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Embroidery Class: Mindfulness For Busy People

“Our approach to craftivism focuses on handicrafts that use slow, repetitive hand actions so that we can also use the act of crafting to meditate and think critically…”

Sarah Corbett

I’ve been re-reading Sarah Corbett’s ‘How to be a Craftivist’ book and the above quote made me sit up and think. When I sew, the purpose has always been a tangible product at the end and if I haven’t finished it within 7 hours then it goes in the ‘to be finished basket’. Or too often, worn held up with safety pins until I finally get round to fixing a waist band. All the years I have been sewing it has never been about the actual process.

Last month I was busy stitching and embroidering bunting for The Women’s Hall Exhibition about the East London Federation of Suffragettes in Tower Hamlets. I researched campaigns that Sylvia Pankhurst and her team were fighting for, many of which are still valid today. The words ‘Equal Pay’ and ‘Fight Racism’ were brought to life through soft chain stitch in purple, green and red. I enjoyed having a reason to sit still, be productive and think about the amazing activism that these women under took 100 years ago.

With the scary serendipity (has Facebook actually entered my mind?) a post from my local sewing studio, Fabrications, popped into my news feed advertising an embroidery class. I reflected on the bunting I had made and decided it was time to learn more than a basic chain stitch. I find it difficult to sit still and almost impossible to meditate so perhaps embroidery would bring some calmness into my busy mind?

We were asked to bring with us a piece of clothing to upcycle using embroidery. Not feeling confident with my abilities, I didn’t want to start stitching a favourite top but the sunny day brought me some luck and I picked up this bright red silk shirt from Broadway Vintage, right outside Fabrications. My size and only £5.

Milou, the creator of Moody Bright Designs, was taking today’s class. A skilled fine artist, she swapped her pens and paints for a needle and thread. ‘I’m passionate about the creative potential that embroidery has to offer, as a means of self-expression and as a way to refashion, mend and personalise your wardrobe‘ Milou says on her website.

Enthusiastic and encouraging us to embrace our mistakes, Milou’s energy was infectious. My fellow students and I ‘oohed’ in awe at the shirts and t-shirts Milou had embroidered using her artistic talents. We soon got to work in learning how to stitch basic running stitch, back stitch, split stitch and satin stitch and the more complicated whip back stitch. The afternoon session gave me chance to try out my own embroidery design. Using Milou’s folk flower examples, I drew a bouquet of wild flowers coming out of one of the pockets of my silk shirt. I didn’t even care that it was 26 degrees and sunny outside whilst I was sat in a classroom. I was enjoying every minute of concentrating on deciding which colour combination of thread to use and the repetition of each individual stitch.

Going back to Sarah Corbett’s ‘How to be a Craftivist’ she says ‘Using craft materials that are small, delicate and soft creates a comforting space, which helps us to ask ourselves and others uncomfortable questions about how to tackle injustice issues’. Embroidery fits that statement perfectly! I’ll admit that we mostly talked about other embroiderists that we liked to follow on Instagram and podcasts we enjoyed whilst we sew rather than putting the world to rights. But Milou did encourage us to use embroidery to recycle our clothes…

“I love buying second hand shirts from charity shops for all my projects. When we are upcycling, simple things become beautiful”

Moody Bright Designs

If you are like me and find it difficult to stay still, have a busy mind like a hamster on a wheel then I recommend taking up embroidery. Similar to knitting, you can take it wherever you go, sit in a calm environment contemplating life, join a local sewing bee and embroidery with friends or become a Craftivist and put the world to rights one stitch at a time.

Milou and Moody Bright Designs is back at Fabrications (Hackney, London) on 11th August. Book here.

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Make a Suffragette Posy – Free Sewing Workshop

The East London Federation of Suffragettes, led by Sylvia Pankhurst, were active in East London during 1914 to 1923, campaigning for universal suffrage and worker’s rights. Sylvia Pankhurst studied at the Royal College of Art and used her creative skills to design banners and flags for the ELFS protests and marches to Westminster. When Sylvia first arrived in Bow in 1912, she took over a shop in Bow Road, close to Bow Church and hand painted ‘Votes For Women’ in gold letters at the front of the shop.

The replica of the gold letters can be seen pride of place at the ‘Women’s Hall’ that has been recreated at the Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives to tell the story of the East London Federation of Suffragettes (see photo above)

One of the panels on display describes how badges in the ELFS colours – Red, White, Purple and Green – were awarded to members who had sold more than 1000 copies of their newspaper, the Women’s Dreadnought.

In spirit of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, I am leading a workshop at the Women’s Hall on Thursday 28 June in the evening. Come along and make a posy from upcycled fabrics in the ELFS colours. The workshop and all materials are free and no experience is necessary. There will be time to view the exhibition during the event.

If your sewing skills are pretty nifty, why not have a go at embroidering some banners with political messages like the ones I made for the launch of the exhibition (photo above). I chose to stitch the campaigns the ELFS were fighting for 100 years ago that are still relevant today. Copy one of mine or chose your own and become a Craftivist.


28 June 2018, 6:00 to 8pm – FACEBOOK INVITE HERE


Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive, 277 Bancroft Road, London E1 4DQ. Closest tubes are Stepney Green and Mile End. Bus 25 or 205.

The exhibition is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, open late on Thursday until 8pm. Open first and third Saturdays of the month.