East Anglian Stitch Textiles
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The Hütte

This morning I heard Antony Gormley speaking to the poet Simon Armitage on a past edition of one of my favourite podcasts The Poet Laureate has gone to his shed.  Gormley was remarking on some of the items in the Armitage shed.  When the poet asked Gormley if he had a shed the answer was, as you might expect, that he had a studio.

Antony Gormley then continued “…. [that it was] a place apart that is not connected to the business of dwelling or connected necessarily with the business of work. I think it is an essential thing – a space ship for thinking, dreaming and doing things that are not strictly speaking necessary.”

I was in my ‘space ship ’ (well Hütte/workroom) whilst listening, happily surrounded by fabric and thread, fortunately able to continue stitching away on the current piece for EAST.

Textiles dark secrets

Eighteenth-century toile de Juoy textile from Warner Textile Archive

Back in 2009, EAST produced an exhibition of contemporary work based on textiles, objects and other items from the Warner Textile Archive, based at Braintree in Essex. My interest in history led me to this furnishing fabric that probably dates from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Produced in France this printed cotton would have been a fashionable addition to the home of a very middling-sort of couple. I even speculated that it was the sort of item deemed appropriate as a wedding gift.

A Dark Secret Behind a Thing of Beauty from EAST @ The Warner Textile Archive exhibition in 2009. Now part of the Collection of Braintree District Museum, Essex

Gifts, as we know, often come in boxes and I therefore decided to translate the design on the cloth into a 3D object. This meant that I could incorporate another aspect of the story behind the fabric – an often unacknowledged or hidden history. A Dark Secret Behind a Thing of Beauty was the title of my response. I wanted to make a comment that it is all too easy to look at a piece of fabric and think of it just in terms of its design or its beauty – less so about the tragedy behind its manufacture. It was particularly important to highlight how what seemed quite an innocuous item was very probably the product of slavery.

Detail of inside the box – a reference to Josiah Wedgewood’s image
in support of the abolition of slavery

Inside the box I created a copy of an image used by the abolitionists, along with the words ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ Designed by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) and turned into cameo brooches in the 1790s, these items would have been worn by the many women supporters as a means to raise awareness of this abhorrent trade. It took several decades to end the transportation of slaves, but even that did not end slave labour – and sadly it still continues today, in many forms. Slavery is often, but not always associated with race, but even when it is not, it is always about inequality and power.

Remnants of the Slave Trade


Fifteen years ago I was able to travel to The Gambia and visit St James Island as it was then called. In the current political circumstances it seems the right time to show the quilts I made after the trip, As I would like to show support for the memory of all those who were enslaved and those who still are.

Visiting the Island, now called Kunta Kinte Island, was very moving, as it was the place where the Gambian people were kept before they were taken in Slave ships to the UK and then America. As I stood on the beach I found a very small bead, perhaps fallen from the necklace of one of the people, their necklaces were torn off them when they left.

A little history: The Island was captured by the English is 1664 and used then until the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807. It is now called Kunta Kinte, after a character described in Alex Haley‘s book and TV series Roots, The book states that Kunta Kinte was among 98 slaves that the slave ship Lord Ligonier brought to Annapolis, Maryland in 1767.

I printed the fabric using ‘Break down screen printing’ with brick like shapes applied to the background to represent the ruins of the buildings where the people were kept. There are scraps of fabric sewn on to the Quilts to represent clothing left behind as the ships left.

A new way of meeting


Our group meets once a month and because we haven’t been able to gather in person yesterday. Saturday 13th June, we held our second Zoom meeting.

This is a fantastic way of catching up with what is happening in each other’s lives creatively and personally.

I think too, it has brought us closer together as a group.

In our usual meeting place the interaction, apart from the monthly business meeting,  is more often than not on a one to one basis. With Zoom everyone gets involved in the conversations. Members talk and members listen.

The response when you ask for advice about any aspect of your work is extremely helpful and is guaranteed to give you more ideas. I always feel motivated and inspired after each meeting.

Imagine how isolated we would all have felt if this pandemic had happened a few years ago before we all become more technology savvy?

Hopefully we will still make use of platforms such as Zoom once we return to ‘normal’.

The Darn Busters

Inspirational army of amateur stitchers have sewn nearly 25,000 scrubs for hero NHS workers

The newspaper article under the headline above is about the army of women making scrubs and scrub bags for the NHS. Beginning with a WhatsApp group there are now over 100 scrub hubs. The headline was highlighted on Woman’s Hour this morning and prompted a discussion about women stitching, mending and how skills are not being passed down the generations as in the past.

I became involved in my local group and at least one other member of E.A.S.T. is making scrubs for the NHS. It makes me feel like I am doing something positive and part of a practical response.  One friend has been like a factory, has produced 15 pairs and another person made over 30! I had the desire to individualise mine and stitched a ‘Thank you NHS’ message inside the back facing.

First pair of scrubs

The virus has forced our lives to change to something that will never be the same again. I’m hoping from all the truly tragic events many positive things will happen. It must be so. This is life changing. I had been working on how building new roads impacts the environment. Then, as the lockdown began, it seemed irrelevant compared to all the much more important things going on. As time has passed, roads have become so much quieter, pollution has decreased dramatically, and nature been able to re-establish itself. It is an opportunity to think about how and whether we should we travel as we used to. Positive changes.

Everyone’s situation is different and individual and depends on many factors as to how each person is reacting and feeling. Every day I see, hear and read how this lockdown period has given space and material to be incredibly creative. By contrast some people find it can lock their creativity by the emotional and physical demands on them. And the mood can change as the daily bulletins announce statistics and change.

My creativity fluctuates. I feel the need to balance my time. How is your creativity during the covid-19 lockdown?

There are many things out there that on the internet that you can access: Many of the major art galleries have been working more on their websites to have on-line exhibitions which can be inspirational. Tate is full of interesting exhibitions with loads of information and links to follow. I looked at the fascinating life of Louise Bourgeois, Tate Liverpool, and a particular quote resonated with me: “I need to make things. The physical interaction with the medium has a curative effect. I need the physical acting out. I need to have these objects exist in relation to my body”. Louise Bourgeois I Am Afraid is a fabric work by Louise Bourgeois featuring lines of text woven into canvas. Short statements and individual words in upper case are woven in grey thread into the grey-beige fabric and are grouped into four stanzas. It’s worth a read and to think about what frightens you.

If, like me, you intended to go to the exhibition: Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles at Two Temple Place, photographs can be seen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pg/twotempleplace/photos I felt frustration at not being able to see the textiles up close and study the detail. I think it is difficult to capture the texture and 3-dimensional qualities of textiles photographically. The explanatory text is not included. It whetted my appetite and I’m hoping that the exhibition will be extended so there is a chance to see it once some of the current restrictions are lifted.

A hands-on project with some structure which also gives some creativity is the textileartist.org community stitch challenge 2020 https://www.facebook.com/groups/stitchchallenge . Each week textile artists give a video workshop with a hand stitch challenge and the results that people post are inspiring.

Tumbling Lapwings

Lap wings

I have been fascinated by lap wings for about 2 years, in March they have a wonderful flight display called ‘tumbling’ I have been trying to capture this.

I started with some drawings that I had made into thermofax screens.
and I have done some applique
The themofax screens have been used [with a natural dye paste] to try to give the impression of the birds in flight. As I have more time on my hands I have been stitching them with pre loved embroidery threads.
Its taking longer than usual as I am mixing up threads to make my own colours.
nearly finished now, I may do another piece, larger with applique birds.

Making our Marks

One of the strengths of EAST as a group is the fact that we make time to play , experiment and generally immerse ourselves in our practice.

We recently had a sketchbook development session with textile artist Amanda Hislop, who was our guest tutor for the day.

We experimented with mark-making using a host of different media and textures, playing with positive and negative spaces, ending up with plenty of inspirational material for our sketchbooks.

Amanda has many small sketchbooks that she makes from folding paper, that she showed us the process of. These are so compact that they can be taken out and about in a pocket with a minimal sketching kit of a few well-chosen implements to draw with.

I’ll let the images speak for themselves!

dangerous pockets

Dangerous Pockets Project Exhibition – A Community Art Collaboration by Paula MacGregor in Ipswich

This exhibition is currently on show in Ipswich at The Whistler Gallery in The Jerwood Dance Centre on the Waterfront, until 29th February and I thoroughly recommend seeing it.
Paula MacGregor, the community artist explains;
” I read a poem called ‘Dangerous Coats’ by Sharon Owens, it is a light-hearted poem that caught my imagination – and so the Dangerous Pockets Project was born. I asked people to send me pockets they had made; I threaded them onto red cords and arranged for them to tour England – and possibly beyond. Why a red cord – it is symbolic of the joining together of women all over the world”.

Dangerous Coats by Sharon Owens

Someone clever once said
Women were not allowed pockets
In case they carried leaflets
To spread sedition
Which means unrest
To you and me
A grandiose word
For common sense
So ladies, start sewing
Dangerous coats
Made of pockets & sedition

The Dangerous Pockets Project brought people together of all ages – helping to break social isolation, as well as encouraging conversation about matters of health, fairness and general well being. Many people said making the pockets was cathartic and therapeutic – helping them work through recent surgery and unpleasant treatments, and issues from their past. Others have said the pockets awakened their creativity – some people become a bit addicted and made several!

Ellen’s Legacy – Slow Stitched Books
Paula has just launched a new community project that has been dedicated to her dear friend and fellow artist Ellen Devall. Ellen was a dedicated member of E.A.S.T. for 7 years , who passed away in the hospice whilst holding Paula’s hand, on 25th June 2019
Paula made Ellen an unconditional promise to keep her work going.
To find out more about this project details are on Paula’s website and on Facebook.

Some of the Dangerous Pockets in The Whistler Gallery
Courtauld weaving

Woven into the Courtauld exhibition

In May 2019, EAST members held a drop-in weaving workshop at Braintree District Museum as part of the Warner Textile Fair. We set up three sets of warps and asked visitors to weave fabric and threads using the colours green, white and purple. These were the colours associated with the Suffragettes and the weavings were a commemoration of three Courtauld women who strongly believed in women’s rights over 100 years ago.

Now the story of these women are part of a much wider exhibition about the family open at Braintree District Museum (until 30 May 2020). The main narrative is the story of a family who escaped persecution as European refugees, came to Britain and eventually developed a major textile industry. The Courtauld’s brought prosperity through employment to Essex and Suffolk, including Braintree, in the nineteenth century. The family were also major art collectors, forming the foundation of the now famous Courtauld Gallery in London and supporters of this exhibition in Braintree.

This is just an introduction to the three women commemorated by the EAST led weaving – to find out more you need to visit the Museum.

Katherine Mina Courtauld (1858-1935) – oil on canvas

Katherine Mina Courtauld (1858-1935), was the eldest daughter of George Coutauld III. She was a farmer, parish councillor and Secretary of the North West Essex branch of the National Union of women’s Suffrage Societies. On the 1911 census she wrote (in red, to ensure her feelings were known) how she strongly resented being denied the privilege of parliamentary franchise despite being a householder and ratepayer. Katherine was also instrumental in the establishment of the Women’s Land Army during WWI.

Catherine Courtauld (1878-1972) was another campaigner for women’s right to vote. She designed posters which were used by the Suffrage Atelier – a collective that created propaganda for the Votes for Woman campaign. Incidentally, she and her husband were also later responsible for the saving and restoring of the Cutty Sark for the nation.

The last of these three remarkable women was Dr Elizabeth Courtauld (1867-1947) who qualified as a doctor as early as 1901. As principal anaesthetist she worked at the largest British voluntary hospital on the Western Front during WWI – the only one run by women (Royaumont Hospital). She spent most of her working life at a hospital in Bagalore, India.

The EAST hanging from the 2019 Warner Textile Fair – produced by visitors to our drop in workshop and now on display at Braintree District Museum
(apologies for the quality of the photo)

Although the EAST hanging is just a very tiny part of this major exhibition it is nice to think that we honoured women who went against the grain, who stood up for their beliefs and enabled us, in this modern age, to follow our own dreams. However there are many more women’s stories – and plenty of stories of Courtauld men too – in the main display.

I would highly recommend Courtaulds: Origins, Innovations, Family (1816-1982) for a fascinating look at one family’s impact on a country and a county or for anyone with an interest in social history or the history of textile innovation. The display looks at the Courtaulds as inventors, explorers and people with creative vision. There is also a rare chance to see some original Gaugin etchings – which have been lent by The Courtauld Gallery. Gaugin is known for his colourful work so it is interesting to see close up, his work in a very different medium.

Entrance to the exhibition and the rest of the Museum is only £4 for adults (with concessions for seniors and children – under 5s free) – open Tuesday to Saturdays but check their website for more details – www.braintreemuseum.co.uk and look out for their walks, talks and other events on social media.


Organic Subversive

EAST members recently enjoyed a creative Saturday with artist and textile designer Vinny Stapley, exploring organic forms while studying a magnificent, dramatically-lit large still-life.

With the focus on observation, we warmed up with three exercises: drawing with our non-dominant hand; drawing not looking at the paper and drawing with the charcoal at the end of a long stick.

Our inhibitions freed, we went on to produce, from our observations of the Henri Rousseau-like centre display, ‘moments’ captured from areas we chose to use. There was a twist to how we did this, though: we spent about eight minutes at each of the 14 positions around the centre-piece, each time using a different medium before moving on to the next.

After lunch we further studied the cornucopia of organic forms by concentrating our focus on a particular part and zooming in on it, sometimes producing quite abstract results.

Group work, in threes/ fours, then took the form of collaborating to make a 3D piece.

Throughout the day we had group critiques, when it was interesting to see what other members made of the various elements that made up this fun workshop.

We’ve invited another guest artist/tutor for a workshop day with us in February 2020. Watch this space for our next adventure …

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