CETG Meeting on Zoom Monday 10th January 2022
Our Speaker - Janet Edmonds
Her Subject - A Stitch Too Far - An Exploration of Hand Stitching
Janet was previously asked by another group to give a talk about Hand Stitching which she originally thought would be quite an easy thing for her to do. She has stitched nearly every day for most of her life and taught and exhibited for many years so it is definitely something she feels she knows about! However, when she started to actually think about it in more depth she realised the full implications of such a topic is monumental! To start with there are so many different ways one can approach the subject! It could be looked at from the historical aspect, the people who actually stitch, the methods and techniques used, where it is done, where you can see it etc. etc.
Janet felt the best way to tackle this was to decide on an angle to approach the matter. So, after the traumatic couple of years we have all been through with the Covid Pandemic, Janet decided to simplify things and to look at examples of how hand stitching can be beneficial and theraputic. Since the Pandemic started many people have had more time and they often find solace in hobbies such as baking, painting, gardening and of course stitching.
Janet has always stitched since she was a small child. Hardly a day passes when Janet doesn’t do some kind of stitching, at least for a few minutes. If she doesn’t get to stitch it can affect her whole well-being. Janet went on to list the benefits of hand stitching:
It’s portable, doesn’t require any technology, can be done anywhere, indoors or outside, with or without company. It can be flat or dimensional, smooth or textured, coloured or not and it can be a fairly inexpensive past-time. However for Janet one of the most beneficial aspects of hand stitching is that it is a form of meditation and the mind can either travel at will or just shut itself off. It can help one deal with over-powering emotion and can be a means of communication and well-being. The only downside that she could think of is that it takes up quite a lot of time as it is fairly slow.
Janet then went on to show us some samples of hand stitching throughout the years. Many of them were pieces most people would be familiar with but it is always useful to re-visit something and they were all beautiful examples of fine work.
The first piece she showed us was a quilt Janet made herself called ‘Spain Remembered’. It is 1m square and based on a trip she made to Andelucia. After finishing it she vowed never to do another piece with straight lines! She then talked about the Bayeux Tapestry which is actually a stitched piece and is essentially a strip cartoon. It was stitched by women in nunneries which at the time were places not just for nuns but also for the sick and elderly. So it may well have bought some solace to the women who made it.
Janet showed us many other fine examples including pieces known as 'Opus Anglicanum', which translates into ‘English Work’ and were highly prized and luxurious embroideries made in the 13th century. The Bradford Table Carpet stitched from 1600-1615 on linen in silk thread with astoundingly 62 stitches to the square centimetre! A Stumpwork Casket made in 1665 probably by a girl of about 11 or 12 and now held in the Ashmoleon. Janet also included a stunning casket she made inspired by these early boxes. Her’s is based on the Felbrigg Psalter in the National Gallery.
Janet talked about the many fine examples of embroidery from different parts of the world and different times which included work by Mary Queen of Scots, pieces from women jailed in Changi Jail during World War II, some from Fine Cell Work who teach, mostly men, in prisons how to embroider to help with their self-esteem and to earn some money.
We also saw a straight-jacket embroidered by Agnes Richter’s whilst in an asylum in the 1890’s. Images of the sea by John Craske who was a fisherman in North Norfolk in the late 1800’s but took up painting and embroidery when he could no longer fish due to ill health. Various other groups such as The Disabled Soldiers Embroidery Industry and the London Foundling Hospital who have the largest collection of everyday fabrics were highlighted along with a number of individuals until we were brought right up-to-date with a contemporary portrait by Jenni Dutton which is part of a powerful series showing her mothers decline with dementia.
As Janet pointed out each of the images she mentioned could be a talk in their own right and many of the historical examples showed that confinement can stimulate creativity as we have seen throughout the pandemic. We are now so obsessed with the here and now that we forget that the slow therapeutic art of stitching can be calming and soothing.
Janet finished her talk with a couple of quotes, one of which was from Clare Hunter’s book ‘Threads of Life’:
“You cut a length of thread, knot one end and pull the other end through the eye of the needle. You take a piece of fabric and push your needle into one side of the cloth, then pull it out on the other until it reaches the knot. You leave a space. You push your needle back through the fabric and pull it out on the other side. You continue until you have made a line, or a curve, or a wave of stitches. That is all there is: thread, needle, fabric and the patterns the thread makes. This is sewing.”
This was a fascinating talk which really highlighted just how important sewing can be and how it has been so beneficial to a wide variety of people throughout history and continues to be so, as I feel I am fortunate enough to confirm.
Photos © Janet Edmonds
Words © Michaela Matza for CETG