Sitting at sewing machines prompted lots of memories and conversations about migration. It was also a brilliant example of the ladies ‘have a go’ attitudes – many of them had not used a machine for a long time.
Stitching Stories workshop
‐ Esther Shaw. Participation Officer
Textiles play a big part in the ladies’ lives. A lot of memories were generated through looking at and discussing what people wear, how things are made and how textiles links to identity. Quite a few of the ladies had jobs in the hosiery trade so manufacturing textiles was also part of their working lives. We decided to explore this connection further and facilitated a sewing workshop.
Our ‘Stitching Stories’ workshop was led by the talented Textile Performance Artist – Harriet Riddell. She has travelled extensively round India and Africa with her sewing machine, using the technique of free machine embroidery to ‘sketch’ what she sees and the stories she hears.
Being at the machine created the perfect atmosphere. Some of the ladies had never drawn a self-portrait or tried to draw with their non-dominant hand, but they all had a go, supported each other, had fun in each other’s company and became more confident in the process.
‘I feel like I was sitting in a factory and doing some work again. Everybody working because that’s how we did it. We had a very small room like a family working with all the machines close to each other. And we were showing and talking and chatting away and singing. And we had something to eat!’
‘At first I wished I didn’t come but when I left I went with a very good feeling, happy and I thought I achieved something new which I’d never done in my life.’
On being offered the community case for an exhibition at Charnwood Museum the ladies were delighted. They were determined they wanted to share and honour their heritage by displaying objects and stories which had deep meaning for them. Through a series of co-creation workshops, we identified some of the goals they wanted to achieve and the hopes they had for working together. They wanted to work as a team, do something positive and feel part of something new. High on the list of hopes, was that we would have fun and do something creative together.
And so, the Stitching Traditions exhibition was co-curated for the mutual benefit of all involved.
The ladies also put on a dazzling fashion show at the Charnwood Mela and at the Sharing event at Charnwood Museum. They created a beautiful booklet called ‘Material Memories’ which shares the history and personal memories of different styles of dresses.