The Embroidered Message
As another strange and fractured year moves onwards, I am hitting an autumnal creative surge. Some people find new momentum in January when the new year begins, for others it is the spring that gets sap rising but for myself, possibly because my birthday falls in the last days of August, autumn is the beginning, a time where there is sufficient energy and hope to make new plans.
This year I am looking at showing my most recent projects: KILLING KEVIN and MANIFESTO FOR A NEW NORMAL in a context that explores the wider traditions of stitching how we feel. The sewing of text is, in some ways, a strange choice. It is labour-intensive - it's certainly quicker to pick up a sharpie and scrawl a note. And embroidery takes the written word out of the journal, off the writing paper and the screen and onto new, potentially incongruous territories. Some time ago, when considering the choice to embroider KILLING KEVIN I wrote that it felt like a no-brainer that ‘these words needed to be pierced…, pulled, looped and tightened – needle-worked into form.' Since I was no seamstress, I had to learn my craft on the job, stitching, unpicking, and re-stitching the fifty-four handkerchiefs that make up this piece. When I worried that my choice was ridiculous, I took heart from Louise Bourgeois’ own handkerchief I HAVE BEEN TO HELL AND BACK. AND LET ME TELL YOU, IT WAS WONDERFUL. If it is good enough for Louise, who was I to argue?
While Killing Kevin told my personal story of cancer treatment, MANIFESTO FOR A NEW NORMAL flowed from our shared experience of the pandemic. People were longing for the life they had lost but there was also a real examining of what they might choose to change once ‘normality’ returned. Be it through #MeToo the response to murders of women on our streets, or #BlackLivesMatter, the toppling of Colston’s statue and protest at the murder of George Floyd; people were looking at the entrenched, the ‘that’s the way things are’ and saying, enough. In my manifesto I focused, once again, on societal shame and the disguises it demands and begets. I declared it was time to ditch this vicious cycle. Stitching for a new life is nothing new for a woman. For centuries mothers expecting a child made their layettes. While brides-to-be and their sisters, aunts, mothers, and grandmothers made linens for their ‘bottom drawers,’ undergarments for their trousseaux and, yes, handkerchiefs, all embroidered with the initials of their owners, who, once transformed by the marriage ritual, could begin life anew. This is why I chose to sew my manifesto demands on christening garments, linens, gloves, and fans.
I am in the early stages of research, but have begun to find some intriguing historic examples of embroidered text, most extraordinary of all is the Elizabeth Parker Sampler, in the V&A's collection - poor girl! Once I have a greater sense of where this autumnal exploration is leading. I will let you know!
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