Oak galls, yellow buttercups and vetch seed pods dangle from delicate strings of wire-threaded cocksfoot grasses pinned to one wall of artist Jill Walker’s home studio in rural Cheshire. On the other side, a curious collection of objects hang from thin bamboo rails – pine needles attached to an old tin lid to form a sculptural brush, a solitary broken pearl shell, long grassy lengths threaded from a tea strainer. There are also miniature monochrome botanical tapestries, papery bluebells that dried naturally in the garden and teasels gifted by a friend. Her work is a celebration of collecting, of the often-overlooked details in nature and the beauty in simple things.

“Object making has always been the common thread through my work,” says Jill, who began her career as a weaver and textiles teacher before returning to her practice full-time 14 years ago. “I love all kinds of materials and find ways of making that will engage the senses and tell the story of my daily experiences”. Living on the edge of the Delamere Forest and walking her two rescue dogs, lurcher Izzy and galgo Bunny, each day, means plenty of opportunity to find inspiration.

“The gathering of materials through the act of walking has an immediacy to do with how it makes you feel when you’re in a place. Where I lived previously, there were meadows and large expanses of grass so when I moved to this house nearly three years ago, at first, I felt displaced. Pine needles, which are in abundance here, I’d used before, so when I started noticing honesty growing in the hedgerows I thought it might have potential. The papery seeds reminded me of my childhood,” she says, explaining the origins behind the translucent garlands hanging in front of the window.

Over time, Jill had a large bunch of honesty and began attaching them together. “It felt lifeless. It wasn’t talking to me or reminding me of my walks. I started making chains of them where they were a lot looser and more fluid, stitching through the seeds to hold them in place. Then I could see the individual qualities of each little seed head,” she says. This experimental way of working is typical of Jill’s intuitive approach. “I never really know where the process will take me,” she confirms. “I see what happens when I start to arrange, sort, sift, and bring material and ideas together through mark-making, threading, knotting, tying and stitching. The repetition and rhythm of making can sometimes be like a meditation or a stream of consciousness.”

Another pivotal piece was And They’ll Come Home, the final project for her MA Fine Art at the University of Chester in 2020 (a course begun when the multi-media wire sculptures she was making were becoming less thoughtful and she wanted to rethink her practice). Set in a gallery-like white space at her then home, an old vicarage with family connections, it began with Jill walking around the garden and various rooms, “gathering things, making sketches and stitched marks, seeing what emerged.” Old photographs, crow feathers fallen from nests near the house and grasses attached to eye guards once worn by a blacksmith and found in a junkshop, all featured in the installation which was intrinsically connected to her personal history.

Most recently though, she has been collaborating with TOAST on window installations to launch the Autumn Winter 2024 collection, Patterns & Pathways. A combination of her existing art collection, newly gathered ephemera and found materials (“I discovered a stash of beautiful little oak acorn cups in the attic that I’ve had for about six years so I’ve included those”), for Jill the work, as always, is about how each individual item relates to another.

“In a formal way, there are elemental qualities – patterns, textures, shape – that come into play but really, it’s a correspondence. I like placing things out, and observing how objects and materials speak to each other. It’s the wonderment of noticing the little marks or shadows. To me, it forms a visual poem.” Everything, from the processes involved to the resulting vignettes, is interconnected and imbued with meaning. “The way I make is measured and slow and I want that to come through,” she concludes. “Each piece is quiet and contemplative; it’s saying I’m enough.”

Visit our shop windows to view Jill’s installations from Fri 28 June - Weds 31 July.

Jill wears the TOAST Overdyed Check Seersucker Dress.

Words by Emma Love.

Photography by Ellie Smith.

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