Strange Material – Leanne Prain – Chapter Ten

Community Storytelling Through Textiles.

“Our stories are reflections of ourselves. treat them with respect and honour those who are willing to share their experiences with you.”  – Jessica Vellenga

The largest community project is the NAMES project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was started in June 1987. At the time of writing the book, 2014, over 48,000 panels (with the name of a person who has died of AIDS) have been stitched together. It would take 33 consecutive days to read the whole quilt.

Display in 1996.7_DCdisplay1996

Prain goes on to write about sewing and knitting circles along with yarn bombing. I’m ambivalent about yarn bombing. On one hand I enjoy the brightness and fun of the transformation of an area but I wonder if the yarn could not be put to a better use by making items of clothing and toys for those in need, What happens to the yarn after the yarn bombing event? Does it weather away or is ripped down to go to landfill?

I am a member of a small sewing circle. On pre-arranged Saturday afternoons we meet at Cardiff M.A.D.E. to kantha stitch a quilt. The community project was set up by a lady from Bangladesh.  Layers of fabric were placed together – an old bedsheet and sari and a design was created using symbols which are important to the individuals contributing to the needlework. I was taught how to stitch using an extra long needle threaded with embroidery yarn. The stitch is a basic running stitch.


But back to the book. Leigh Bowser uses the medium of textiles and stitch to raise awareness of DBA through the Bloodbag Project. People are invited to create their own bloodbag using the templates and forwarded to Leigh.


An interview with Leigh about the project is here.

Jessica Vellenga invited members of the public to send her diary entries which she then embroideres on vintage fabrics – that which is intended to be private becomes public – the banal, the silly, the sad……


“Tell me about your grandmother. Tell me, what was your favourite  piece of clothing when you were a child.” At the Broocklyn Museum Robyn Love set up a static  bicycle which powered her spinning wheel. She invited members of the public to contribute to her Spin Cycle by asking them to spin her a yarn as she spun her yarn.


And that concludes the book. I’ve come across many artists I may not have done had I not read it. At last I can feel ideas rising in my brain. I don’t wish to copy anyone’s work – I see it more as being fed food for thought.


Strange Material – Leanne Prain – Chapter Nine

Technology and New Methods of Storytelling.

“I really enjoy the way that the internet has enabled an interest in knitting to spread much further. I love the way that so many knitters embrace technology.” —artist Freddie Robins

This is the tail of the snake eating its own tale! I use the internet on a daily basis for research, this blog being a case in point. As yet I’ve not referenced digital technology directly in my work as some artists have but I use it to share my experiences. is one of my bookmarked sites – great for knitting patterns and ideas but is much more subversive.

I could never cover my Doc Marten boots but love the idea – maybe adapted for an old pair of baseball boots?


Phillip Stearns has taken corrupted data from a digital camera and used the images to machine knit wall hangings and blankets.

Glitch Textiles


Ruth Scheuing has tracked her movements via GPS then woven the results.


 Iviva Olenick terms herself as a narrative and sculptural embroiderer. She uses the restraints of Twitter (140 characters) to disseminate her stories around the world then embroiders them, along with other Tweets on scraps of fabric.drt

There is the dichotomy between the almost instant Tweet and the length of time it takes to hand embroider the words.

Kirsty Whitlock  uses materials not usually associated with embroidery to comment on contemporary issues. An interview with Kirsty by TextileArtist is here.

Losses 2009 newspaper& embroidery thread.Textile-Artist-Kirsty-Whitlock-Losses-2009

Carolyn Yandle moved from a career in journalism to that of textile artist but, like me, she has an abhorrence for art-speak.

QR Quilt: After Douglas Coupland 2013
Found business shirts, cotton fabrics, buttons
183 x 289 cms approx


This is taken from a painting by Douglas Coupland – when scanned it reads I wait and I wait and I wait for God to appear. And it works – I’ve scanned it! This has set some ideas off; now I need to learn how to create a QR code.

Strange Material – Leanne Prain – Chapter Eight

Humorous Textiles

Prain outlines the need for humour in our lives and how the subversive stitch has taken gentle needlework to embroidered profanities in order to raise a smile.

Andrea Dezso has made a series of work Lessons from my Mother.

too-much-laughter-tears_800 I hadn’t come across her work when I’d embroidered  Mother Knows Best, 2015 – but this isn’t a humorous piece.

P1000974 - Copy

P1000980 - Copy

During her time of looking for paid work the artist Melissa A. Calderon  stitched six to nine hours a day to record her ironically titled piece My Unemployed Life. 

Controll 2011


Howie Woo is a multi-media, mixed media artist who describes himself as a story teller. He learnt to crochet and made his alter ego Woomi who has adventures Howie isn’t brave enough to have himself.


Gina Dawson has documented rejection letters by stitching them along with other souvenirs of her life.

Rejection Letter 2009

The wreath has one phrase lifted from the letter, realise that this is a potential disappointment for you

white columns rejection

Strange Material – Leanne Prain – Chapter Seven

One year ago I started reading this book and I feel my slow progress is reflected in my lack of artwork. I have been making lots of craft type items and after reading Bettina Matzkuhn’s article perhaps that is enough for me at the moment. But I’ve vowed to ‘show up’ each day – if I don’t show up how am I ever going to have anything worth showing.

Onto chapter seven – Fictional Characters.

“When something is normal, we don’t worry about it. I like those things that are a bit ambiguous and absurd.” Bettine Matzkuhn.

The first interview in this chapter is with Stephanie Dosen. a singer-songwriter so it seems apt that I listen to her music as I write. Stephanie runs a company called Tiny Owl Knits – she designs and sells knitting patterns based on fairy tales.

Alice in Wonderland


Magical Charms


Seeing Stephanie’s work brings me back to the question raised earlier by Bettina Matzkuhn.

Super Hero Stories are told by Mark Newport as he questions gender roles by using the traditional female crafts of knitting and embroidery to make costumes for men to give them super powers.


Tracy Widdess is far more radical with her Brutal Knitting.


I find her work intriguing; I admire her skill but am left wondering if I wish to be disturbed by her masks. Tracy states they are supposed to be funny. But she has fulfilled the role of an artist – Marcel Proust wrote of the necessity for artists to arouse feelings; viewing art allows the removal of self from the day-to-day, not only to glimpse life through another person’s eyes, but also show a different existence.

The chapter concludes with a project designed by Susan Kendal, of Pocket Alchemy, based on the life of Amelia Earhart. There are templates and instructions for a mobile.

Strange Material – Leanne Prain – Chapter Six

Illustrative Storytelling

Prain opens this chapter with the line ‘Not all stories are told in the form of words.’ and in most cultures symbolism is used to tell the tales which should have a beginning, middle and end (according to Prain). I disagree with her here as I like to arouse curiosity and prompt people to make up their own endings. With my work I see myself as the instigator of the story but not the concluder.

True to her Canadian roots she gives examples of native Canadian artists work.

Jennifer Annais Pighin Blanket of Understanding utilizes design elements of design from the traditional  clothes of the Lheidi T’enneh First Nation members.


Freddie Robbins is a UK based artist – a subversive knitter. Craft Kills illustrates her work perfectly. frcraftkills12002-

machine knitted wool, knitting needles, 2000 × 680 × 380 mm, 2002

“Craft Kills is a self-portrait based on the well-recognised image of Saint Sebastian being martyred. Instead of arrows piercing my skin I have knitting needles. The title immediately brings to mind the old adage of “dying for your art” but what I am much more concerned with is the stereotypical image that craft, and in particular knitting, has, of being a passive, benign activity. How would it be if craft was considered as dangerous or subversive?   Since conceiving of this piece the world suffered the events of September 11th and its aftermath. You can no longer fly with knitting needles in your hand luggage. Knitting is now classed as a dangerous activity.

(Statement written for Flexible 4: Identities catalogue, 2004)

Photography: Douglas Atfield”

Freddie Robbins thinks carefully about the titles for her work, another attribute I admire.

Bettina Matzuhn works with the metaphors of maps, sails and weather in a textile context.


Tides 2011 360cm h x 270cm w x 120cm d (12’ tall x 9‘wide x 4’ deep)

Cotton canvas, hand embroidery cotton thread, machine sewn sails, hand worked corners/grommets.  Sisal rope, stainless steel tubing, assorted nautical fittings, formed wooden battens, cut plate steel bases.

This article by Bettina is about the functionality of her mother’s craft verses her own work which is often boxed up in crates or shown in white cubed galleries.

The chapter concludes with ideas put forward by Amanda Wood as to how you could make your own textile map.

Strange Material – Leanne Prain – Chapter Five

The Fabric of Remembrance

I can’t believe that it’s taken me so long to reach this chapter with another 5 to go. I’ve quite lost the urge to research and that is why my practice has ground to a halt. If I don’t ‘show up’ how am I ever going to to make any work? So let’s get on with it!

‘Family history isn’t hard. We do it everyday without thinking about it. Out minds naturally travel in that direction. Our minds are always going home.’ D G Fulford One Memory at a Time: Inspiration and Advice for Writing Your Family Story.

On one hand I’ve been overloaded viewing work based on memories. So many exhibitions I’ve seen and wondered if it was a piece from a museum or art I was looking at… (my Grandmother’s sewing cabinet, my Grandfather’s shed.) Yet who am I to pass such judgement when my work it based on such remembrance!

The thought of the feel of a fabric is often one everyone can recall from their childhood; the baby blanket is obvious along with bath towels, table cloths (tracing the embroidered pattern during a boring family meal), itchy woollen garments and the soft silk of mother’s blouse. Few of these fabrics remain although once, through necessity, they were made into quilts or rugs. Quilt making has evolved into an expensive consumer product, that is the fabrics are purchased especially for the project, rather than in the traditional manner  where scraps of old dresses, shirts, bed linen etc were used.

Sherri Lynn Wood uses all recycled fabrics in her quilts; Passage Quilting is how she refers to her work. The quilts are in remembrance of people who have died by using their clothes.

In memory of Michael Gaido


Anne Montgomery’s work, The Women Before Me, 2012 demonstrates perfectly the well worn cliché of remembrance. She has used children’d clothing, transferred family images onto cloth, attached buttons and photo frames in order to make her quilt.

‘This quilt was a way of imagining   a connection between me and my female ancestors. My family was very private, so (when I was growing up) I didn’t learn much about their lives, only snippets. Through my work, I am connecting with my personal history.’

I struggled so much trying to connect with my (grand) mothers through my textile practice. During the process I felt very close to them – the long hours of stitching during dark winter months. But I was searching for a less obvious way to commemorate them than by using images (that had been explored during my Foundation course) and I had none of their clothing. It would be disingenuous of me to find old garments and pass them off as theirs.

Sayraphim Lothian wished to keep hold of her memories of her grandmother so crocheted a ‘granny square’ blanket, capturing  her thoughts as she hooked. This has been developed into public art as Sayraphim gleans stories from strangers. A Moment In Yarn starts out with a request: “Tell me a happy memory” and metaphorically she weaves the story via the medium of crochet into a tiny granny square. Her work appeals to me as, although very personal to the story teller, can be appreciated by anyone. Once made the square is given to the bestower of the memory.

The Fish Pond 2011


 Two tiny girls
crouched on the small wooden bridge
peering into the murky depths of the fishpond
and are rewarded by
the flash of orange

I have referred to Paddy Hartley in previous posts.

Walter Fairweather


Marion Coleman also tells stories with her quilts. Healing Hands/Caring Hearts 2011 taps into her heritage but she states that ‘it’s every story; it’s about every nurse.’ Again an artist who utilizes her memories yet embraces others.


During  each chapter Prain gives prompts or exercises; this time she suggests using different methods of recording family memories and transcribing them onto fabric.

At the end there is a project to carry out, to make a fabric carrier bag with an embroidered message about why you love the city you live in. This has been taken from an idea  by Lindsay Zier-Vogel who instigated the Love Lettering Project

Another wet morning passed in a glory of other artists’ work.

Strange Material – Leanne Prain – Chapter Four

Textiles of Protest, Politics and Power

Yarn Bombing

12 yarn bombs to put a smile on your face: pink yarn military tank


Protest Banner

Textile protest banner


@artsemergency banner manifesto, perfect for the @PHMMcr #textile #power #arts


“A true Craftivist uses craft as a tool for gentle activism aimed at influencing long-term change.”  One stitch at a time.


Podcasts on the Subversive stitch – the placing of stitched textiles where they don’t belong.

Mr X Stitch

Literature – A Tale of Two Cities


Madame Defarge knitted the names of those executed by the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Gandhi – spinning for freedom. Previous blog entry Gandhi.

Diane Bush interview with this artist of political satire.


ImBLEACHmenr project.


Photos of corrupt politicians with bleach thrown at them – then the image was transferred onto blankets for the homeless.

Climbing Poetree S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D.


Performance poets Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman  give 6″ squares of fabric to their audience who are invited to write a personal story on them.They are then made into banners.