Vicky is BS3's crafting hero – first Briswool, then Briscroc, now a giant bauble, and next ...?
Published on: 27 Dec 2017
Pictured: Vicky and assistants cover the 'buoyble' in wool
Who put the wool into Briswool?
Who brought the Briscroc to life – using crochet?
Vicky Harrison did – and we're going to see a lot more of her work around the harbourside during 2018. Beccy Golding met her ..
Vicky Harrison has a degree in fine art, and has always been interested in installations, “I’ve made stuff since I was a kid,” she says. She loves painting, drawing and embroidery, and in 2010 set up her shop, Paper Village, on North Street. “It was the right time to pull it all together,” she says. The first project for the shop was a knitted and crocheted garden, followed by a coral reef in the window, “it was the first big tester – whether people would get involved and, measured by the levels of engagement, it was hugely successful.”
Engaging people is important to Vicky. Before the shop she “always worked in the voluntary sector - 30 years counselling and support work, in mental health services in Hull, Weston and Bristol. I also worked in community radio – I had my own show on BCFM for two years – with four guests, bonkers chat and music.”
Originally from Hull, Vicky has lived in South Bristol for 30 years. First on Beauley Road near the Southville Centre, then on North Street.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes [in the area] – going downhill then coming back up. I like to think I played a part – my shop opened in 2010, it was one of the early new breed. Sadly it closed in July this year – the parking zones killed it. But the community engagement work I am involved in was doing really well, so it was time to make the move, and I set up the CIC (Community Interest Company).”
The CIC is Crafting the City, and its first community arts project is called Connecting Patterns, Connecting the Dockside. Not one to do things by halves, Vicky’s dockside venture is actually six interconnected projects (see box out). It’s a huge task involving “lots of bits of paper and panicking! In reality I need to be flexible – think on my feet – it’s a quite hard thing to do. For each project I do I don’t know what I’m doing until I’ve done it! I learn on the job and each job is different. I like a challenge,” she finishes, understatedly.
For example, the Ashton Gatehouse, “I didn’t know how it would work until it was finished.” What it became was a six-month project of workshops and events and people working at home to create a community embroidered map celebrating the newly-renovated historic landmark at the lower entrance to Ashton Court estate.
Other previous woollen wonders that Vicky has instigated, and supported members of the community to be part of, include the Pompom Parade – 10,000 pompoms in shops and all down North Street, created in care homes – “all the local schools took part” – made into mobiles, hyacinths, waterfalls, “we decorated the whole street on a very rainy day in spring 2015.”
And then, of course, there’s Briswool. “It was first exhibited in the shop and 4,000 people came to see it in a few days.” It was redeveloped over a couple of years then exhibited in the M-shed and the Bristol Energy Centre. In seven weeks “it had 40,000 visitors – one of the biggest ever local exhibitions.” The whole woollen city is now in storage, in boxes in a friend’s attic. It may be exhibited again in 2018, with the crocodile, and “we have five weeks in the M-Shed in 2020 – lots will end up in there.”
An ongoing project that is clearly very close to Vicky’s heart is Maisie Cats for Dementia. After a creative life, Vicky’s mum Maisie died from dementia in 2015. She created a pattern for a toy cat when Vicky was little. Vicky has adapted the pattern and now anyone can make one of these lovely little knitted, crocheted or sewn cats, which are then sold to “raise money for nice treats for people with dementia.” More than £1,000 has already been raised. You can read more about Vicky’s mum and the cats on the Crafting the City website.
Although all this creativity brings colour and inspiration to the people of South Bristol and beyond, unsurprisingly, “it doesn’t make me a living.” So, as well as one-off workshops connected to the big projects, Vicky runs regular courses – crochet in Margot May on North Street; Thread – an experimental embroidery group that meets at the Hen and Chicken, and she’s “hoping to do courses in libraries” in 2018. Visit the Facebook page or website for details.
Plans for 2018 include “getting the woolly flock on a firm footing – lots of sponsorship.” There will be 60-70 gulls installed, with a postcard trail for people to find them – businesses around the dockside can get involved by sponsoring a gull for £50 and having it in their location, or sponsor the postcard. Or anyone can support the crowd-funder campaign which starts in February – you can name a seagull for £25. There will also be workshops, Vicky is hoping to work with a gull expert at Bristol University, and explore connecting with Bristol Festival of Nature.
When asked how she would describe herself, Vicky first says “Tall!” After a little reflection she adds “I love process, I love experimentation, I like a bit of risk. I am very creative in everything I do.” And, “I am extremely hard-working. I have never missed a deadline in my life.” Having heard everything she is involved in, I have no doubt about that.
What’s the best thing about living in South Bristol? “Me” she laughs. Then “there’s quite a lot of community involvement in projects, lots of activities going on. It’s a busy area, I like being close to the shops. If I need a bun I can just pop out and buy a bun. Yes, put that.”
Connecting Patterns, Connecting the Dockside
Six projects exploring the dockside through patterns, artefacts and natural history.
1.The Bristol Crocodile Allegedly sighted by a bus driver in the river Avon in 2014, this beautiful and intricately-crocheted life-size creature has recently been hanging out in the Underfall Yard. He’ll be returning in the new year.
2.Buoyble – a giant woollen Christmas bauble created from 1,700 crocheted and knitted hexagons (see picture)
3.A huge flock of knitted & crocheted herring gulls, black headed gulls and lesser black backed gulls will descend on the Dockside in 2018 – workshops in Jan, Feb and March
4.Netted – a giant net full of knitted, crocheted and embroidered fish and coral
5.Pattern – 3D felted and embroidered cobbles put together to create a cobble stone road
6.A six metre long tapestry using applique, embroidery and textiles, weaving together the stories, colours, patterns, history and people of the dockside.