19 July 2017

Feminist textiles and embroidered hankies

The Cut Cloth exhibition, and its associated events, were what spurred my recent trip to Manchester. I got there on the last day of the exhibition, which was held in the amazing Portico Library, with its delightful "original features" dating back 200 years - the library was opened in 1806. The central exhibition space , which also functions as a cafe - is a modern intervention -
The "Polite Literature" category would include the literature that was read in the Polite Society of the Georgian era, the sort of literature deemed sufficiently suitable for a wife or servant. But these shelves also hold some risque novels and a few books on witchcraft and philosophical and theological arguments. (Read more about it here.)

We had a simple lunch on tablecloths rumoured to be by Alice Kettle (and indeed she and ceramicist Stephen Dixon are leaders of the Crafts Research Group, year-long artists in residence) -
In the vitrines, historic documents - The Subversive Stitch by Roszika Parker was published in 1984, and the Art Textiles exhibition, curated by Jennifer Harris  was held at the Whitworth in 2015
Textile art and contemporary feminism
(click on the image to enlarge,  for reading the text)
 A few of my favourite pieces -

 In one vitrine, historical textile production in Manchester, which in 1853 had over 100 cotton mills and until early this century produced "wax cloth" for export to Ghana, and also Shweshwe indigo fabric, "German print", which was exported to South Africa -
Some days later, "the hanky workshop", led by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective. She supplied a kit with hanky, thread, needle, instructions, a lovely woven label ... and there are other stitching-for-action kits on the Craftivist website -

Sarah's Little Book of Craftivism contains thoughtful, do-able projects that bring the political a bit closer to the personal -
I was also taken by the follow-the-dots stitching cards - Stitchable Changemakers
And being an embroiderer, I not only had to turn it over to see the back, but photograph it -
 Here we are, stitching away in the Portico Library - changing the world one stitch at a time!
The hanky, explained Sarah, is a way of gently confronting and connecting to "a powerholder" - onto which can be stitched not only your concerns about their actions and policies, but also encouragement for doing a better job in future ... with the added dimension that you'll be thinking about these topics and issues as you stitch. To me, that is much more sane than yelling angry slogans. But to whom, about what, would I write or give such an object?  When we said a few words about ourselves at the start of the workshop, I said I'd come because this was an area that I'd not been involved with yet in my life. And indeed, I felt very much out of my depth and hadn't thought who for, or about what, such a handkerchief missive might be.

At the end of the session I hadn't got very far ... and Sarah gave us an "extra length of encouragement" to take away - "little by little, we travel far"

Little by little I sorted out what to say, how to say it, and to whom. While I educate myself about "issues" that I might want to try to change, I'll focus on what I know: "the personal is political". Family politics; who holds what powers? So, first, the nearest and dearest ... what could I say to my son? His birthday was only a week away, so the text urgently needed writing, no time for dithering. It got done. The words had to be fitted into the space available, and the writing had to be a good size. That got sorted, and then I traced it onto the cloth with a black biro. 

After that bit of agony came the joy of stitching - with two strands of anchor cotton, or rather one strand doubled over through the needle, so the needle wouldn't get lost during stitching on public transport (the sturdy, reclosable envelope of the kit was very useful for carrying it around) -

 Finished -

 And the back .....


Olga Norris said...

Neat - in both the UK and US meanings.

Sandy said...

The hanky is a wonderful thing.

beatrice De said...

That sound great !
How is life ? I came back from Buenos Aires to improve my tango, Then to peru to see Matchu Picchu. A dream cames trough
The road of Buenos Aires who are the material... you cames made ! The merceries... you cames made ! Bought some reserve of lace,
If you go to my blog * tricot, couture,,, you will see all new works. Cliquer on the right hand side.
Abrazo de Lausanne.
PS. Will send a mail