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My creative workspace – Louise West

It’s a nervous Louise who opens the door to me this morning. “It’s the beginning of the rest of my career today,” she says. Dramatic? Well yes. But if you were waiting for your MA results you’d want to convey just how important they were to you, wouldn’t you? So while Louise waited, she showed me round her space.

Tell me about your work

I’m an artist working in lacemaking and silver jewellery. I teach both methods and take commissions as well as designing my own pieces to sell.

How did you get started?

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I saw lacemaking demonstrated and thought it was wonderful so in 1992 I signed up for a five-day course at Denman College, the Women’s Institute college, and from then on I was absolutely hooked. The longest I’ve ever gone without making any lace in all that time was six weeks following an operation and even then, I went against doctor’s orders in order to get back to it as soon as I could.

You need to experience it to fully understand the attraction but essentially, lace just grabs you, there’s something about it. You can make something intricate and tactile in just a day. The thing is, everyone knows what lace is, or thinks they know what lace is, but when you start researching it, it becomes so much more. It is a material and a trim but you can sculpture with it. There’s a Belgian artist who has made JCBs from it and a Dutch company has made chain link fencing using traditional lace making methods. Without the holes, it’s not lace, so it’s absence that makes lace exist. And when you start looking for lace, you find it everywhere.

Louise’s MA final pieces. Photo Matt Jones

When I was researching old patterns for my MA, I saw that so much of old lace patterns incorporate flowers and plant life. I started to look at doing 3D designs using lace and came up with the idea of using DNA of plants. My MA work is a series of 3D columns, replicating the DNA helix with roseground and plant cell structure in between. So this way I can carry on the traditions of lace making but with a modern twist.

Now, I’m interviewing you in *whispers* Derby, but you can tell us about your links with Nottingham?

I’d started my BA in September 2006 and that October I was approached and asked if I might be interested in designing the lace pattern for the outside of the Nottingham Contemporary building. I’m a member of a lace society and the society were asked if they knew of anyone who might be up to the job. I interviewed and got the job. At the time I didn’t realise how big a job it would be!

The design is a replica of a piece of 1847 Richard Birkin Valencian lace and they wanted it replicated 10 times the normal size in handmade lace but using 5mm cord to give enough of a design for the relief for the building. Now, 10 times the normal size would give you cord of 1.2mm thick so we already had problems using the cord of the size needed because of the amount it would twist. This would warp the design.

In the end, the design solution was to go digital. I’d never used Photoshop before but got a crash course that year! I had to blow up the image design to pixel size and replicate it by hand on the screen. It had to be done several times and took me six months to complete as well as taking a full time BA course. I had a lot of support from my university; without them I couldn’t have managed it.

Two samples from the initial stages, one at the original size and second one at 10 times size (photo Louise West)

Finished design recreated with photoshop

The construction used to cast the concrete panels. The textured mat was placed in this and then the concrete poured, left to set and then lifted from it. (photo: Louise West)

A finished cast panel – waiting to be installed. (photo: Louise West)











It’s the loveliest part of the building, I think. Any other Nottingham links?

Thank you. Well, I do run lace classes in Nottingham on a regular basis – they’re currently full up. But you can visit me at the Contemporary on the weekend of 9-10 February where I’ll be running demonstrations of lace making as well as talking about the building. It’s part of the Contemporary’s Lace and Nature family weekend so do come along and find me!

Tell us about your jewellery making


Fine silver pendant, lace patterning and gold application, reversible with lace bobbins on the back (photo: Louise West)

I use silver clay to make the jewellery. You can roll it out, shape it and mould it or you can make patterns by putting lace on it, for example. Then you fire it and it turns into silver – it’s hallmarked at 999 silver. I sometimes use it as a paste and paint it onto leaves. It’s really good for preserving things like wedding bouquets and making the bouquet into a gift that will last. It’s made from reclaimed silver and you can also reuse the shavings or bits you file off so it’s environmentally friendly and it means I (and people in my classes) can make silver jewellery without having to learn silver smithing.

So what are your plans for the future?

I’d like to teach more. I really enjoy giving the classes – you get a real range of ages come to them and everyone goes away having made something intricate in just a day. It’s very satisfying. I’m also available for talks as well as group classes and I can give workshops for up to eight people.

And obviously I need to find out my MA results!

Well, I’m going to leave you to wait, Louise, and thanks for your time.

You can find out more about Louise’s lace and jewellery as well as her classes by having a look at her website or her Facebook page.

And we won’t keep you in suspense – Louise passed her MA in Art and Design: Applied Practice and Theories with Merit. Congratulations Louise!


Sue is one of our team of bloggers. When not using her maternity leave to wander round people’s workspaces, she an be found researching and writing the great music hall novel (and looking after the baby, obviously) She can be reached on sue AT and followed on Twitter @basfordian