 1930's terrace house in Maidstone (in southeast UK). It is furnished, and decorated and with items discovered in charity shops, skips (dumpsters) salvage yards, and even off the street. This is where Derek gets to use his handy skills as a builder with a sculpture training background. Every space is used – shelves are fitted above doors to store books, cupboards are squeezed into small spaces and hide all kinds of materials and equipment. An old oak folding table in my workroom studio lifts to the wall when I need a bigger floor space (or have guests), and when down, it reveals a handy space for dyes and paints. Canvas is placed on hooks to act as movable surfaces for pinning work as it progresses.

Everything made or built for our home carries its own story, something you do not usually get with things mass produced. Our home is one not ruled by conspicuous consumption but rather one whose emphasis is on creating as small as environmental footprint as is possible. Neither Derek or I drive....but in the UK, this is still manageable if you do not live in the country.

Red Bowl by Cas Holmes
JL: Have you always been an artist?

CH: For as long as I remember this is all I wanted to do. An unusual path for someone who grew up on a working class estate in Norwich(outside of England).  A local saying is 'To Do Different' and that combined with Romany Gypsy on my grandmothers side meant I was just a little more determined to set my mind to just that.

Along Peddlers Way by Cas Holmes

JL: Your work has a very strong nature theme, tell us why you are so drawn to that subject. CH: When you walk, cycle, and use public transportation, you aren't isolated. You make direct contact with the physical world and dress appropriately for the weather! I live in an built up area but am next to a park. It gives me a broad range of materials and references to work with both for my own projects and in projects with others. I am drawn to the ‘hidden edges’, the verges of our roadsides, and field edges, the places where our gardens meet the outside spaces.  These simple things of my daily life are inspiration.
Wayside Grasses by Cas Holmes

JL: I love how you combine my three faves, cloth, paper and stitching. What inspired you to combine the three? 

CH: Clothing, plant materials, printed paper, I use whatever I find or am given. This started from need..I had little money to spare when I was studying art and worked evenings in a pub just to ensure I could eat. I love old fabrics. They've been washed so many times the fibers become very receptive to dyes and marks. I like to ‘destroy’ and remake things. My favourite found tool has to be a basic 1970s Bernina sewing machine I recovered from a skip (dumpster). I taught myself to stitch using this old machine and loved the way I could get it to respond to my movements linking drawing with stitch. If I ever lost it, it would be very hard to replace.

Cas Holmes 
JL: Your book, ‘The Found Object in Textile Art’ is one of my very favorite books, and it certainly influenced my work for the better. Tell us a bit about the writing and formulating of the book and the work for it. 

CH: Over many years, like any maker who teaches, I created projects and guides for instruction. We are surrounded by things that are carelessly disposed of and overlooked, such as paper and other things we can gather at our feet. These two things came together when I was approached by an inspired editor at Batsford to put some of this together for a book. I had been asked over a number of years by students about putting a book together. I always said if the right publisher comes along...Batsford/Anova proved to be the right publisher.
working on Tea Flora Tales
JL: You seem to collaborate for some of your exhibitions. And, community collaborations. Tell us about that, and why you do it. 
CH: I remember this quote in a catalogue Reflections about my work sometime ago. I think is is still relevant today:

Being a practising artist and a community artist is a kind of double life but she (Cas) suggests, ‘they are closely interwoven’. The low-tech systems she employs in her personal art practice are flexible enough to be used by people of all levels of skill and ability. It is one of the reasons why her work is accessible to a wide audience. 

Moira Vincentelli (From Reflections catalogue 1999) 

I enjoy the challenge of working on site-specific projects and installations in collaboration with the community and other artists, performers and musicians as it can lead to different interpretations and opportunities for you work. You reach different audiences and learn from this exchange with others. 

Tea-Flora-Tales as part of of my recent exhibition Urban Nature is an example of an ongoing collaboration.

Tea Flora Tales ~ collaborative work
JL: Teaching. What’s your philosophy for teaching? (I ask, because as a teacher myself, I’m always working to better my teaching skills) CH: Be prepared to be challenged and expect those participating in workshops to be challenged too. Encourage people to take risks and stretch themselves. Celebrate what you do but be prepared to make mistakes. All artists makes mistakes but as Picasso states 'Great artists know which mistakes to keep'. Look for the unexpected and play. If you want to create you will make the space to learn.
Sketchbook image by Cas Holmes
JL: What your favorite part of your day? 
CH: I would say morning usually...but my days vary so much that I would find it hard to pin a favourite time of the day...time to stitch or draw is always a best part. I have at any one time 4 or 5 sketchbooks on the go and I am afraid my mind does, in fact, work like a magpie, seizing opportunities and ideas as I go through the day and rejecting those that do not work (or as I say often to my students, 'you can always cut it up and use it again'). I have learnt not to be precious about my drawing and just do it whenever I can...whether in sketchbook or with my machine.
Cas' Sketchbooks

JL: Give us some titles of your favorite books. Any kind~ fiction, non-fiction, or art related. 

CH: Waterland by Graham Swift.  It a a story of the Fens in East Anglia and the descriptions of this flat waterland are stunning.
Corvus A life with Birds by Esther Woolfson a captivating biography of a woman and her crows.
Any art or textile book I have bought would be too endless to list, but a few are:
Washi by Sukey HughesWomen and Craft by Gillian ElinorThe Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker 

JL: Future plans and dreams? 

CH: During the winter 2012-13, I had a rare few days of quiet and time to reflect. I had been ill a year ago and was forced to spend time indoors and almost immobile. I found myself drawn to windows, some old pots and the views outside. I re-looked at this, this winter.I am not sure where it will lead...but I enjoy this aspect of not knowing and seeing the possibilities which may open up. Staying healthy and fit...continue making and teaching..and writing.

from Cas Holmes sketchbook
A few things in the near future include a teaching tour in Australia in March and discussions are taking place for some teaching in the USA in 2014. Urban Nature will have an extended showing at The Beaney, Canterbury Museum, (UK) at the end of 2013. I will be guest artist at the European Patchwork Meeting in 2014. 

And, I'm currently working on my second book, Connected Cloth (co -author Anne Kelly). It's due Autumn of 2013. It will be 'A practical and inspirational guide to setting up and sustaining 
group textile-art projects, from simple collaborations between friends to ambitious community projects'

Cas Holmes quilt, hanging on my living room wall 

You can read my other Interviews as Inspiration here:

Rachelle Archer, expressive arts therapist at a school for homeless
Cas Holmes, textile artist
Mary Beth Shaw, artist and Stencil Girl Products founder
Marcia Derse, textile designer
Lesley Riley, artist and author
Danny Gregory, artist and author
Judy Reeves, writer
Carlo Roberts, The Blue Walk travel company founder
Jane Powell, Random Arts owner 


  1. I am also a fan of Cas Holmes work so found this very interesting. I saw her exhibition at Festival of Quilts this year, and it was very inspiring.

  2. Thank you, Jane. Your interview with Cas was a great read during lunchtime! I had not been familiar with her work and enjoyed exploring links from her website. I also enjoyed your Recycled Circles download!

    1. Peggy, soooo glad you enjoyed my new DVD!

  3. Thanks for this great interview with Cas!!
    I am so excited that our plans for her to be in the southeastern US next year are working out...and that I will be her chauffeur!

    I always enjoy your interviews Jane!


  4. I'm, also, a fan of Cas. Her book is so amazing! I hope her plan to come to the US 2014 happens. I would love to take her class.

    Thank you, Jane, for these wonderful interviews.

    1. Fingers crossed, Mia and Judy, that Cas can come to San Diego for a workshop in 2014!

  5. Just wanted to thank you for doing these interviews. They are all fascinating! Love Cas Holmes' work.

  6. Thank you for the introduction! And for the book links; I am smitten and immediately placed a few orders -hope you and/or Cas get a bit of the profits!

  7. I love your blog Jane.I continue to get such encouragement for doing art in many forms. Could you tell me how the quilt on your living room wall was made? Is it possible to hand quilt these type of quilts? I'm not a fan of sewing machines . Just beautiful work!

    1. Cathy, the quilt on my wall was made by Cas. I can tell you there is some machine stitching and some hand stitching and that it is beautiful!

  8. Beautiful post. The work is so sensitive and heart felt.

  9. I have her book and love her work. It was a really interesting interview. Thanks!

  10. WOw Jane what a fantastic interview!!

    Cas' artistic sensibilities are so sensitive and her lifestyle is so connected to her work. She is a beautiful soul!

    I can see why you love her work!

  11. Wonderful interview. I'm also an admirer of Cas' work and love her book. Would love to take her class.

  12. Being a big Cas fan i'm very happy with this article, thank you so much Jane............

  13. Very Inspirational - Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview!

  14. Very Inspirational! Thanks for taking the time to do this!

  15. Thank you for such a wonderful review and gentle interview style. Have just spent two days teaching and have just caught up. I am delighted to be part of such a wonderful group of interviews and am in good company.

    Hope to see you in 2014

    all best


  16. Thanks for the great interview Jane. I sent this out on m FB page too! Loved it. Susie

    1. Thank you, Susie, for sharing my blog post!

  17. what an incredible interview Jane! So heartfelt and honest...thanks for the insight about Cas Holmes...I would love to meet her in 2014!

  18. Very interesting. Thanks, Jane and Cas!

  19. What a great interview! I'm also a fan of Cas's work, and have her book as well. (Loved the little "stitched bird" video at the end, too ... it made me laugh!)

  20. The stitched bird has its own is the back of several pieces I made to raise money for an Indian charity.....I always look at my 'backside' and like to it just had to be animated. (raised close to £1000 for the charity)

  21. I love Cas Holmes' work. She taught a workshop in San Antonio many years ago and I have followed her work ever-since. Thank you for posting this interview, Jane. I enjoyed it very much!

    1. Leslie! You took a workshop from her?? Lucky you!

    2. Hello Leslie..fond memories of the warmth and friendship of San An. It is freezing over here at the moment but my witch hazel is lovely. Hi Jane..thanks for bringing out the old and the new (friends) in this seasonal time of looking forward and back

  22. I have done several workshops with Cas Holmes. I would say, if she comes to a venue near you - grab the chance. However, don't bother if you don't want to be stretched, you will gain so much if you go with an open mind and expect the unexpected.

  23. dear Nuvofelt..thanks for the endorsement. The ride isn't easy, but there are lots of smiles, laughs, challenges and yes..being stretched.


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