An English C**ntry Garden / Lady Garden of England
*Colloquially used to describe an unkempt protective layer of hair covering the pubic mound on a woman’s body: an overgrown patch, which has been in need of a good digging over for some while.
This is my first post for MrXStitch under the title ‘Sense and Stitchability’. Motivation behind the work has always been a deep interest in my practice from my first days as a community artist working in care settings and education right through to today. My third publication, Stitch Stories, talks about this connection at a deeper level. Throughout my career I have met with some amazing people who shared their stories with me from the political dissenters and social reformers who I met on hospital wards and care homes when working as a young artist who told me tale of their youth to the new voices of today. The BBC ‘Hear Her’ season make for some interesting listening.
It is not by accident my first article looks at a recent project ‘Lady Gardens’ by the Profanity Embroidery Group. The group was itself formed by accident in 2014 and continues on its creative path without a formal committee or structure. In a reflection on the group one of the founding members Annie Taylor states:
That is to say, we have ideas, and as a group, kick these around thoroughly, but we never had or have a manifesto, or a strategy, we just are PEG. To be honest, we get together and have a bloody good laugh, make friends, and create fantastic original work. If our stitching helps us find our way through some crap times, so much the better.
Lady Gardens was first shown at the Whitstable Biennale as a satellite exhibition in 2018 ‘Lady Gardens’ clearly reinvent the traditions and the feminine associations of needlework. Embroidery is a powerful political tool drawing on a narrative tradition from the bright purple, green and white Suffrage banners of 100 years ago, to the rise of the feminist art movement in the 1980’s in which artists deliberately evoked the traditions behind embroidery to emphasize their voices as women. I remember the small items of clothing and embroidery hung around the base at Greenham Common by the Women’s Peace Movement.
Lady Garden draws a reference also to the artist Derek Jarman’s Dungeness garden, created with found objects and natural planting with indigenous flowers which sits in the natural landscape of Dungeness in Kent.
Jarman said “If a garden isn’t shaggy, forget it”.
This highly individual garden reflects his love of simplicity, a visual feat of texture and planting untouched by the discomfort some may have felt about his radical art and campaigning for Gay Rights.
The spiritual home of PEG is the Duke of Cumberland pub where the group meet and workshops planned. The workshops are attended by people of all abilities. The framework for Lady Gardens evolved from a design by Alison Fitzgerald Lucas who stitched a beautiful ‘Beaver’ for their first project, the Quilt of Profanity (2014). This clear design was used as a template for workshop attendees to build upon and adapt. Back to Annie:
It was during the writing of the proposal for the Whitstable Biennale that we thought maybe I ought to just google #ladygarden, just to check who else (and quite what else) might be using the hashtag. (The Gynaecological Cancer Fund campaign has 18.9k followers on Instagram.). It was then that we came across the Gynaecological Cancer campaign. Set up an awareness campaign, The Gynaecological Cancer Fund uses the term ‘Lady Garden’ with the aim to raise awareness of gynaecological concerns and to encourage women to visit their doctor to investigate and reduce the number of cervical, ovarian, vaginal, vulva and womb cancers. Over 86% who saw the ‘Lady Garden’ campaign became more comfortable saying the word vagina.
Lady Gardens are regarded with shock and disgust too. Not for public consumption, for many, an area to be sanitised and scented; such is the level of embarrassment, the cancer charity We intend to support the initiative to raise awareness of the Lady Garden through stitched gardens; taking Jarman’s approach to gardens as nature intended and building on the traditional references such as the song, ‘An English Country Garden’, the Kentish garden of England, vintage embroidered crinoline ladies with their gardens and the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
The exhibition was held on the weekend of 9/10th June in a beach hut on Whitstable’s Harbour. as part of the Whitstable Biennale . It proved to be a powerful social media campaign helping to raise awareness of the ideas surrounding ‘Lady Garden’ as an empowering expression and tool to help combat cancer.
Lady Garden follows a long tradition of using cloth to reflect upon social, political or health issues. I could not close this article without referencing Judy Chicago’s iconic feminist artwork, The Dinner Party which I first saw in Islington as a young undergraduate in the eighties. Now housed at Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in Brooklyn the table settings consist of embroidered runners on which are placed china-painted porcelain plate set to honour women in history. The raised central motifs of the china are based on vulvar and butterfly forms rendered in styles appropriate to the individual women being honoured.
You can hear Judy Chicago talking about the project on this video link.
PEG are currently working on new projects for the POW Thanet, festival of Arts and Culture celebrating and exploring issues around Feminism, Women and Girls for March 2019.
Further information on The Profanity Embroidery Group Whitstable
The Profanity Embroidery Group is a group of 25 creatives who share a love of textiles and profanity. They meet once a fortnight at the Duke of Cumberland pub in Whitstable. As well as the collective work, they produce individual stitched pieces, exhibit, teach and collaborate.
- Created Quilt of Profanity 2016
- Created a crazy quilt in 2018
- Exhibited at Fishslab Gallery, Whitstable (2016 and 2017 and 2018)
- Participated in seaside postcards in Whitstable Biennale 2016
- Held regular mixed ability profanity stitching workshops in Folkestone and Whitstable
- Interpreted poems by poet Leah Thorn on vintage clothing for the Older Women Rock programme, exhibited at the Space 7 Gallery, Folkestone and at a catwalk show as part of the Canterbury Christ Church University symposium on Older Women and Art at the Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, April 2017
- Participated in Claire Unsworth’s documentary film ‘Older Women Rock’ shown at the Folkestone Trienniel 2017
Creating a social media-generated community art quilt of stitched secrets contributed by embroiderers of mixed ability worldwide.
Cas Holmes is an artist, author and tutor telling stories with cloth, stitch and found materials. Recent publications include Textile Landscape and Stitch Stories (Batsford publications). She is a guest artist at the Knitting and Stitching Shows this year with the installation Tea Flora Tales and to mark the launch of Textile Landscape.