Resilient Stitch

Textile Art Book Reviews

At Mr X Stitch we love to review textile art and embroidery books for you. There are so many great books to discover, packed with needlework inspiration and textile techniques, so we dive into each book to find out what’s good, what’s bad and let you know why you should pick it up.

Introduction

I was delighted to be invited to review Claire Wellesley Smith’s current book ‘Resilient Stitch’. There is expectation on unwrapping and a quick inspection yet as I flicked through the glorious images (photographed by Michael Wicks) I was quickly drawn into the gentle and thoughtful narrative of its content.

Within Resilient Stitch, the focus lies on the connection between wellbeing and textiles and how the two can work in tandem. Clare Wellesley Smith focuses on both community and individual projects. During the coronavirus pandemic many have found that they are placed more locally, so Smith zones in on what we all have around us, making this book very timely. A wealth of other artists have been brought in to give ‘evidence’ visually of the type of textile art we can produce.

About the Author

Claire is an artist and researcher based in in the North of England whose practice centres around long-term engagements with communities. Practical projects connecting history, heritage and place with a focus on well-being and health evolve around simple processes that engage with the locations she works in.

Who Is The Book Aimed At?

Value increases with the years (2006-19) Salvaged Wool and Cotton, iron on embroidery transfers 40x30cm

Value increases with the years (2006-19) Salvaged Wool and Cotton, iron on embroidery transfers 40x30cm

Building on her best-seller ‘Slow Stitch’ this book examines resilience in all its forms, from the historical legacy of its past in both the factory and the home, to the way cloth creates connections between people, communities and culture today. The book contains many useful suggestions for your own explorations with exercises centred around using what you have and practical ideas about the ‘thinking-through-making’ process, its strength lies in the dialogues and narratives to be found in ‘cloth culture’ as part of your exploration and  applying traditional and non-traditional methods with ‘resonant’ materials.

Content

The book is divided into clear chapters exploring the themes and processes which lay at the heart of Claire’s practice. The nature of cloth, its fragility and acceptance to being repaired and reused runs throughout the first chapter ‘Material’. This chapter lays the foundation of the book in terms of the connective nature of cloth as part of community and indeed with a view to using less in terms of the environment. Claire does not dictate and instruct but rather engages and opens up possibilities as part of the ‘making and unmaking’ process.  New approaches to our thinking and creating are extracted from the relationship we have with much worn and loved cloth.

Claire Smith Resilient Stitch sketchbook
A sketchbook image

The next ‘Community Scrap Bag becomes to tool for uncovering stories and making connections in the second chapter, ‘Community’, and is the narrative heart of the book. Here Claire talks clearly about how shared skills, knowledge and ideas are exchanged by engagement with people.

The next chapter, ‘Environment’ centres centres around the connection we make between plants, cloth and colour and contains useful suggestions for sustainable work with natural resources before asking questions about broader issues surrounding cloth, industry and climate.

Madder dyed sample (2011-19) overworked and repaired with stitches using threads dyed with dyer’s chamomile flowers.
Madder dyed sample (2011-19) overworked and repaired with stitches using threads dyed with dyer’s chamomile flowers.

History takes us to the stories to be told through cloth and the heritage contained within the intimacy of fabric. Artist Ruth Singer discussed the notion of ‘Forgetting’ and of memory which contrast poignantly with the historic focus on the work of embroiderer Louisa Pesel and the Bradford Khaki Handicrafts Club set up for soldiers suffering form ‘shellshock’.

Community-based textile projects sit alongside the works of contemporary textile artists using these themes in their work alongside personal work from Claire, including features on Alice Kettle, Lynn Setterington and Willemein de Villiers.

What Is Good About This Book?

The book closes with a postscript “Together Apart”, written shortly after the manuscript was completed in early 2020. It features an online stitch journal project in which participants exchanged their feelings and stitched their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not an ‘easy’ read, it is however, a powerful and thought-provoking read. It is, as Claire states ‘A complex collection of evolving ideas, of making, unmaking, and thinking and having conversations through materials.’ This is the book that gives us the tools to work thoughtfully in the future.

Stitch Journal (ongoing) 2013 Recycled linen and naturally dyed silk threads

Stitch Journal (ongoing) 2013 Recycled linen and naturally dyed silk threads

Indeed, it is a testament to our resilience in stitch.

Conclusion

Following on from her previous book Slow Stitch, we were unsure how this offering would differ from what we had previously read. However with Smith’s focus on wellbeing and its connection with the creation of textile art within Resilient Stitch, this book has a deeper meaning and can help you as a reader find more than a way to create a project.

This health and mind connection to art has never been so important, through the past few years especially as we have all been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The book’s focus on community based projects as well as those achieved by individuals, showcases how human connection can be a part of healing ones’ mind. With its use of famous artists work, we find ourselves inspired, but what about you?

To purchase your copy of Resilient Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith today, simply click through this link!


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