Karen Casper - the Helmshore designer who marries fashion with art

Ventalina Fan

Ventalina Fan - Credit: Archant

A Helmshore textile designer is gaining a growing reputation for quirky hats and contemporary textiles

Violet headpiece

Violet headpiece - Credit: Archant

People struggle to pigeonhole Karen Casper. She’s one of those rare people who bridge the gap between fashion, textile design and art.

Karen Casper

Karen Casper - Credit: Archant

On one hand, she will create a head-piece that most women would be delighted to sport at fashionable gatherings. On the other, she’s using glow-in-the-dark thread and ancient pieces of lace to build extraordinary confections that are exhibited in galleries and museums. Then, somewhere in between, she’s commissioned to make the glitzy headpieces worn by dancers in the X-Factor stage show.

‘People often ask me where I fit commercially, particularly as I’m doing my masters degree at Manchester Metropolitan,’ says the mother-of-two from Helmshore. ‘They want to know if I’m going to concentrate on museum pieces or go for every day street wear.

‘But I’m not going to give in to that pressure. I think if you are clever enough and you are passionate enough you can make it work so you appeal to a broad range.’

Karen, who works from home on freelance projects when she’s not studying, was a PA at the BBC before quitting to study textile design. She had never used a sewing machine in anger until she was 31 but that didn’t stop her gaining a first in contemporary textiles from Blackburn University Centre.

The last 12 months have seen her profile rise as prominently as one of her hats. She was one of just 22 designers from around the world to be chosen for an exhibition in Calais called Lace Effects. Her work, a cape called Miss Coral, impressed the curators. The textures, colours and contours are designed to echo the underwater world.

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Meanwhile, her contemporary fan called Ventalina is on show at Manchester Museum’s Something Rich and Strange exhibition, her work will also be seen at the Whitworth Art Gallery for a exhibition called Tactile Too.

The Violet headpiece (on display at Gawthorpe Hall) was made partly with pieces of Gawthorpe’s antique lace collection, which was combined with luminous thread to produce a 3D embroidered sculpture. ‘I also chose two headpieces from their collection to gain inspiration. One was a steamed fur felt skullcap-style hat from 1930s-40s era. It was trimmed with leaf shapes of the same fabric and a section of gold chain. The other was a 19th century bonnet. It has a plaited straw triple brim, lined and trimmed with velvet and decorated with artificial lily of the valley and orange blossom flowers and swans’ down.’

She also works as a stylist on fashion shoots as well as supplying some of the pieces for models to wear. ‘I’m never going to be a millionaire – this is a tough market,’ she said. ‘But if I can make enough to get by while having a creative career, then I’ll be happy.’

Karen is married to Chris Casper, one of ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ in the team of young stars which included David Beckham. Injury ended his career but he recently travelled down to London join his old teammates on the red carpet for the premiere of the Class of ’92 film.

‘I’ve always been introduced as the wife of Chris Casper, the footballer,’ laughed Karen. ‘I’m hoping that one day soon he’ll be introduced as husband of Karen Casper, the textile designer!’

You can find out more about Karen’s work at www.tulleandcandyfloss.co.uk or by contacting her on 07540 128451.

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