Resilient Stitch


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.

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

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

Sketchbook page including plant sample, dyed colour swatches on wool and silk and improvised polystyrene printing plate.

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.

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.


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

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

Cas Holmes March 2021

Conclusion

Get your copy from BookStore and support independent bookshops!

Cas Holmes

Cas Holmes is an award winning artist based in Kent. She graduated in Fine Arts from University College of Creative Arts, followed by research into paper-making and textiles in Japan.Renowned for her use of 'the found', she is the author of four books* for Batsford, including her most recent ‘Textile Landscape:Painting with Cloth in Mixed Media which takes an eclectic view on how different places, everyday subjects and the landscape we live in, can inform your textile work Interested in the connections between land, place and environment, the stories and imagery to be found in collected materials and observations are a constant source for inspiration in her projects and collaborations. She travels, teaches and exhibits internationally for different organisations and charities Since 2005 she has run courses for the Edward James Foundation at West Dean College where she was also resident artist. Her many-layered, atmospheric pieces are collected and commissioned internationally including pieces held by the Museum of Art and Design New York, the Embroiderer's Guild UK and the Garden Museum, London. For further information see: www.casholmes.co.uk.

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