Collecting and making brooches.June 23, 2014 by Elisabeth Rutt
I have a collection of brooches that I never wear. I have about two hundred of them in all styles, materials and eras. None of them are very valuable, I just love their eclectic mix. I find their design, the way they are made and the combination of materials used fascinating. I have found them in all sorts of places, antique shops, vintage sales, eBay etc and some I have been given. They prompt recollections of where I was when I bought them or who gave them to me. If I were a writer each could be the start for a short story.
They are an excellent record of changing styles in miniature, almost a social history from the Victorian to the contemporary, it is all there. Victorian jet with locks of loved ones hair as sombre momento mori (but still with an element of decoration). Sweetheart brooches given by soldiers, sailors and airman to ensure they weren’t forgotten while away at war; these are more worn and treasured than others and it is hard to be detached from their history and ownership. I have cheap costume brooches using the newly invented sparkling rhinestones of the 40s and 50s from America and Czechzlovakia emulating Hollywood stars and the kitsch and plastic from the 60s onwards. They all hold a past and emotional attachments that we have almost forgotten how to have.
I found that looking and researching my collection and I suppose playing with them as I rearranged and organised them gave me the idea of making my own brooches using materials and techniques familiar to me. After some trial and error things began to come together. The design ideas and motifs in my collection gave me the subject to use in my brooches; flowers, insects etc and the names on sweetheart brooches became written words and punctuation marks in mine. The construction of each brooch was the tricky thing to come up with as they need to be strong and firm in wear but not heavy to drag and pull on clothing. I found that although the making of these brooches is technically quite fiddly and time consuming I was able to plan future work and let new ideas turn over in my head as I made them. They became addictive but a way to relax at the same time; stitching is always therapeutic I find!
Contemporary makers use a vast array of materials, scrap metals, ceramic, wood and textiles as well as the more predictable precious and semi precious and are often used in combination in surprising and inventive ways. This photo below is of brooches made by three of my favourite contemporary makers, Karen Risby, Anna Bird and Zoe Rubens, (from left to right) and are made from ceramic, wood and stitched thread and scrap metals.
My recent collection of brooches is available in the Shop at the National Centre for Craft and Design in Sleaford, Lincolnshire.