Collect 2024


Jo McDonald


Edinburgh (city)


Paperworks, Textiles / Fibre



Tapestry artist Jo McDonald works from her Edinburgh studio and uses second-hand books as an alternative medium to wool and thread. Jo’s artistic practice focuses on storytelling, memory, and shared experience.  

Excited by the material qualities of paper, Jo experiments with new possibilities of how this material can be manipulated using traditional tapestry techniques. Through a process of de- and re-construction, Jo creates new structures from aged materials which still contain their original history. 

Jo holds an MFA in Tapestry from Edinburgh College of Art and has work held in private and public collections in the UK, France, USA and South Africa. In 2021, Jo was shortlisted for The Cordis Prize for Tapestry.  

In conversation

1. Tell us about your practice and what led you down your chosen path as a maker.

I initially embarked on a career in Graphic Design, however changed my discipline to Tapestry while studying at Edinburgh College of Art. History, storytelling and the sharing of experience have informed my work for the past 25 years.

I have extensively experimented with traditional tapestry techniques, using paper as an alternative medium to the customary wool and threads. I use second-hand books and their built-in history is the attraction for me. I deconstruct the books and make them into new structures that still contain their original history but now have a new visual form.

2. Tell us about your materials.

The visual look of the books is important – the pattern of letters, quality of paper as it ages and the edges.

I pay close attention to the subtle tonal variations in colour of the pages, much like a paint palette – from the dark browns of older books, through the mid tones of fiction, to the whites and creams of textbooks.

The discovery of how a material can be manipulated – the qualities and possibilities of the paper itself – excites me.

3. Can you share more about the process behind your Collect 2024 collection?

While creating, I like to explore my trains of thought, as they unfold and develop, leaving myself free to revisit old memories and experiences.

The personal handling of materials is essential, allowing me time to absorb and get a feel for them. I cut the books by hand. The clean straight edges are important visually to create pattern, and also to convey a sense of order.

I love the structural element of working with warp and weft, on and off the loom. In 'Tales of The Unexpected', the constructed 'paper stories' are used as both 'the warp' and 'the weft'.

4. What inspired your collection for Collect 2024?

Initially, when embarking on a piece of work, the written literary content was not important for me. Due to the volume of material needed, sometimes hundreds of books, I used materials available in abundance. This has changed in recent years.

I am intrigued by the memories particular texts hold for us. I created a series of works dedicated to the memory of my father, who died in 2010. Having a strong sense of his Scots identity, I used Robert Burns’ poetry and bagpipe sheet music from his collection. My father's story continues through the dialogue that arises from the work.

5. Tell us about your approach to sustainable making.

I have used locally sourced found objects, usually second-hand books, newspapers and journals. There is an abundance of material readily available in our environment that could have ended up discarded otherwise. I act as editor in the recycling of this material and have repurposed these objects into new forms.

I am interested in the idea of creation creating change. Paper is in itself a fairly delicate material. However, when woven into a tight structure, it becomes more robust and durable.

6. What do you hope the viewer will take away from this work?

When stories are told, and continue to be retold through generations, they are not forgotten. They become the memory of who we were. I hope to give a glimpse into my own and my family's history, as well as contributing to a collective history.

The books and objects already contain traces of the past – fingerprints, skin, dedications, scribbled notes – which offer us a glimpse into their earlier life.

I am keen for viewers to touch the works, therefore adding to their history. Through the dialogue that arises from the work, their story also continues and is passed on.


Photography by the artist

Jo McDonald


Wall hanging. Second-hand books, monofilament and wooden bobbins.

20 x 200cm


Photography by the artist

Jo McDonald


Wall hanging. Second-hand books, cotton warp, sisal, hemp and monofilament.

75 x 75 x 8cm


Photography by the artist

Jo McDonald

Tales of the Unexpected

Wall hanging. Second-hand books, monofilament and metal.

125 x 125 x 12 cm


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