It’s two weeks since a proper update about our wonderful community project and I thought you might like to hear about how it all came together. This photo captures the moment that I actually realised what we had accomplished as a group. Michael and Nicola came down, just as I had finished and their reaction said it all. I was really grateful for Zoe’s help too, I knew how it should look when it was hung but it was great to have the benefit of her artistic eye. Ever since I saw the space, on my last visit with Linda, I was struck by how perfect the café area was for the dimensions of our quilt and also its coincidentally compatible colour palette – I could definitely visualise it hung in there.
The Canalside Heritage Centre is a beautiful period building, lovingly restored with funding and support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Canal & River Trust and other partners and volunteers, to become a vibrant hub for visitors to enjoy and explore. Their aim to renovate and restore the weir cottages at Beeston Lock into sustainable use as a heritage, education and arts centre for all. It was successfully opened to the public in June 2017 and serves its community well. As well as the spacious tea rooms that spill out into the tranquil and well stocked gardens, they offer a range of events and activities throughout the year for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.
Ever since starting the project it has been obvious how tactile the stitched squares that we have been producing are. Once the fabric was dyed for the actual quilt squares and the applique and embroidery was added, it was clear that it was going to be a colourful quilt. In addition to the variations in colour and ideas, the different textures of each piece became interesting too. It was this that inspired me to source the Fairtrade handmade paper for the display boards that I had intended to put together to provide some background to our finished quilt. Instead of cutting into the paper, and risk losing that lovely soft edge, I used a ruler and some wooden templates to accurately tear the backing paper.
Our project was kicked off last September by the arrival of some beautifully put together stitch kits from Northern France. Helen of Polly Dextrous, generously provided us with the guidance and materials to create little decorative squares including instructions to learn new stitches. I wanted the backing paper to add another ‘fabric’ layer to the display and I think it worked well. After experimenting with glue, stitching and double sided-tape, I opted for a glue stick for these squares and stitched the fabric squares to the handmade paper. Double sided tape was chose over PVA for sticking the layers to the recycled plastic boards, that were actually leftover placards from the local Labour election campaign – free is best obviously!
Linda suggested that I try printing on the paper so that we could avoid that ‘school classroom’ look and I was pleased when it worked without jamming the printer once, although I did have to feed the sheets through carefully one at a time and the absorbent paper drank a lot of ink. The dark blue font was a nod to the text on the front cover of the Threads of Life book by textile artist and community facilitator Clare Hunter, and was much more pleasing to the eye than the traditional black. Due to the grain in the paper, to some the printed words might look as though they are stitched on. Choosing the photographs was tricky, there have been so many taken over the past year to document the process, but I managed to whittle it down to nine.
The carefully hand-stitched panels that tell us why stitching is an important form of communication in our society, looked wonderful left in their raw stitched state – edges frayed and threads trailing against the slub paper. Linda and I framed them up together, tearing the paper to size. It was Mr Bee who felt that adding the blue border would bring out the stitching, and that using a thin wash would cause it to ‘bleed’ into the paper to soften the line’s edge. I think because this has been a project that has evolved purely by us listening to each other’s suggestions and running with other people’s ideas, I was more than happy for him to get out a paintbrush and start testing out his theory.
And I am so glad I did, as the effect was great and the resulting hue incredibly close to the Kingfisher blue of the quilt squares. I chose lightweight clip frames so that the edges of the paper and fabric panel could be seen, although I originally had thought of using a mount and a proper frame I had rejected this to retain the authenticity of the pieces. Altogether, the separate elements fit together well. There were the information boards, telling our story as a group and how the project came about, then the stitched words from group members, the quilt itself and then the final trio of boards that depict the process we went through. It really was quite moving seeing it all together, our year’s work and so many individual contributions that made it happen.
Our exhibition will be on display at Canalside until September 30th. The tearooms are open for business, and they have a friendly one-way system. Once you have ordered your drinks, and perhaps a piece of cake, you can browse the display as you wait. As the main seating area is cordoned off at the moment, you can only get so close to the far end of the display, but I felt it was important to create it as a whole for future exhibits.
I am extremely proud of what this project has achieved and represents. It has been a privilege to work with such wonderfully caring and encouraging people. I hope that the quilt gives you a little insight into who we all are as individuals, and what we value in our community.