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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 Makes the Book Special?
The book closes with a postscript Together Apart’ written shortly after the manuscript was completed in early 2020. It features an on-line 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.
Indeed, it is a testament to our resilience in stitch.
Cas Holmes March 2021