is a way to mark
our existence on cloth:
patterning our place in the
world, voicing our identity,
sharing something of ourselves
with others and leaving the
indelible evidence of our
presence in stitches
held fast by our
We really have my dear friend Helen to thank for this month’s blog post. She very kindly sent me a something through the post which has made quite an impression on me. Back in February, a beautifully bound book arrived on my doorstep and I have been dipping into it ever since for inspiration. Threads of Life by Clare Hunter is an amazing blend of history and memoir which charts the stories of people from the past who had something to say, and limited means to do so. Clare herself has been a banner maker and community textile artist for over twenty years.
Helen, otherwise known as Polly Dextrous, also sent us a complimentary stitch kit to help us get our stitch on this summer and this is where our sewing journey started. The kits came with a helpful booklet of instructions as well as all we needed to create beautifully stitched panels on pre-punched card – designed to keep our stitches straight. The kits are a brilliant way to start if you have only a little sewing experience and need ideas to help you get started. We really liked the practice cards, they gave us the confidence to try new stitches and were easy to unthread again if we made a mistake.
As the stitched panels took shape, it was wonderful to see how differently each member of the group interpreted the idea of creating a decorative panel. The reassurance they gained from Helen’s careful words, pushed them to explore and experiment and a variety of stitched patterns appeared on their work. The group really enjoyed the session and were keen to use their newly acquired skills to try out new stitching techniques in subsequent sessions. So thank you Helen for sending us on this voyage of discovery, we are curious to see where it will lead us.
Having revisited running stitch, back stitch and cross stitch, we also learned about boro and sashiko via Helen’s detailed instructions. There were some of the hand-dyed embroidery silks left from the stitch kit for us to use and we added to these from our donation box. We developed a theme for our second session, which involved words, positive affirmations or slogans that meant something to us. Adding images was the next part of the process, learning to fill in larger spaces with thread to create solid blocks of colour. It was here that the young man, who had only just learned to sew, came into his own.
His work alone brought home to me the calming action of the needle disappearing and resurfacing in the fabric, the brightly coloured threads following and forming the words. His panel was happy and hopeful and accurately described the daytime hours, whilst others bore a more obvious message of encouragement or hope. This drew me back to Clare Hunter’s statement about people over centuries and continents ‘using the language of sewing to make their voices heard.’ The idea of how we could develop this into a collective project started to grow in my head and planning is now well underway.
With one session left to go, I think we are now at the stage where we could attempt to make a number of contrasting panels that each person stitches their personality into. With the skills that we have learned, we can produce squares in varying degrees of complexity which will sit together very well. It would be truly amazing to be able to get to the stage where we can stitch these squares into a quilt, which contains an expressive piece of all of us. Over the past two years, we as a group have forged links and made strong connections. Somehow we have been pulled together by the threads of life.