Aroundtown MEETS

Aroundtown meets

Just like people, buttons come in all shapes and sizes. And just like people, each individual button has its own special purpose, each with a different story to tell.

Big, shiny gold-rimmed ones that fastened up your grandfather’s old duster coat; dainty pearlescent domes fixing the collar of your mother’s best blouse; cute pastel-coloured apples, flowers or animals finishing off a child’s hand-knitted cardigan; and that one perfect button that made a good replacement eye for dear old teddy ted.

It is the intrigue into the back stories and memories of these sewing staples that first set the bobbin rolling for Elsecar Heritage Centre’s artist in residence, Gemma Nemer. Her interest in textiles has led to her creating large-scale installations interwoven with the heart and stories of different communities. With her vibrant red victory rolls, chintzy floral tea dress and a slick of red lippy, 36-year-old Gemma wouldn’t look out of place Lindy hopping her way back to the 1940s.


And her love of nostalgia has seen her spend her career reconstructing history with a needle and thread. Like many children growing up, Gemma was always fascinated by what lie inside her grandmother’s button tin.

But while some children may have been disheartened when greedily popping open the old biscuit or chocolate tin to find its sweet treats replaced with haberdashery, Gemma was enthralled by the treasure trove of buttons, thimbles and knick-knacks that glistened inside.

When she wasn’t spending hour after hour sorting the hundreds of buttons into piles, a young Gemma would make outfits for her dolls out of the scraps of fabric left over from her mum’s handmade clothes. “My dad is Palestinian and when we moved to Wombwell, Barnsley from Jordan when I was a child we literally had nothing. Mum was very

Gemma Nemer

creative and loved to make do and mend. She was a former fashion student so she made all of my clothes growing up.

“I’d wear these amazing Victorian style pinafores with hand-stitched smocking and always had ribbons in my hair. Grandma used to tie my hair around rags to create ringlets - I looked like something out of a period drama which didn’t always go down well at school,” Gemma says. Mum Heather always

encouraged her daughter’s interest in sewing and crafts which carried on throughout her education, with Gemma going on to achieve a degree in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University.

While studying, Gemma took inspiration from her mum and began experimenting with wearable art, crafting couture neck pieces adorned with lace and embellishments. Having grown up around old-fashioned techniques, Gemma combined her love of vintage, recycled materials and methods like doilies and patchwork but put a modern twist on her pieces.

“I’ve always found treasure in other people’s discarded or lost objects and get a real rush from rummaging through car boot sales

or charity shops. The nostalgia surrounding the items I’ve hoarded throughout the years is what often inspires my work.” Following her graduation in 2006, Gemma was put forward to exhibit her work at Yorkshire Sculpture Park which quickly gathered momentum to open up a whole new world of opportunities.

“I remember being so nervous when I laid all my work out but they really loved what I’d created and offered me two cabinets which was huge for a new artist.

“They gave me my first real chance, something I’d always dreamed of. Dreaming can be a good thing but these days I think children aren’t always encouraged to dream.”

It was at this time that the sculpture park was developing their education programme and Gemma was invited to teach fabric manipulation, which subsequently led to her touring Yorkshire galleries to teach and showcase her work. Along with Millennium Gallery and Cupola Gallery in Sheffield, the tour also included Saltbox Gallery in York, Leeds Craft and Design Gallery and the Harley Gallery on Worksop’s Welbeck Estate.

“Having so many galleries to

Photo courtesy of Dominic Somers

Photo courtesy of Anna Kozak Photography

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