Transcending Cells: The Unseen: Tactile Biology

Felicity Alice Hollie Billing

Felicity is a recent graduate of the Royal School of Needlework, who pushes the creative boundaries between embroidery, design, and science. Her exploration in textured embroidery and material manipulation allows her to showcase cells and natural forms in a tactile way. Key themes of her work include the extraction of abstract shapes found in human and plant cells only seen through a microscopic lens that allows for clear precision of their unseen structure. The structures are then carefully translated in selected hand embroidery techniques and stitches, creating tactile, textural surfaces.

‘Transcending Cells / The Unseen: Tactile Biology’ is a collection of three-body adornment garments, inspired by abstract shapes found in both human and plants cells, unseeable by the naked eye. Microscopic lens imagery allows for clear precision of the structure of the cells. Importantly, Felicity’s work consists of tactile pieces, as a result of her use of textured embroidery, such as French Knots in Crewelwork and bead embroidery combined with material manipulation to showcase these cells and natural forms. Connecting herself to the natural world means Felicity approaches hand embroidery with technical precision in juxtaposition to her intuitiveness of human and plant cells. As a result, Felicity produces heavily embellished abstract shapes that intertwine translating initial marks into extraordinary embroidery for a collection of thought-provoking fashion and art-based garments.

Felicity’s unique collection is created from embroidered abstract panels, placed across the torso and back, and extends up the neck. Using a broad range of sheer and silk fabrics; black and white silk organza, organdie, black hemp silk charmeuse, and silk wool suiting. These allow ease of movement as they act as a base surface for embroidery across the torso body (front) and the lower back and tail bone of the spine. Accompanied with refined crisp pleats to exaggerate both the shape and form away from the body. These chosen materials, alongside her use of a monochromatic/metallic colour palette, are explored with great sensitivity to allow for Felicity to show her exquisite hand embroidery which is fluid and exudes the energy and organic life force at the heart of her practice.

Whilst studying, Felicity realised the importance of building a taxonomy of material, thread, technique, and vocabulary, which used together to explain and develop her ideas. Her monochromatic/metallic colour palette allows for the tactility of the work to become more dominant. To create these surfaces, she uses Canvaswork, Crewelwork, Goldwork, and a select few Whitework stitches.

Sharing her skills and knowledge with others is important to Felicity as she hopes to further her practice through teaching. By doing so, Felicity will develop an enhanced understanding of haptic learning. This is significant as fine motor skilled tasks can help to unlock and showcase individual capabilities alongside set academic subjects.

Whilst a student, Felicity received the Arts Scholar’s Bursary (2020) and was awarded the Personal Development Award in her first year (2019). She has completed and continues to complete a diverse range of freelance work experiences from fashion to fine art including Alexander McQueen and Susan Aldworth.

Moreover, as Felicity progresses her practice, translating her collection into a commercial range, she focuses on the pleating and fabric construction elements. Becoming the focused area of the garment to add impact that will illustrate one element of the body such as the sleeves, cuff, collar, and headbands. Creating an accessible, wearable range. Further exploration will be the introduction of tie-dye and later block colour.


You can follow Felicity on her Instagram page.


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