“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…”
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.