All Stitched Up – Conference 2017

April 2017 Conference

Guest Speaker - Janet Edmonds

Morning workshop

Janet set us an exercise in creating pattern using chain stitch. We were to form patterns in this familiar embroidery stitch, but in an unfamiliar way. We were only to use single “links” of chain stitch at a time. Janet provided a number of samples and books of her own to encourage us. 

We worked on check fabrics to provide structure to the designs. We shortened and lengthened the links and arranged them in various combinations and colours.  Changes in thread types and thickness provided dramatically different effects.

After an hour or so of stitching the resulting variety of interpretations of the task was striking.  Each stitcher had produced a unique sample.  In a lifetime of embroidery this writer had never thought of using chain stitch in this way.  It was a thought-provoking exercise and all present rose to the challenge.  Further, as with all groups of people sewing together, it was a bonding experience too.

Afternoon talk

Janet took us through examples of stitch through the ages, starting with the Bayeux tapestry where we were encouraged to imagine the social aspect of a group of stitchers working to produce such a piece, moving onto the ecclesiastical work from the middle ages with very fine stitching recently shown at the V and A exhibition “Opus Anglicanum”.

We saw pictures of examples of tapestries in tent stitch where there are 54 stitches per square centimetre and finely worked stumpwork boxes in needlelace.

The time taken to create such work was an advantage to Mary, Queen of Scots who was held imprisoned for many years and was prolific in producing needlework. We were invited to imagine the solace she must have taken in being able to create something, despite her situation.

Janet went on to describe the therapeutic benefits of stitching, the meditative repetitive action of needle and thread. She used examples such as Chiangi jail in Singapore during the second world war, where women embroidered their names and an image that meant something to them on a square of fabric (sheeting or flour bag) which were made into quilts for the military hospital as a way of communicating their survival to those outside. Many women had brought embroidery materials into the jail though very little else. Symbols of victory unknown to the Japanese could be embroidered and pass censure.

The organisation “Fine Cell Work” is a social enterprise training prisoners in paid skilled    needlework which also helps to pass the time.  97% of these prisoners are men and some stitch for up to 40 hours a week.

Trench art became popular during the first world war, including embroidered postcards sent by recuperating men to their families.

The foundling hospital where children were left by mothers who could not care for them were left with a scrap of fabric often embroidered, which could be used to identify the child again if the mother returned in the future.

Other examples highlighted were the Hmong People, Ellis Island immigrants, Japanese boro workers’ patchwork, Agnes Richter and Rozsika Parker, Jenny Dutton, Dorothy Cauldwell and Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth.

Janet enjoys using densely worked intensive “obsessive “ stitch that she carries around with her so she can take advantage of any time available to stitch.

She noted that every maker has their own signature, so that no two interpretations of stitch would look the same and we can learn from one another.

The quote found by Janet Edmonds:

‘To capture the art of life so beautifully is what stitch is all about – to leave your imprint and mark in the fabric of society’

Tracy Gill, Education Liason Officer for the Rachel Kay Shuttleworth Collection