I was attracted to this book when I saw it in the V&A shop last summer by the low-key illustrations – the subtle colours, simple stitches, the neatness and regularity of her technique, and the care represented by the samples of sewing – there’s a gentle observant rhythm to them which is modest but not miserly, simple but not puritanical.
Then as I got into it, other values engaged me: the small scale of the projects envisaged – no long training, no expensive materials or kit – was a serious consideration as I was thinking of ‘mindful and contemplative’ sewing as a springboard to new poems, and not wanting to get over-committed. Creative mending and repurposing fabrics I might have sent to recycling had a certain green cachet. But where I really got on board was in a chapter called Stitching, Walking, Mapping, where Claire Wellesley-Smith talks about creating something with plants from a particular area, slow-dyeing threads or eco-printing, and stitching a design that records a connection.
Further in, she talks about the connections to the historical industries of the area where she lives, and makes cross-cultural links with other women using different traditions of textile art. Slow Stitch is an inspiring read, but if you would like to see more of Claire Wellesley-Smith’s work you can visit her website, and in particular, look at the beautiful short film Provenance.
It was in response to this book that I started Red Yellow Blue, and I have showed the first dyes here. But I’ve also been sewing, learning how to slow down, and make use of some of the fabric I’ve been saving, and some of the pictures that I took during the Half a Hundred Years project.
The next project is to connect with family history. My father’s mother died when he was a child, so we know very little about her, apart from the fact that, according to her school report, she was exceptionally good at needlework. But I do own this:
which she made. The hand stitching is exquisite. I am going to try and make a copy of it for my sister – I can’t do the drawn thread work, but those lovely Clarice Cliffe type marigolds look as if they are within my measure. It will have to wait a while, until after my trip next week to Lochmaddy, but it’s a project I am looking forward to.