Artist Jordan Cunliffe uses data to tell stories with her art. She spoke to Fibre Arts Take Two about her work and passions.
Jordan Cunliffe’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Data can be beautiful and can inspire stunning works of stitched art. Renowned textile artist and embroidery designer Jordan Cunliffe explores the use of stitch data to tell stories and record personal details.
The meaning may be obvious or hidden and often concentrates on the smaller, quieter everyday moments that make up our lives. Jordan’s finished work is both beautifully precise and mesmerising, reflecting on the seemingly simple, like daily walks or nightly sleep patterns to memorable moments in her life.
Whether it’s recording the colours of flowers on a favourite path or encoding your most private thoughts in beaded Morse code, Jordan’s book, Record, Map and Capture in Textile Art, explores a fascinating way of working while honouring the time spent stitching. Fibre Arts Take Two talked to Jordan about life, art, prisoners of war and children’s books.
Back to school
Jordan recently enjoyed the opportunity to return to university, “Because I only had one day a week to focus on this university experience,” she says, “I really wanted to make the most of it and just absorb it all. I just loved the lectures and all the projects and the support from the tutors and things; it was just great.”
As so often happens on human journeys, Jordan’s studies took her in unexpected directions, “I knew I wanted to focus on embroidery because hand embroidery has been the thing I’ve always been the most interested in,” says Jordan, “And then I started looking at mapping, and I started looking at stitches to represent something else, and I just fell into the world of data visualisation, so that became the focus for my work, my final show, and my written work. I graduated in 2017, and I’ve just carried on with the project ever since.”
Record, Map and Capture in Textile Art
Jordan’s book came about thanks to a happy interaction made possible by the pandemic, “We had very strict lockdown measures where we lived and I got involved with an online stitch project that was run by Claire Wellesley Smith. It was all over Zoom, like a collaborative project, which was really interesting. We would meet frequently, and we’d talk online and chat and stitch and work on this project together. We got talking about the sort of work that we did, and I was talking to her about my work and the data visualisation side of things. She had already written textile books, and she said, ‘Why don’t you write a book about it?’ So she was really helpful. She helped me put together a proposal, which I sent to the publishers. I didn’t hear anything for a little while, and I just thought, ‘Oh, they’re not interested.’ But then they came back to me, and they said they wanted to commission it.”
One stunning piece of art in Jordan’s book is all about family, “My granddad passed away in 2019,” explains Jordan, “we were going through his things afterwards, and I said, ‘Could I keep one of his sweaters?’ He would always wear these sweaters, and my Nanna would despair because they’d be falling apart at the seams and the elbows. So this is how I will picture him, as wearing these sweaters from M & S (Marks & Spencers).”
After some time with the sentimental sweater, Jordan decided what she needed to do, “I wasn’t sure what to do with it and then as time passed, and I thought, ‘I’m ready to tell this story’,” she says, “I thought I’d like to stitch on his sweater, I thought that’d be really nice tribute. So the red stitches, I made a stitch for every day of my granddad’s life. And then the pink stitches are a stitch of every day of my life. They overlap by the number of days that our lives overlap, so where it’s just red stitches on its own, that was all his life before I was born.”
Jordan’s piece is a loving tribute to her grandfather, but is also a wonderful reminder to remember our own loved ones, “I think sometimes you can forget as a child that people existed before you were born,” Jordan says, “They had all this experience before you were around. And then the pink and red stitches overlap where our lives overlapped. And then there’s a few things stitched on their own, which reflect the period since he’s been gone when my life has carried on past his. He was a precise man as well, so I think he would have appreciated the precision.”
Major Alexis Casdagli
Jordan’s book also recounts a historical instance of stitching as rebellion. The story is all about Second World War English Major, Major Alexis Casdagli, “He was a prisoner of war,” says Jordan, “He was captured by the German troops, he was taken to an internment camp, and while he was there, he was passing the time by doing embroidery.
The Red Cross would sometimes send packages and sometimes things in there that he could use or would use threads from jumpers or whatever he could get his hands on, and he would stitch to pass the time. He made this sampler, which is quite traditional-looking. The German troops liked it, and they hung it on the wall in the prison camp, and when they moved camps, they took it with them and put it back on the wall again, you know, they really liked it. He was well known for being good at embroidery, and he would teach other inmates at the camp how to stitch.”
As interesting a story as this is, there was a subtle twist to this story that no one saw at the time, “This was his thing, and nobody really thought anything of it”, says Jordan, “And then, after the war, people would look at it a bit more closely. And you can see the border with these tiny dots, the little cross stitch, and it turns out that that was actually Morse code. One of them was ‘God save the king’ and then one of them was ‘F**k Hitler’ and the German troops had it hanging on the wall, having no idea what it meant, and he was probably chuckling away to himself.”
The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Another memorable piece in Jordan’s book references another children’s book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. “It was my favourite book when I was growing up,” says Jordan, “I had it read to me so often I knew it off by heart. My parents found me once in my bedroom reading the book to myself, and I knew when to turn the pages, and I knew which pictures went with which words. They thought they had a child prodigy, but they didn’t. I just learnt it off by heart. I knew it so well. I couldn’t read. I didn’t know any of the letters then. I’d just become so familiar with it that I could read it.”
Jordan wanted to take her treasured memories and recreate something that expressed how she felt about The Tiger Who Came to Tea, “I decided I was going to make a replica of the book in fabric,” she says, “I did a cross stitch for every single letter that appears in the book as it appears. So the layout of the lines and the layout of the words and everything is exactly the same on the fabric as it is on the paper. I mean, this is based on my copy of the book and might be different from others. So the book reads exactly the same as the original book does.”
About the artist
Jordan Cunliffe is an embroidery designer and author focusing on data and storytelling. She takes traditional and historic textile techniques and pairs them with contemporary concepts.
Based in Lancashire, UK, Jordan can usually be found with an embroidery hoop in hand, watching romantic comedies and eating snacks.