The first honorary doctor has a broad knowledge of textiles

“I’ve always been hungry to learn more and therefore I’ve explored as many disciplines as possible within the textile field” she says. “One reason I’ve been able to do so is that I was lucky enough to be born during a time when art educations were highly valued. It’s a great privilege to get to spend many years working in a field that you are passionate about.”

Facts about Clare Johnston
Profession: Professor Emerita at the Royal College of Art in London, and Honorary Doctor at the University of Borås
Lives: In London
Family: Partner and two adult step sons
Hobby: Since many years I do Dance Chantraine, a contemporary ballet technique. I also enjoy gardening
Hidden talent: Map reading. I love maps and like that they are visual and have such a fantastic function
Would like to be able to: Play the ukulele and learn more languages
Dreams about: That textile becomes even more recognised as a field and more appreciated for its great importance and diversity
Makes me glad: Walks in the countryside
Alternative choice of profession: Dancer and dance teacher
Guests on my fictive dream dinner party: Barak and Michelle Obama, Sir David Attenborough, and Victorian artist and traveller Marianne North

She is a researcher, and considers research to be an integral part of the designing process. They are inseparable.

“My strength is that I have this broad and diverse experience about textile and colour. This experience is what I use when working with the problems or questions that are highlighted in a project.”

Clare Johnston has certainly accomplished a great deal of things. For instance, she has worked in a textile print studio, she has forecasted fashion trends for international companies, and she has been employed by textile manufacturers of prestige brands.

“But the greatest learning curve was when I was in charge of textile and colour at the big retail chain Marks & Spencer. I was involved in making overall decisions about fashion with buyers, economists, designers, and technicians, and we were discussing ideas in a way that had to suit each profession. Then I gained an increased understanding for the process, from the ideas to the feedback from the customers about what they had bought.”

Interdisciplinary is educational

For the last 17 years, Clare has been working with education at the Royal College of Art in London and for a few years as a visiting professor at the Swedish School of Textiles.

When textile designer and professor Ulla Eson Bodin visited the Royal College of Art in London, Clare Johnston heard about the Swedish School of Textiles for the first time. The two of them made plans for future collaborations, but unfortunately those plans were delayed.

But five years ago, Clare Johnston was invited by the Swedish School of Textiles in order to represent her school in the training network ArcInTexETN, an interdisciplinary EU project for educating researchers within architecture, interactive design, and textile, with the aim that the subjects will be more closely tied to each other and lead to innovations that will develop more sustainable ways to live.

Clare was immediately enthusiastic and wanted the Royal College of Art to participate in the project.

“This is the reason that I travelled to Borås for the first time. I really appreciate the interdisciplinary aim of this project. It’s the most educational way to work, in my opinion.”

Now Clare has two roles in ArcInTexETN. One is representing the Royal College of Art, and the other is as a leader of the part of the project that concerns interiors. Clare gives support to five researchers from different institutions.

“They work with their theses in textile design, fashion design, interactive design, and installation art. I support them individually as well as a group. It’s very enriching! I and the other supervisors of ArcInTex think that it’s fantastic and we’re having trouble imagining life without these collaborations. They must continue, in some form!”

Giving lectures at the Swedish School of Textiles 

For the last couple of years, Clare Johnston has also been a visiting professor at the Swedish School of Textiles, which means that she comes here for giving lectures and supervising.

Welcome to a lecture with honorary doctor Clare Johnston!
Thursday 4 May Clare Johnston will give a lecture on the topic Textile Design. The lecture is open for everyone but you have to register. Read more about the lecture. 

When it comes to practical and creative work, she usually encourages her students to take risks and not be afraid of making mistakes, since her experience tells that big breakthroughs often follow the frustration that comes from mistakes.

“My lectures are often on the topic of the different contexts of textiles”, Clare says. “You can never regard yourself as an expert in textiles because the subject changes and develops constantly, both in terms of technological findings and in terms of people’s needs. There are different parts that sort of push the boundaries of what textile is.”

The digital development in design and production equipment is one example.

“It makes completely new ways of designing possible, but it also becomes clear that you need to have a fundamental knowledge of the handicraft, because that knowledge gives you a better understanding of how to use the digital tools. I hope we can find ways to preserve the knowledge of how things are made and of the materials that we use, even though we don’t have that much of textile production in our nearest surroundings anymore.”

Becoming an honorary doctor is a new step in her long textile career, and a step she is most willing to take.

“It’s a great honour and hard to understand that it’s really happening”, she says. “I don’t have a doctor’s degree, but I see this as if the struggle I’ve had during my 43 years in the field finally gets recognised. It makes me so delighted! I have a big passion for the subject. And I’m also honoured to be a part of the Swedish School of Textiles and the philosophy that runs through the educations. I hope I’ll contribute to developing the work and to making the Swedish School of Textiles even more recognised and well known internationally.”

Text: Lena M Fredriksson
Bild: Suss Wilén 
Translation: Linda Lovecraft