Zoe Chamberlain speaks to a Midland artist who is transforming old love letters, precious photographs and child's drawing into new collectable pieces.
We all have a box or drawer full of sentimental memories, too precious to throw away but just collecting dust.
Midland artist Jennifer Collier has come up with a unique way to enjoy your treasured letters, photographs and child’s drawings every day.
She has discovered a way to stitch paper, enabling her to turn wedding stationary into gloves, love letters into tea cups and maps into shoes.
She’s even turned nostalgic photographs into a camera, dress patterns into a sewing machine and a book into a vacuum cleaner.
“It’s lovely to give new life to something that would get thrown away, that’s what makes it beautiful,” says Jennifer, 36 and from Tixall, Staffordshire.
“It might be a book that has reached the end of its life because it has pages ripped out, or a child’s drawing.
“People ask me to commission items using their own favourite pieces, such as theatre programmes, sheet music or maps of where they live.”
The unusual idea has evolved over the last 14 years since Jennifer had graduated from college, having studied printing and weave.
“I was making items out of paper and began to look at the narrative of the papers to try to decide to what they should be used for,” says Jennifer, who is married to Iain and has a eight-month-old baby called Stanley.
“So, for example, when I came across some vintage dress-making patterns, I felt I had to turn them into an old-fashioned sewing machine. I’ve made teacups and teapots out of cookbooks.”
Her designs are popular as birthday, christening and wedding gifts – and particularly for first anniversary presents.
“The traditional gift for first anniversaries is paper so I get lots of people asking me to make unique first anniversary presents,” says Jennifer, whose work has been featured in Vogue and Country Living magazines.
“They will often send me leftover wedding stationary or wedding favours to make the gifts out of.
“It’s lovely to work with papers that have meaning.”
“This is the perfect way of displaying these beautiful things so they can be seen and enjoyed every day.
“I made a camera out of vintage photographs.
“I’m making a lamp shade at the moment out of old house plans a couple have brought for me.
Jennifer says there is great skill involved in working with such delicate and precious materials.
“By bonding, waxing, trapping and stitching I produce unusual paper fabrics,” says Jennifer.
“Learning to stitch paper has taken years of practice.
“Experience tells me now when to stop stitching to stop the paper from tearing.
“Fortunately, it is easy to hide a tear if this happens.
“People have always been really pleased with the results.
Jennifer decided to make her pieces into art rather than usable, functional items.
Most of her work is commissioned through art galleries but she does take direct bookings through her website.
A camera costs around £140, a tea cup, saucer and spoon costs £55 and a pair of shoes cost £50.
“My most expensive piece is a paper typewriter, which costs £950 because there is so much detail in it.
“I have sold many typewriters, not off the peg, but through commissions.
“I recently sent one to be used as a display piece for a shop called Anthropology in New York.
“Most of my work is sold in this country but I do sell a fair bit internationally too.”
A lot of the papers Jennifer gets are very personal to the individual commissioning the artwork.
“When I get love letters, it’s sometimes difficult to not want to read them.
“But I choose not to because I would not want to be too personally involved when I’m cutting them and making them into something else.”
Despite being made out of throwaway materials, Jennifer insists her artwork does have longevity.
“The longevity is in the paper itself. I’m making a bag at the moment using a book dating back to 1921. That shows how long paper lasts.”
* Visit www.jennifercollier.co.uk to find out more about her work.