The thing I love most about textiles is that they can never quite be pinned down.
Textiles are rarely straightforward. They are always steeped in associations, memories and signs. They can’t be measured by aesthetics alone and it’s always worth turning a fabric over to look at the other side. Textiles invite you to see beyond the surface, down into the domain of the personal, cultural and political.
Textiles are slippery by nature and make the transitions between fashion, culture, and concept, with ease and dexterity. They are natural shape shifters and just when you think you’ve got them nailed, they send out a new signal. I was reminded of this yesterday as I stitched with a small group of women in the village of Elsing, in Norfolk.
We were working on our contribution to the #imapiece textile installation, a collective crafts project designed to raise awareness of the Save the Children’s ‘Race against Hunger’ Campaign. The project asks collaborators to make jigsaw shaped textile pieces stitched with positive, encouraging and provocative texts to promote an awareness of the campaign.
This is a truly egalitarian activity as the collective act of making is motivated by a social conscience rather than aesthetics and skill and as we worked my thoughts turned to the many ways that groups have been united by stitch to voice their protests and appeals.
Collaborative making, in any context, is a powerful activity and the result is, by its nature, worth so much more than the sum of its parts
As we sewed our fabric jigsaw shapes I could see another puzzle emerging; one that is being pieced together over time, made by everyone who has ever picked up a needle and pricked a conscience.
This imaginary jigsaw is made by the middle class ladies of the suffrage movement and the contributors to the 48,000 piece Aids Memorial Quilt; one for every loved one lost. Some pieces are made by the female POW’s interned in a Changi prison in the 1940’s, stitching secret messages into quilts that only their husbands in a neighbouring camp can translate. American slaves piecing together a stitched cultural identity make up a significant part, and Ed Hall contributes with his protest banners challenging current issues such as climate change, sex workers and trade unions.
The picture on this jigsaw puzzle is beautiful and forever changing. This is a puzzle with no straight edges, or corner, lots of missing pieces, and it is unlikely that it will ever be finished.
And I feel privileged to be a part.
Further information about the #imapiece project can be found here.