Imparting practical knowledge, from working at the coalface of the fashion industry, is a crucial means of preparing our next generation of students. We look at two such lecturers who bring their experience to the fore of their courses.
George Bernard Shaw’s bitchy aphorism from Maxims for Revolutionists, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches,” has plagued the teaching profession for generations with its irritatingly convincing rhetoric. But there’s no truth in it. I spoke with two inspiring women in fashion, Jill Burke and Sally Collins, who both “do” and “teach” exceptionally well, bringing first-hand industry experience and energy into the classroom, showing students how it’s done.
“It is such an honour to help someone develop their craft, tease out their ideas, and unlock their creativity”
Sally Collins is a Jewellery and Object lecturer at NCAD, an internationally stocked jewellery designer and a Super Frilly Lover. If you feel a little uncertain about the meaning of the latter, worry not, you’re not alone. A study of her Instagram @superfrillylover may help you to piece together some of the puzzle, but you still may not grasp the full depth of this design-devotee. Dynamic as they may be, the parameters of those small square boxes on social media only scratch the surface when it comes to Sally Collins and her Super Frilly tendencies.
“I’ve been making jewellery for as long as I can remember” she begins. “Playing around with any piece of material that I could get my hands on. When I was still a child, my parents were very good to set me up with a little workshop in our back garden. In return, I bestowed upon them my amazing gifts of homemade jewellery which, in fairness to them, they actually wore, in public.”
“As a kid, I was constantly making, it was what I absolutely loved doing. So you can imagine my elation at 16 when I found out that studying jewellery design was actually a thing. I mean, I knew about traditional learnings and goldsmithing, but I had never imagined a world where you could be openly exploratory and break down boundaries in jewellery studies. So naturally, once I found out, there was no looking back.
Sally studied for her undergraduate degree in Loughborough, flirted with fashion and textiles, but found that when it came to selecting a creative route, jewellery was her calling. So much so that she went on to complete an MA, open up a business and lecture in the discipline.
What lead her to lecturing? “A passion for the field. I get a fizzy feeling when I see a piece of material, the excitement of what it can become. Working with others who share this feeling is something I really enjoy. My students constantly surprise me; they use techniques and take approaches to their work that I could never even imagine. It is such an honour to help someone develop their craft, tease out their ideas, and unlock their creativity. I think that’s why I love teaching so much.”
Though she only arrived a year ago at NCAD, Sally believes the institution has something quite special going on. “I had lectured at Birmingham City University for seven years and fancied a change. NCAD is very different to my previous surroundings, namely because it is a proper art college. Birmingham was a university and, at times, quite clinical. Here I can show up in pink sparkles to teach a class and it doesn’t faze anybody. I love the fact that there are so many courses here in art and design, lots of pathways and so much going on all at the same time, I feel like it is a really healthy and creative environment for the students.”
Jewellery and Objects, as a course, she says, is a little bit difficult to explain. In terms of jewellery, “the course allows you to be very open and experimental with materials, expand and develop processes, develop new ways to wear things, to see jewellery not just as jewellery but as tech or fine art.
“It is a course based on breaking down creative boundaries. Couple that with a love of making and messing about – I use the phrase ‘messing about’ deliberately as that’s what I really encourage my students to do. The idea is to help my students break away from the fear of making mistakes and open them up to really create.
“Objects mainly relate to the body, vessels, tableware, accessories, the crossover of disciplines. While it is an important part of the course, most of my students make jewellery. I often wonder if this is because of my influence, my love of jewellery.”
One place that her influence is definitely apparent, is the passing on of real-life industry insights to her students. “It is so vital to have direct experience of the industry and to be able to give some kind of indication of what it’s like out there. Really simple practical things, like writing a price list or how to package up your first sale are things that need to be taught Every year there is a big jewellery fair in Munich. This year I organised a trip for my students to go over. I believe that it is very important for them to see me exhibiting, let them know that I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to industry practice.”
“The other benefit,” Sally continues, “to being in the industry, is the ability to keep up with what’s going on, to find out what other institutions are doing. After all, their graduates will be the competitors of ours when it comes to finishing up at university. But I like to be honest with my students about the fact that I don’t know everything, I think it’s important to instill the idea that learning never stops.”
The idea that “learning never stops” gives a glimpse into the evolution of Sally’s own brand Super Frilly Lover, which originated during her MA. From vibrant woollens to ebullient acrylics, you can see a wondrous line of enrichment throughout Sally’s work as a designer.
“My MA tutor was this incredible German lady. We were sat down together one day and she used the phrase “Super Frilly Lover” to describe my work. Since then I have clung on to it and never let it go.”
Describing the brand in all of its supremeness, Sally explains that it is about “revelling in excess, sumptuousness and is an expression of playfulness. “I’m inspired by a lot of things, but when it comes down to it, it is all about decoration and ornamentation.”
More than that though, Super Frilly Lover is about advocating for contemporary jewellery design, something Sally makes apparent in those small boxes on social media.
“I love supporting new designers, wearing their jewellery, sharing their jewellery. I’m on a personal mission to bring eclectic contemporary jewellery into the mainstream. I am constantly teaching my students that jewellery can be so much more than visual. It can be made of paper, you just don’t wear it in the rain. It can be edible, you just don’t let it pass its sell-by date. This is widely expressed on the uni scene but I want to push it into the normal parameters of the everyday.”
Jill De Búrca
“The industry here is continually overlooked and underestimated as a means of growth for the Irish economy.”
Jill Burke studied Textiles in NCAD before immersing herself in the international fashion industry for five years.
“After college, I found it quite tough to find work here at home, something that now, I think actually worked in my favour. I moved to Brighton for an internship with Larch Rose which was meant to be for three months, but I ended up working there for five years. I loved the work I did while I was there, it was a really creative place to be.”
Alongside Larch Rose, Jill took on an internship with renowned embroidery designer, Jenny King. “I worked on production for Jenny, creating embroidery on an Irish Singer machine. I was lucky to be able to work with the two companies at the same time, both of my bosses were extremely flexible and I was able to learn so much from each of them. Still, it was a little crazy for a while. Working the two jobs was exhausting. My life during that period of time consisted of a lot of work, pressure and deadlines.”
Eventually, Jill left Jenny King and Larch Rose folded. This gave the young designer the opportunity to go freelance. “It was a nice time to do it, I felt that my colleagues from Larch Rose and I now had the chance to filter off into what we wanted to do for ourselves.”
Jill began working as a freelance designer for companies both in the US and in the UK. During this time, a contact in The Design Centre encouraged her to create some pieces for the store. From here the Jill De Búrca label, whose sports-luxe embroidered pieces are now so sought after, first began.
“I absolutely loved doing my own collection. There was something that felt so great about creating my own work. The reaction was amazing too, more than I ever expected. The whole thing seemed to just snowball once I released the first pieces. I was still freelancing at that time, so I didn’t have time to focus solely on it, as a result, the label developed very organically. Part of that, I think, is due to the fact that I launched it in Dublin. Had I done it in London, the experience would have been totally different. There, I would have been a tiny fish in a very big pond, whereas here I had so much support. The press, in particular, is so good at supporting Irish designers – it was definitely a huge boost to have that when I was starting off.”
Jill describes her work as a love of embroidery, embellishment and the Irish Singer sewing machine. “Previously there was a focus on beading but that has evolved. Now it’s much more about stitching, and about garments that can be produced here, on Irish sewing machines. The collection is all very wearable. My pieces are not just to be looked at, they are to be worn, loved and worn again. My label is not disposable. The pieces I create are to be kept.”
Jill designs and develops made-to-order pieces too.
“I also make wedding dresses. These are bespoke pieces, created collaboratively with the bride. It’s a really special experience to help a bride tailor the embroidery to her gown.”
With a label enjoying organic success and a broad range of experience in the field, it is no real surprise that Jill was approached to impart her knowledge to the Griffith College student body.
“I had actually considered teaching previously but had never felt quite ready. When the opportunity arose, I was really excited. While I was designing I always had interns and enjoyed working with them. In Griffith, I started off teaching technique. This was absolutely lovely as it gave me the chance to explore the subject again myself. From there I took on teaching textile theory. Once again, this was great for my own re-education. I quickly got up to speed on current issues. The knowledge of how the textile industry affects the environment is much more readily available than it was when I studied.”
What isn’t available, however, despite the passing in years, is a meaningful increase in the investment in fashion and design education and industry in Ireland.
“The industry here is continually overlooked and underestimated as a means of growth for the Irish economy. Our tweeds and linens are sought after all over the world, we have the talent and capabilities to have a huge garment industry – but we don’t have the support.
Despite this, Jill believes Griffith College can still set their students up for success. “Griffith strikes a really good balance in terms of teaching the students about the business side of things, giving them a more rounded education than other institutions. Real world experience is encouraged by the college – after all, it’s worth its weight in gold. For my students though, what I try to impart most is the idea that you should never stop learning. My job as a lecturer has taught me that. There is always something new to learn.”
Jill De Búrca is stocked online at jilldeburca.com and in store at Atrium Dublin.
Words: Sinead O’Reilly