East London Textile Art

John Frederick Lewis: Facing Fame & The Octagon Project


We looked at the patterns of the textiles you see in the paintings and made them our own. I just like to sew. All the octagons we made are different and sewn by hand while we chat.

The Octagon Project participant from East London Textile Arts



East London Textile Arts (ELTA) is a participatory textiles project based in Newham, East London. They work with diverse groups of all abilities, on a long-term basis, providing learners with opportunities to develop a wide range of textiles-based knowledge and skills. During weekly textile classes and research visits, learners develop their skills and creativity through collaborative craftworks.

Sonia Tuttiett is the lead textile artist of East London Textile Arts, while Celia Ward leads on fabric, paper and book designs. The Art Workers' Guild have generously imparted their knowledge, design skills and specialist teaching.

Over 150 years after Mary Watts taught clay modelling classes for shoe-shine boys in Whitechapel, Watts Gallery Trust continues to develop creative learning partnerships with community groups in London's East End.

The Octagon Project

A partnership between Watts Gallery Trust, The Art Workers' Guild and East London Textile Arts, this project involved over seventy people, including forty participants from East London Textile Arts, who hand embroidered over two hundred octagon designs. These were then stitched together to form gowns inspired by the John Frederick Lewis: Facing Fame exhibition (9 July – 3 November 2019) at Watts Gallery – Artists' Village. A collection of patterned papers, textiles, clothes and hand bound booklets were also made based on the octagon pattern. In 2019, the Octagon Project was displayed at Watts Gallery – Artists' Village, the Art Workers' Guild,London and then at Little Ilford Baptist Church, where much of the work was made.

This project has given me a whole new sense of adventure and love of Orientalism. I have learnt a new set of skills and learnt about islamic designs and patterns. Embroidery is a fascinating world to get into.

Sindy Jackson from East London Textile Arts

The Octagon display gave an interesting added dimension to the J F Lewis exhibition. Visitors certainly appreciated it, and many were really taken with the fact that it was a community project. In conversation,this gave us stewards a wonderful opportunity to advertise our own Art for All programme.

Watts Gallery – Artists' Village Volunteer



I loved seeing the paintings by Lewis. The colours and patterns were beautiful and made me think of about what the noises and smells were like in the busy places he was painting. I don't think of myself as someone who is good at making detailed things, but I am so happy with my octagon. I worked on it over two weeks and I tried to use 3 different stitches which Sonia showed me. The gown which has been made is stunning.

I'm happy that my sewing is at Watts – I've brought my mum and kids to see it- I've never been here before.

Art for All Community Learning Programme participant


Image Credit:

Printed East London Textile Arts Kang Sing Fung models The Octagon Gown, designed by Sonia Tuttiett and inspired by John Frederick Lewis,
Photo credit, Elle Sillanpaa

Printed East London Textile Arts Radha Rajan models The Octagon Gown inspired by John Frederick Lewis,
Photo credit: Elle Sillanpaa

Image of the Octagon Project installed as part of the John Frederick Lewis Exhibition at Watts Gallery,
Photo Credit: Andy Newbold

Image of the Octagon Project installed as part of the John Frederick Lewis Exhibition at Watts Gallery,
Photo credit: Andy Newbold, Bag by Sonia Tuttiett

Image of the Octagon Project installed as part of the John Frederick Lewis Exhibition at Watts Gallery,
Photo credit: Andy Newbold, bookbinding in partnership with The Wyvern Bindery