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Cas Holmes


Cas Holmes in her studio
photo credit: Chris Smart

After obtaining a Fine Arts degree in the early eighties, my understanding of paper and related media was further enhanced through two periods of long-term study in Japan in the mid to late eighties (supported by the Japan Foundation and the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust).

In 1991, I was given a joint award with South East Arts and the British Council to research art based organisations and community groups in Canada. I focused on those, which used re-cycled and found materials in their projects. Exchanges, talks and workshops remain an important part of my practice and more recently I have studied and worked in Europe, India and Australia.

I continue to develop my techniques, drawing and use of colour remain the foundation for all my work. The fragments of found materials are layered and mark the passing of time, the rituals of making (drawing, cutting, gathering materials, machining, sewing) acting as part of the narrative of the work.

My work relates to the natural and built world and the elements that make it up. I live in a house which edges on a park bringing the Urban and 'Nature' together. I like to make drawings, take photographs and gather found materials from within my footsteps as part of the regular journeys I make from my front door. The process of looking and recording helps to establish the environmental links between the built and 'natural' spaces as well as addressing issues of sustainable practice. I am interested in the open landscape, the shadows of marks made by man in the earth, the reflections in water and flooded fields, gardens and seasons changing. I refer to this process in my book The Found Object in Textile Art, as 'Magpie of the Mind'.

I have a love-hate relationship with nature. I spend time outdoors as part of necessity as I do not drive. You experience the pull of the land in a very different way when walking on a cold winters day to a sunny afternoon. I like to think my work serves as a reminder of this connection to nature, the land and the urban spaces.

I am interested in recording the changes that might impact on the flora and landscape of South East of England and my adopted County, Kent. I am looking at political and social as well as climatic change. Recent flooding, as witnessed in the American South and the Tsunami in Japan, and its impressive physical changes to the landscape raises issues about our fragile relationship with the local and global environment. No one who has grown up in the flat Norfolk landscape as a child can fail to make connections between change and man's impact on the land through farming, building and use of world resources.

I am motivated by exchange with others as part of this process. I run workshops with schools and communities, using 'what is there', (natural and found materials) to create 'drawings' and 3d pieces with relevance to given situations, audiences and locations. I am open to looking at new approaches and encouraging others to investigate and develop their own ideas and their relationship to the land.

Link to interview with a student >>


It is not often that you come across an artist that plays between the worlds of human and natural. Most find inspiration either in one or the other; we are all familiar with textile work that holds urbanity or nature as its core inspiration. However, Cas Holmes has found a third way, the point where both touch, not collide, but touch. This haunted land full of 'the shadows of marks made by man in the earth', of 'reflections in water and flooded fields', of 'gardens and seasons changing', is one that is often missed by the passer-by and artist alike, but it is a rich and rewarding place. It is an inspirational well of harmony and balance, as well as of conflict and division. Something shared and something complementary, as she says herself: 'We have an intimate relationship with the land, but equally share "common connection".' Cas helps others to search and explore the world of the found and the displaced, the cast aside, or perhaps just the mislaid. It is a rich vein of potential and a revelation of connections between … our human world … [and] the world we refer to as natural.

John Hopper, editor of Inspirational magazine. Appears in Fiber Art Now Fall edition 2014 and introduction to Stitch Stories, Cas Holmes, 2015)

On a recent visit to Canterbury I wandered into the Beaney, something I often do now it has been so well refurbished, and found myself captivated by a new exhibition in the Front Room. Cas Holmes is a textile artist based in Maidstone who produces mixed media work blending 'found' fabric and her own delicately stitched designs. None of the pieces, some suspended in the air, some hung against the wall like pictures or tapestry, can be understood at a glance. The viewer's attention is demanded and greater attention rewarded as layer upon layer of meaning is revealed. The material on view consists of fabric rags: scraps of torn lace, pieces of sheet or clothing, newspaper, curtains or cushion covers. Sometimes these have a printed design. Sometimes they are worn and dirty, stained by the situation in which they were discarded. Joining all these fragments are the stitches of Cas Holmes who has rescued these pieces of her environment and created something new from them. The stitching is sometimes sturdy and used to hold things together. At other times the stitches are purely decorative and consist of sewn drawings, the outlines of birds and locally found flowers. The essences of people, their memories and past lives, seem to linger, trapped within the fabric substance on display. Many of these materials will have had direct contact with skin and might have witnessed or taken part in key events in human stories. Saved from dereliction they are resurrected in the creations of Cas Holmes and haunt us with their fragile communications. Woven into each piece are the ideas of Holmes herself and images from the natural world. Like the singing of birds or the beautiful potential in a budding flower these works speak to us with a language that is hard to rationally understand but is keenly felt nonetheless.

Huffington Post, Mathew Crockatt, Dec 2013

Travel and textile art: Less is more - article on TextileArtist.org

Looking at translucent layers, connecting paint, mark and print with the found surfaces of fabrics and papers she seeks the 'hidden edges' of our landscape, the verges of our roadsides, railway cuttings and field edges, the places where our gardens meet the outside spaces. Worked with what Cas describes as 'stitch sketching' these atmospheric pieces seeking to capture a moment or thing before it is gone.

The Year ahead, Embroidery Magazine 2012

Cas Holmes' textured, translucent, and intricate textile art is a testament to the history of this medium, as well as the social and political undertones that it implies. Devoted to incorporating historical and found objects in her artwork, Cas creates layers of both fabric and meaning, inspired by her travels, her hometown of Maidstone in Kent, England, and her interest in the societal role of textiles both past and present. Her stirring work has been well recognized in her community; she recently received the Pride of Britain award from the NRI® Institute for her research in India and the resultant body of work exploring her Romany gypsy ancestry.

Pippa Eccles, Curious Cloth, Quilting Arts Magazine

Cas Holmes has a down-to-earth approach to life and her art takes her on flights of fancy, which evoke folk cultures, traditions and mythology with an abandon which ignores all barriers. Sometimes figurative, sometimes wholly abstract she has an unerring faith in her feeling for her materials. Confidence pours from her work and with it a power and sophistication that brings to it an almost religious sensation of ancient wisdom revisited.

Her work is inevitably influenced by her visits to Japan but more as someone who would use that influence to reaffirm her own strengths. That is her originality.

Her materials are overwhelmingly organic and appear to have been given new life. Paper ages and crinkles with a will of its own and is made exquisitely into a Japanese style panels allowing light to pass through, or are incorporated into one of her unique quilted hangings. Behind it all there is a sense of grand design under the control of the artist. It is both decorative and rich in symbolism.

A sense of provocation displays her commitment to art as part of life and shows richly in her dedication to community projects into which she throws herself like an avenging demon.

Ralph Steadman

Cas Holmes is deeply moved by the stories of ordinary people's lives, the births, marriages and deaths; the diseases brought on by harsh working conditions and the way these hard facts are hidden from history, forgotten with the passing of time. Her work often contain snippets of text or discarded materials and objects that have associations or that conjure up memories. There is always a dialogue with the materials she uses. They bring their own history, which is woven into the work

Moira Vincentelli Review for Reflections exhibition

Cas Holmes is one of those artists who leaves you with a lot of questions. I was fortunate to spend a few days with her in several workshops that changed the way I look at textile art. There is no confusion over deciphering if her work is an art quilt. It isn't. It is textile art, stitched through layers of fabrics or paper, or cast off clothing or the discarded. There is no worrying over the oft regulated "stitched through three layers surrounded by a definitive binding."

Cas makes art. If it happens to reference the techniques of the quilter, it is coincidence- same brush, different painting. Her work has a primitive quality that wanders the earthly through the ethereal. Translucent layers of painted fabrics, collaged papers or stitched bits combine and then recombine across different series of her work. Cas sketches regularly. When we went to dinner, she sketched the restaurant interior. During a lunch break, she sketched the classroom venue and then later, on a group walk, she encouraged us all to do the same. She brings this quality to her thread painting- which is more thread sketching with frenetic stitch lines that capture movement and personality. The simplicity of her thread sketching brings a charm to her work and a sense of urgency; as if we need to look now to see a moment or thing before it is gone. This simplicity can also bring reassurance to any of us- to say that we need not worry about the perfection of every line of stitching. In this medium, we can cast off the yoke of perfectly spaced, even stitching and embrace the moment of "doing."

Deborah Bates Stitchstress 2010

For listed reviews please see:

  1. Articles, Reviews and Print on my blog.
  2. Bare Truth Podcast


Reflections, life, home and work
Finding inspiration for textile art

For students who are researching textile artists and any one else who may be interested ...

Frequently asked questions

How did you first become interested in textiles and start working with them?

My textile training is all self-taught. I hit on a method of destroying and reconstruction when painting over a previously painted canvas as part of an art project at college. The original image kept coming through, and in frustration I ripped up the canvas.

I looked at it and said, 'Oh, this is more exciting.' I thought the substance of the canvas was more important than what was on it. As resources and finances grew tight I started to experiment with waste paper and fabric for surfaces to work on, the next logical stage to make larger works was to piece them together somehow and stitch seemed the most obvious way. I was also fortunate in having Janis Jefferies, former head of textiles at Goldsmiths College London as a personal tutor and she really got me started on the journey questioning my media and its links with women, home, craft and the broader art world.

What is your main source of inspiration - what gave you the idea to work with textiles and paper combined?

My statement is pretty clear on that. I hated textiles and sewing at home. Dreaded memories of cross-stitch aprons in primary school, so was not a good student in my youth and had no one in the family who worked with textiles. However, my father went to Norwich Art School in the 1940s and whilst very much a working man all his life, his training in sign writing and house decoration gave me insight to marvellous wallpapers and other people's larger 'designed' houses with wonderful paintings and objects when I went to help him decorate. This must have had some influence early on. There were also a few odd mementoes my dad had bought back with him from his National Service days from leave in Hong Kong and Japan, paper wrapping, photo albums which were quite different to anything else we had in our house. This fired my enthusiasm to go to Japan in the early eighties where a whole world of paper and textile art opened up before me.

How do you make your pieces?

To create my pieces I use mostly low-tech techniques and found materials. These are dyed, printed with household emulsion paint and at times to age fabrics, I bury them in the back yard. I use other mediums of transferring such as sun-printing dyes, but refuse to speed up the process with heat lamps, waiting patiently instead for a hot, sunny day. I also use digital imagery, but alter the photo by transferring them rather than editing them with computer software. I'm not interested in the perfect print.

A big part of my work is the human connection. Many of the textiles and papers I use are written accounts of family memories and cast-off sheets and clothing. I'm interested in the history of these fabrics, what we do with them. Sheets, clothing - the familiarity we have in our own life.

I gather all the elements together - paste, dyed tissue, altered fibres, and so on - and build up layers as I would a painting. I then cut up the layers to see what's underneath. This is then worked with further paint and machine stitching and then did I mention? I may take away some more.

How do you record things? Do you keep a sketchbook?. Are all your quilts neatly planned or do you also work on intuition?

I mainly evolve ideas as response to environments, situations and stories. None of my pieces are neatly planned, the sketch books are like a diary, marking progress and change of things as I make things and a work visual record of ideas. The visuals are not plans of pieces I later make but an expression of thought process I am making which can lead to developing pieces. They are not textile designs in the formal sense. There is a lot of intuition, a response to materials and the given environment in the pieces. Any student who has attended my courses can vouch for that. It's a recording of the 'creative flow'.

A section in my book refers to this process as 'Magpie of the Mind'.

Much of your time is spent working in the community and producing site-specific installations. That must be a challenge. How did you get into that ?

During my last year in college, I did some voluntary work at the local hospital and enjoyed getting others involved in creativity. To say I drifted into community work would be misleading. You have to believe in what you are doing and the right for people to be creative to undertake the work. Working with different projects and regular teaching form a major part of my creative professional life. It keeps me firmly grounded and encourages a continual challenge of ideas.

With any longer term project, I visit first and find out where the interest lies. The first two/three sessions give participants a chance to try things out and put their ideas into the circle. I never design the piece in these situations but see what happens and, if a group piece, gradually form a framework for putting things together. It is more risky, but allows for real creative thinking. This has been a very positive process. People I work with often have disabilities but that has in no way limited their involvement. It is just about finding a way through ... and being prepared to take a step back and listen.

I also work on shorter term, one- or two-day projects in schools and educational centres. The focus for these is on use of found materials. This in turn, also develops an awareness of environmental issues. Everything I do in my community work has another reference - to be more resourceful. Making artwork with perceived waste can be fun, it also makes you think. I have global concerns about the environment, but have to start locally.

Examples of community projects can be seen on my website.

What messages do you hope to convey through your works?

My works have a narrative quality to them and work on different levels, they are often described as 'decorative' with a history. Using recycled and vintage fabrics and found materials creates a sense of age or atmosphere conveying a past history. I look at the relationship between urban and nature, the views from our windows, the verges of our roadsides, weeds and flora on brown belt land and field edges, and the places where our gardens meet the 'greater landscape. Working with 'stitch sketching', I seek to capture a moment or thing before it is gone. Those who view my work are open to interpret my pieces in their own way but they do seem to 'get' the essence of the pieces.

What are your plans for the future of your art practice?

I continue to collaborate and exhibit with others as well as work on site-specific commissions. I am particularly interested in working with performers and writers. I also enjoy the challenge of working on more personal commissions incorporating materials donated by the sponsor.

If you could sum up your work in just one sentence, what would you say?

Mixed media textiles, fragments and layers mark the passing of time, the rituals of making (cutting paper, gathering materials, machining, sewing) act as part of the narrative of the work.

See Exhibitions & Events for further details and

work by Cas Holmes
Book of Changes 'Watch the Birdie' 15x10x8cm
work by Cas Holmes
Indian Summer 40x30cm framed

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