Dr. Helen McAllister


Head of Applied Materials

Helen McAllister’s practice is rooted in Embroidery, that now positions the materiality and process in the Applied Arts. The practice has been a constant dialogue between the shoe–derived form, historical Venice, and the crafted artifact outcome. The work investigates notions of the narrative, symbolism and metaphor that are interdisciplinary within the maker discipline, through Design processes and thinking with that of Material Culture. The engagement with the viewer and the ‘display’ of the made artifact propels the work in new contexts, having new audiences and new teaching situations.

Dr Helen McAllister ANCAD | MA | PhD

Head Applied Materials Department  
School of Fine Art | National College of Art and Design | 100 Thomas Street | Dublin 8




2006                PhD Practice-based Design - (Embroidered textiles)

                        National College of Art and Design, Dublin Ireland


1999                MA Design – (Embroidered textiles)

                        National College of Art and Design, Dublin Ireland


1986               ANCAD – (1st Class) (Embroidered textiles)

                      Commendation in History of Art & Complementary Studies

                      National College of Art and design, Dublin Ireland


1987              Diploma / Cert. History of Art & Appreciation

                      Trinity College Dublin


1981              Foundation Studies in Art and Design


                      Rupert Stanley College of Further Education, Belfast     



Teaching Experience


2014-present         Head of Department, Applied Materials

                              National College of Art and Design, Dublin


2009-2014            Head of Department, Fashion and Textiles

                             National College of Art and Design, Dublin


2014                     Coordinator, Masters of Design

                             National College of Art and Design, Dublin


2005 – 2009         EPL, lecturer (textiles), Education

                             National College of Art and Design, Dublin


1989– 1991          Part Time Lecturer, Textile Embroidery 2nd

                             National College of Art and Design, Dublin


1991 – 2009        Part Time Lecturer, Education - Textiles 2nd 3rd 4th yr / Post grad.                               Dip  National College of Art and Design, Dublin


1997 – 2003        Part Time Lecturer, CEER (CEAD)-(established embroidery evening .                          class)

                            National College of Art and Design, Dublin


1997 – 2002        Part Time Lecturer, Core /1st yr

                            National College of Art and Design, Dublin


1998 – 2004        Part Time Lecturer, Fashion & Textiles - Embroidery – 2nd /3rd yr

                            National College of Art and Design, Dublin



1997 – 2000        Part Time Lecturer,

                           Dundrum College of Further Education – Embroidery – portfolio yr



Professional Experience


2011-2014       External Examiner, Textiles Undergraduate program

                        G.M.I.T. Galway Ireland


2013-2017       Judge, Golden Fleece Award

                        Helen Lillas Mitchell Trust, Dublin Ireland


2016               Judge, Feltmakers Ireland


2010-2013      Judge, RDS Craft Awards, Mixed Textiles Media | Textile Print

                        RDS, Dublin Ireland


2013-2017      External Examiner, Textiles Undergraduate program

                       St. Anne’s College, Sligo Ireland


2009              Peer Review Panellist, QA Undergraduate Degree program

                      London College of Fashion. London England



Special Projects


2012             Innovation Voucher

                    Polio Society Ireland

                    Brief - User First – Knitwear fashion Range / Collection for those with                            restricted  mobility and wheelchair users. Collaboration w/ Cathy                                     Mooney


2016           Then and Now Fashion Event

                   Project Manager,

                   Venue, Chocolate Factory, Dublin

                   Fashion event included current TAA students /Alumni from the course and                 Staff

                   Performance and video with catwalk collections –


Grants/Fellowships (Awards, Honors etc.)


2011           An Post | Crafts Council of Ireland Collaboration Stamp Collection


2007           Helen Mc Caffrey Award


2002           The Golden Fleece Award, Overall Winner


1986           Taylor Award, RDS Craft Award


                   Baby Gro, Textile Design Competition


1985           Kilkenny Travel Award





2017          Shoe making Kit (travelling show)

                  Knit & Stitch, Olympia, London

                  Knit & Stitch, Edinburgh, Scotland


2016         Adaptations

                 OPW Gallery, Farmleigh, Phoenix Park, Dublin


2015         Shoe Making Kit (solo show)

                 R-Space, Lisburn, Co Down


2014        Interlace

                National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny


2013       CultureCraft – Culture in the Making (UK City of Culture)

               London Street Gallery, Derry


               Art & Style

               Brown Thomas window, Dublin


2011      Goldilocks and the Bears

              Dalkey Castle, Dalkey, Co Dublin


              An Post | Crafts Council of Ireland Collaboration

              Year of Craft Stamp Collection


 2007       30 Something

                Embroidery Artists Biannual Exhibition, Dalkey, Co Dublin





1990                                         Octopus’ Garden Restaurant

                                                 Blackrock, Dublin


1986 - 2005                             Private commissions




Professional Organisations



Current           Design and Crafts Council of Ireland member


Current          Venice in Peril member


Current          Belfast Natural History & Philosophical Society member


1990 -2008   Embroidery Artist Group




International Academic Conferences


2017          Crafting Education | iJADE

                  NCAD/ Dublin Ireland


2015          Making Futures (on-line publish.)

                  Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth, UK


2013           More for Less | Cumulus (on-line publish.)

                   Dublin Ireland


                  Knowing (by) Design (published)

                  Sint-Lucas, Brussels


                   Design Learning for Tomorrow | DRS/Cumulus (published)

                  Oslo, Norway


                  Objects n Focus | N.G.O.A.A. Seminar

                  Dublin Ireland


2009          Art of Research | University of Art & Design (online publish.)

                  Helsinki, Finland


                  Communicating (by) Design | Sint-Lucas (published)

                   Brussels, Belgium


  2008          Love Objects; engaging material culture | D.R.G.

                    National College of art and design, Dublin Ireland


                    Ars Textrina | Conference (publishe

  2007           University of Ulster, Belfast


                     Arts/Humanities Research Systems (published)



2006           Wonderground | Design Research Society (published)

                    Lisbon, Portugal


                    Common Threads N.G.O.A.A. Seminar (published)

                    Dublin Ireland





2018             Iterations – Design Research & Practice Review Issue 6 Feb

                     Institute Designers Ireland


2013             CultureCraft - Reclaim | Repurpose Catalogue Introduction

                     UK City of Culture Derry


2012             Textile Surface Manipulation | Co-Author with Nigel Cheney

                     Cheney/McAllister, Bloomsbury London


2007             Craft Criticism | Stopress Nov/Dec Issue

                     Crafts Council of Ireland


Visiting Artist Lecture / Guest Speaker / Workshops


1990 – 2018      Ballyfermont College of Further Education


                          Sallynoggin College of Further Education


                          Coláiste Íde


                          Patchwork Society


                          Irish Guild of Embroiderers


                         Feltmakers Ireland


                        National Gallery of Ireland


                       (Design &) Craft Council of Ireland


                       Embroidery Group – Dunbar, Scotland




Artistic Practice
Artistic work has always been visually inspired by Italy and in particular Venice resulting in small to large wall hangings. For a number of years this created a ‘recognisable style’, but questioned the need to ‘re-brand’ the practice.  The completion of a MA Design (embroidery) shifted the work from ‘decorative’ outputs to that of an in-depth inquiry of Venetian 16th Textiles and ‘Chopines’ with 3D outputs.  The artistic practice formed a platform to question notions of a creative practice, the made art artefact and the interdisciplinary of the field of study resulted in the completion of a practice based PhD (embroidery).

Themes and Influences

The research inquiry questioned the fundamental definition of what constitutes a pair through shoe-derived forms.  Prown states that ‘artefacts are in addition to their intended function, unconscious representations of the hidden mind’. This seemed particularly apt when considering the recognizable, iconographic object of the shoe. Research has been grounded in the practice of making art artefacts, dovetailing with Venice for visual, historical, and societal themes. The artistic practice has come from textile processes and discursive thinking that now locates the work in the field of Applied Materials. 

The ‘pair’ is still the vehicle to question duality, identity and materiality; reflecting on the made and its manufacture, aligning meaning to making and private to public engagement. Venice has been the single most important influence not only for visual references but as a metaphor of a carefully ‘crafted’ creation of itself that conveys complex duality and dichotomies.  Venice, as an ‘entity’, has allowed investigation of pairs, pairings, binary oppositions, of duplication, counter praxis and co existing duality of tensions and torsions.

The shoe form narrates, becoming portrait and protagonist. Often misconstrued as an object of adoration, therefore superficial in meaning, belies a more complex relationship, even perverse, where the shoe form conveys different meaning from interactive wearing with that of passive gazed upon artefact.

Current work focuses on the shoe making process in a large body of work called the ‘Shoe Making Kit’, this reflects on a brief historical moment that saw female makers and sellers of shoes.  The ‘Shoe Making kit’ series also conjures up the secret hordes, the fetishism of collecting and coveting such objects.

(PROWN & HALTMAN (2000) ‘American Artifacts; essays in material culture’ (edited) Michigan, Michigan State Unv. Press Page 13)


Selected Exhibitions:

    2006  ‘Containment’ Final PhD presentation N.C.A.D

    2007  ’30 Something’ Embroidery Artists Biannual Exhibition, Dalkey

    2011  ‘Year of Craft’ – C.C. o I, An Post Stamp

    2011  ‘Goldilock and the Bears’ Dalkey Castle, Dalkey

    2013  ‘Art & Style’ BT’s window exhibition, Dublin

    2013  ‘Culture Craft’ exhibition, Derry

    2014  ‘Interlace’ C.C.o I

    2015  ‘Shoe Making Kit’ R-Space Lisburn (solo show)

    2016  ‘Adaptation’ O.P.W Gallery,Farmleigh,Pheonix Park, Dublin

    2017  Knit & Stitch .Olympia, London.Edinburgh


International Papers Presented:

2006  ‘Common Threads Seminar’ N.G.o A.A. Dublin.Ireland . (published)

2006  ‘Wonderground’ Design Research Society, Lisbon.Portugal. (published)

2007  ‘Arts / Humanities Research Systems’ Baden-Baden (published)

2007  ‘Ars Textrina Conference’ Univercity of Ulster. Belfast (published)

2008  ‘Love Objects; engaging material culture’ D.R.G.,  National College of Art and Design.Dublin.Ireland

2009  ‘Communicating (by) Design’ Sint – Lucas, Brussels (published) 2009  ‘Art of Research’ Univ. of Art & Design, Helsinki (on-line publish)

2013  ‘Objects in Focus’ Seminar N.G. o A.A. Dublin 2013  ‘Design learning for Tomorrow’ DRS/Cumulus, Oslo (published)

2013  ‘Knowing (by) Design’ Sint-Lucas, Brussels (published) 2013  ‘More for Less’ Cumulus, Dublin (on-line publish)

2015  ‘Making Futures’ Plymouth College of Art (on-line publish)

2017 (open call submission for)  Alive. Active. Adaptive. DRS (EKSIG 2017) Cumulus .Univ. of Technology, Delft / Rotterdam, Netherlands


Prizes / Awards:

1985  ‘Kilkenny Travel Award’
1986  ‘Baby Gro’ textile design competition
1986  ‘Taylor Award’, RDS
2002  ‘Golden Fleece Award’ (1st winner of this prestigious award)
2007  ‘The Helen McCaffery Award’


Crafts Council of Ireland
Venice in Peril
Design Research Society

Archive Custodian:

‘The Kerr Shoe Collection’, NCAD



  • Shoe making kit exhibition 143

    Shoe making kit exhibition 143

  • Robertmclean robtakephoto.com 20141124 0041

    Robertmclean robtakephoto.com 20141124 0041

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    Img 2660

  • Adaptation ireland 16  50

    Adaptation ireland 16 50