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Rhona MacKillop

Rhona MacKillop is a knitted textile artist and designer whose work challenges the comforting associations of knitting by exploring uncomfortable and sometimes unsettling subject matter. With a strong focus on research and technical detail, her work is often inspired by scientific imagery and collections from the history of medicine. Combining strong technical skills with an interest in innovative knit structures, she aims to become a creative voice in a scientific world. Originally from Edinburgh, she graduated with a first class degree in Textile Design from Central Saint Martins before her studies at the RCA.

Rhona MacKillop


How has the human body suffered physical, social and mental pain through the use of textiles?

As well as draping and protecting the body, textiles have caused serious bodily damage and disease throughout history. The Diseased Textile project explores and reveals this unsettling relationship by highlighting the results of toxic fashion practices, such as the use of toxic dyes and hazardous processes, which affect both those who wear textiles and those who create them: for example, the lethal effects of arsenic dyes in the 19th century and more recently the destructive effects of formaldehyde poisoning.

Drawing on research into textile-related damage and disease, my project draws inspiration from the textures, colours and imagery of the diseased body and translates these into knitted textiles.

The Diseased Textile began with a collaboration with the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh, who provided me with images showing the damaging effects of textile-related disease and injury. These then formed the research basis for the development of a series of large-scale knitted artworks intended to highlight this important issue within the textile industry.

Mesothelioma — The result of asbestos fibres becoming lodged in organ tissue, causing inflammation and scarring.
Silicosis — A pulmonary disease associated with workers who sandblast denim, caused by inhalation of large amounts of silica dust over time.
Dermatitis — An occupational skin disease caused by cheap and irritant dyes and post-production chemicals which cause rashes and blisters.
The Diseased Textile Triptych - Making Of

In my home studio in London, I have developed a series of knitted textile art pieces that focus on three pulmonary, cancerous and skin diseases caused by toxic practices in the textile and fashion industry.

These thought-provoking and technically innovative artworks explore the juxtaposition between ‘comforting’ knitted fabric and this unsettling subject matter in order to highlight the continuing relevance of this issue.

Large-scale mixed-media paintings exploring the textures, colours, shapes and patterns found in medical records of diseases.

These artistic responses, created using pastel, oil, acrylic and collage, provided a basis for my knit designs.

Digital samples based on painting studies, created using a mixture of DesignaKnit software on a domestic knit machine and Shima Seiki digital knit machines.

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Kay Cosserat Award