Stitching: Feminine Resilience and Healing
When I was first asked to write about my embroidery a few months ago, it came to me that the importance of writing about and reflecting upon it had never occurred to me before this. Whilst sewing and stitching has always been something integral to my life, it has always felt like second nature to me. From making little felt animals with my mum to sell at the school fete to machine and hand embroidery, altering/ mending clothes and creating clothes today. The more thought I gave it the more I came to realise the immense impact stitching has had on my life. Stitching is about taking care and ownership of the fabric/ clothing you are stitching on; stitching is about self-care; stitching is about connecting with others, it is about creativity and freedom; and it can be resistance.
The more thought I gave it the more I came to realise the immense impact stitching has had on my life. Stitching is about taking care and ownership of the fabric/clothing you are stitching on…
Stitching has always been an important creative outlet for me and the concentration it requires deeply focuses the mind. Working with my hands means a lot to me, particularly doing an academic degree which involves a lot of staring at a screen and reading. I appreciate being able to completely shift the way I’m using my mind, from reading and writing academically, to the deep focus and relaxation that comes with stitching. Whether it be something for myself which can be completely experimental or a commission it is a welcome release. It is also a good way to come back into your body and just be with yourself. The gentle pierce of a needle into taut fabric is still something I find joy in, years after starting.
My interest in social justice and my embroidery merge, especially when viewing embroidery as a form of resistance, and in many cases, a distinctly feminine form of resistance.
Stitching acts as space that women are carving out for themselves to tell their stories. Throughout history and all over the world, women have been able to tell their stories through stitching, often when other options were not available to them. Whilst I am extremely lucky to be able to speak about social justice issues without being silenced in many spaces, it is essential to recognise this history that embroidery and stitching holds.
The importance of breathing new life into clothes making an effort to mend rather than bin them was something that was realised for me when working at an alterations shop, DOLLY, in Lewes where I’m from. The joy in repairing something dear to someone feels special and seems ever more important in the climate crisis we are enduring.
I’ve recently returned to hand embroidery which I had a break from for a while. I saw an incredibly moving piece at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh called “Opening Paths to Justice” by Teresa Margolles. The women who stitched it described hand embroidery as a form of therapy and a mode of resistance against violent patriarchal systems. They describe the process as being “in harmony with our pain. In harmony with our thoughts”. I was drawn to this idea of embroidery as a form of healing and therapy. The gentleness along with the intention along with the freedom of stitching something by hand gives me great solace and comfort. It is a form of taking some time to be kind to myself.
I am currently working on a sort of hand embroidered diary where I just take inspiration from whatever is around me. This is also a really good place to try out new designs that I might want to put on T-shirts, caps or tote bags. Something about the slowness of hand embroidering the things I am experiencing really forces me to look for and to see the beauty of the often ordinary things around me.
I never really intended to make money out of my embroidery and I feel so lucky that people like my work and are willing to spend money on it. Whilst it can sometimes be hard to do commissions and ensure they still fit with what I want my work to be like, it always means a lot to do something that I know is special to a specific person. Whilst I always want to ensure that my stuff is affordable, it is a really useful thing to be able to do to earn money from whilst doing a degree as I also find it very soothing.
I find the concept of embroidery and stitching as a skill passed down through generations of families beautiful. My granny taught my mum and auntie sewing skills and they handed different things down to me. My mum passed down hand sewing and embroidery, whilst my auntie passed down help with pattern cutting and machine sewing. In my family it is something that has been passed down through the maternal side and I hope I will hand it down to younger generations in my own life. My mum has been unwell recently and something I think she found soothing was the gentle practice of cross stitch. Whilst being soothing to her, it was also comforting to watch her do it. Particularly at this point in my life, stitching is something which is making me feel deeply connected to my mum.
Whilst it can be hard to make myself create sometimes, now more than ever, it is an essential part of my life which makes me feel grounded and more connected to the smaller, more tender things in life.