Rose Hatcher –The Workhouse Chapel, Bath Road, Sturminster Newton

“We must expand in order not to contract” (Julia Cameron)

Now in its ninth year, ‘Handmade for Christmas at The Workhouse Chapel’, the creation of textile artist Rose Hatcher and showcasing dozens of makers and artists from Dorset and surrounding counties, has become one of Dorset’s most loved and best attended Christmas events. However, unable to run her usual sales at The Chapel this winter, at the beginning of October Rose woke one morning – with the fully-formed plan to carry out Christmas sales online. The response from all the artists was very positive; so an opening date of 1st November was set. That meant that Rose, alongside local maker and co-conspirator, Kate Osman, had just two weeks to pull the whole enterprise together! As a result, many loyal customers will now be celebrating the return of ‘Handmade for Christmas … online (www.workhousechapel.co.uk)

In previous years, the joy of The Chapel exhibition space was to walk in from the cold and find a festive atmosphere, a sense of warmth and sanctuary: a place where a cosy sofa snuggled up to a bright wood burner and hot coffee and biscuits were always on offer. Rose explained that total strangers would enter the Chapel and end up spending the whole day with her. “If somebody comes to your door, you greet and offer them hospitality. I’ve always tried to do that, so that when people leave The Chapel, they feel like they’ve been to a friend’s house.”

Rose has cleverly managed to inject the same unique Christmas spirit into the website – for web-browsers will find the same warmth and snippets of creative frivolity here as in The Chapel. There is something for every taste, from exquisite hand-felted or machine-embroidered pictures, ceramics, wooden items, cards, silver jewellery and recycled glass to inexpensive, quirky stocking fillers. There is even the same Bargain Basement as before! Feeling that there is a disconnect these days between people and the things they buy, Rose seeks to imbue her items with a human connection, to link object with artist and to sell something that will add a lasting value to the ownership.

Rose has been aided in her endeavours by glass artist Kate Osman. Kate, in Rose’s own words, is “the sensible one”; the social media guru helping to generate sales through advertising, whereas Rose’s innovatory and creative ideas (like her amusing personal blogs entitled Musings and Ramblings), help to increase followers. One of her titles in particular caught my eye – ‘Coddi-wompling’. Do you know what that means? English slang but a word which could easily be added to your vocabulary, it means to ‘travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.’ Rose says: “Currently I am coddi-wompling my way through life.”

However, there is no vague destination associated with this website and the duo are finding that their loyal customers are returning. Every morning sees Rose packing up the parcels (pledging not to use any new plastic packaging materials); and every afternoon sees her posting them out. There is also click and collect service from The Chapel and heavy, fragile and larger items can be delivered locally.

Rose herself is an artist best known for using silk and wool fibres to create exuberant images; she also makes jewellery, either using hand-rolled felt beads, semi-precious stones or recycled salvaged items. However, knowing that Rose is constantly seeking to explore alternative artistic disciplines, I wondered whether the first lockdown months had given her a chance to investigate other mediums and techniques. “I felt lockdown was a strange gift.  All other pressures were taken away and there was time to explore different things. I started walking every day at dawn and taking photographs, appreciating our beautiful countryside more than ever before.  I made clothes from old curtains – and wove tapestry – on a loom from a boot sale, using wools that had been owned by an old friend.” 

During this time, she crystallised her new thinking: she realised she was interested in taking “the precious” out of her work. “As artists, when we’ve made something, we’ve put heart and soul into its creation – we are reluctant to ‘spoil’ it by use”.  But rather than the finished piece of work just being admired, Rose is keen to bring ‘art’ into everyday use – to be appreciated on more than just a visual level – to be handled and used. By working predominantly with ‘valueless’ things – natural, found, pre-existing and recycled materials – the only costs are time and skill and the value lies not in the cost of materials, but in the human effort. Following a course at West Dean College last February on ‘Jewellery from Found Materials’, she is now combining eco-silver and semi-precious stones with discarded copper wire, old washers and pipe olives to create jewellery. Having developed her tapestry weaving skills, she is restoring an old floor loom and plans to weave rugs – using recycled fabrics and old wool. Old curtains have been transformed into clothes “to honour the materials which already exist in the world.”

Looking forward to her tenth year, at the moment she is happy to regroup and consolidate – just working with current Workhouse Chapel exhibitors, but always on the quest for extraordinary new makers and artists to join H4C.  Let us all hope that the doors of the Workhouse Chapel will be open next Christmas and the fire lit ready for customers in that beautiful, creative space.

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