17th July – CommunityWorks (Session 2/2)

The second session was on the 17th July, almost a month after the first, but the group were just as keen to get stuck in again as they were the first time. After speaking with Julia from Bradford College, we were keen to really focus on Bradford and it’s Blue Plaques in the second session. In the lead up, I put together some information on Bradford’s Blue Plaques (file below), stitched a hoop specifically for CommunityWorks, and created a simple feedback form for the participants to fill in if they wished. We also wanted to focus more on group activity and so brought back to big blue table cloth for collaborative stitching.

We presented the women with the blank blue table cloth and asked them to think about their favourite places within Bradford. The discussion soon began to snowball, after a few of the group members mentioned their favourite spots it encouraged others to start thinking of theirs too.

With the help from ESOL tutors and volunteers, we were able to hold small group discussions about the types of Blue Plaques that can be found within Bradford, using the examples I prepared and printed for the session as a talking point. This helped everyone understand the ideas and themes behind the table cloth a little better. Whilst speaking to one group member, June was told that she loves Bradford, that a family member lives in another UK city but she was not a fan, that Bradford made her feel safe.

I spoke with ‘S’, who was new to the Bradford area when she attended the first session in June. She was excited and proud to tell us that she had continued to work on her embroidery at home and had almost completed it. ‘S’ chose to include her Mosque on the table cloth because it was a calm, quiet place she felt at peace in a busy city. In the first session, ‘S’ was nervous about trying a new skill (embroidery) and was great at asking lots of questions and asking for support. In the second session, it was wonderful to see that her confidence in her stitching abilities had grown as she dove straight into adding to the cloth without hesitation.

Some other examples added to the cloth were Peel Park and The Alhambra Theatre. One of the unexpected choices was a specific supermarket, where one of the ladies loves to do her grocery shopping. I think it is really interesting to have a place others may not consider anything special being highlighted on the cloth as a favourite place to visit.

In preparation for the second workshop, I also created a large scale Blue Plaque for CommunityWorks itself using freehand machine embroidery. June spoke to individuals and asked them to add reasons they keep coming back to the centre. At the end of the session, two of the ESOL group member’s spoke with Nabila and they would like to finish the embroidery on the Plaque over the summer and work together to do so, passing it between themselves to get it completed so that it could hang in CommunityWorks for visitors to see.

Other’s in the group opted to continue work on their individual Blue Plaques and were pleased to be able to take them home, along with the hoops for framing.

June and I had a great experience working with CommunityWorks and both their Women’s group and ESOL class. The work the dedicated volunteers and tutors do is amazing. CommunityWorks as a whole, those who work there and those who attend, is a prime example of how a community can come together to help one another out. They are a credit to Bradford and are examples of exactly why we wanted to start Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences in this city.

19th June – CommunityWorks (Session 1/2)

After speaking with an ESOL tutor at Great Horton Village we were put in touch with Bradford College and Communityworks. Communityworks is a wonderful hub of activity in the Undercliffe area of Bradford. We were fortunate to be invited to run a Blue Plaque workshop with their Wednesday women’s group.

The first session was on the 19th June and ran from 1pm-2.30pm. June and I arrived around 12.30pm to set up and were greeted by Nabila who talked to us about the women’s group. Members started to arrive and Linda from Bradford College joined us. We handed out refreshments and said hello to everyone individually before beginning.

Once the group had arrived we introduced ourselves and the project everyone,with the great support from Nabila who kindly translated to the ESOL group who had also joined us for the session. We showed examples of different Blue Plaques and why they exist. We asked the group to think about a place, person or event, that they felt was worthy of acknowledgement. Many chose to honour a person in their life, whether that be a family member or friend. The first part of the session was hindered a little by the paperwork required by the college and ourselves, but everyone seemed to settle into it pretty quickly.

We asked everyone to select a square of blue fabric, a hoop and handed out information on how to create a back stitch, plain paper and pencils to plan with. A lot of the group already had previous and skilled embroidery experience and so began to work straight into the fabric, others chose to plan on paper before feeling confident to move onto the fabric.

It was amazing to see so many people (all 20 hoops I bought in advance of the workshop were snapped up very quickly!) working together. More advanced stitchers helped beginners and conversation of who or where they were creating their hoops for flowed throughout the room.

As everyone stitched away, June and I gave support to anyone who needed it. I helped ‘N’ who had never stitched before get started on their plaque, which was for their son and husband. They were unsure at first and kept asking me to do it for them, but after showing them what to do and encouraging them to try it, they quickly got the hang of it and made steady, neat progress. I moved around the room to help others and when I returned, ‘N’ had stitched a full letter with help from another group member.

Toward the end of the session the group were then served more refreshments and food. We asked individuals if they’d like to take their hoops home to continue, which some of them did with additional thread given to them, and others opted to leave them at CommunityWorks for the next session. The feedback we received from the group was positive, many saying they enjoyed having time to pick up a craft they no longer have time for at home, or learning a new skill.

Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences at Great Horton Village Hall – Saturday 27th April

This is our second Saturday session of bringing Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences table cloths to Great Horton Village Hall. Leigh is sewing into an image of a cat that a child had drawn onto the fabric during our last session, Heather (far right) is sewing a tennis racket and the Great Horton Village Hall librarian and her boyfriend (left) are sewing images of bicycles. Busy in concentration, they are working together, into layers of images from the previous session or introducing their own. Working on the same fabric stretched over a table you have to be considerate of the person sitting next to you, you cannot yank the fabric, as it would interfere with another persons embroidery, there is a lot of give and take, as there is in friendship in a local community.

Leigh is developing running stitch into the table cloth, following the chalky white line created by a child a few weeks earlier. Stitches are very evenly spaced, allowing an even balance between child’s white line and Leigh’s stitch intervention. The alternation between a line created by a child and Leigh’s stitches seems produce a harmony between the two, Leigh’s stitches emphasising the character of the hand drawn line, that seems to be a pictorial motif of a rainbow.

In contrast to the meandering angular drawn lines of a child, Leigh brings a steady even pattern of running stitches, deliberately spaced to create alternating stitch and and hand drawn line, neither one dominating the other. There is not projected outcome for this work, but an intuitive response to what others have left on the surface from a previous session.

June finishes embroidering into the writing that she had started last time we were here in March. It is a coincidence that the content of her writing still applies today, a commentary on the blustery wet weather and being warm and dry in the Village Hall.

I am also carrying on with embroidering into my text I started last time we were here in March. I realise I have been very ambitious, writing too much last week, so I am quickly embroidering my letters to try and get my piece finished. It is possibly silly to be concerned with this given the layers of unfinished elements of embroidery being added into the piece that seem fresh and exciting to me in their unpredictability. Although I could take this fabric home to complete, it doesn’t seem to work that way. The format of a prearranged place and time away from a domestic environment, means you can stitch and not be distracted by other things calling your attention. With June’s music playing in the background, a good solid chair to sit on and table to work at and natural light streaming into the room, this simultaneously private and public endeavour of stitching, helps me to relax. Part of the pleasure of joining in is that I can see how the project works for myself as well as being part of the group dynamic.

Arriving to the same spot, three generations, grandmother, mother, daughter, set up position at the table, picking up the work from where they left off last time. The family seem to have developed a personal ongoing piece, using clear bold words and a strong mastery of stitchery.

We hadn’t predicted imagery would be developed, but it seems small motifs or symbols are appearing. Last time a father, stitching for the first time, developed a teddy bear image on the request of his daughter. This time, cricket bat and ball, tennis rackets and football are being sketched out by Heather. These are universal images we can relate to and that we have in common and reminds me of a traditional crazy quilt I had seen many years ago in the Australian outback, that also had a cricket bat embroidered into its surface.

Heather, beginning to stitch her tennis racket motif. This table cloth seems to be getting richer, the more we work into it. We were asked what we would do with it and wonder if it is a piece we may continue to work on…imminently at the project Humanitarian Handicrafts at University of Huddersfield this June.

Leigh friezes this moment, as the cloth is being folded, and the text is seen running over the cloth. We offered the family the piece to keep and continue to work on at home – we had a proviso – to take an image of it being worked on in their home setting.

The other table cloth is very different, with a more haphazard range of approaches dotted over the fabric. This piece will remain with us for now, to be packed up in the plastic tubs in the background and taken home.

Feedback and Comments

Handwritten feedback from ‘comments’ book left out during workshops

Surprisingly enjoyable, I’ve never tried embroidery before but have quite enjoyed myself! WILL RECOMMEND! – L

I’ve never tried embroidery before and I can’t sew very well, but I had fun, it was enjoyable and relaxing – Zack

Very relaxing and enjoyable. Definitely enjoyed trying it and happy with my creativity. – Enrique

I visited The Storehouse Café and met the lovely ladies sewing. It was a pleasure to chat to them about the project and be inspired. I’m looking forward to sewing my blue plaques and flying the flag for Bradford. Thank you for being so welcoming and inspiring – Lizzie

Nice and relaxing experience, really kind and friendly to stewards the children and myself.

Very welcoming and relaxing. I am enjoying learning something new and everyone is really nice.

Relaxing, friendly and encouraging!

Very enjoyable, leaned a lot, had a good time. – Joan

I’ve really enjoyed these workshops and liked the positive theme for our community, thank you 🙂

I’ve really enjoyed these embroidery classes, I’m pleased with the end result and also learned a new skill 🙂

I’ve really enjoyed developing my needlework skills in such good company.

I have had a fab time and enjoyed doing my zed one and I’m coming along really good.

Group Stitch Event

Really lovely, relaxed environment run by nice people. Hope to attend this type of event on a regular basis.

I had such a lovely relaxing time. Perfect music, snacks and company while creating. So much so that we didn’t want to go home! Thank you so much xx

I’ve really enjoyed this session and doing something different in a group. Thank you! xx

Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences at Great Horton Community Hall – Saturday 16th March 2019

Three round tables are in place. Blue cotton fabric, dyed an ‘ocean blue’ is shaken and laid over each one. To one side our ‘kit’ of sewing needles, stranded threads, tissue paper, participant consent forms, embroidery hoops are laid out. I also place an A3 file of images taken from our previous Blue Plaque sessions. Leigh and I turn the pages together and pause at a double spread of Granddaughter and Grandmother sewing together, appreciating the contrasting gestures communicated through their hands. The boldness of stitching of Granddaughter and Grandmother with thimble to the finger, and little tissue just peeking from a sleeve.

Today we are stitching directly into the cloth covered tables. What are we stitching?

I am stitching into the cloth ‘Really blustery, driving thro’ the rain to be here. Looking out at Whaleys.’ If I look up I can literally see the stone factory building of Whaleys through the window, and this is where our fabric has been purchased. The first thing that I knew about Bradford was Whaley’s, the best selection of natural fabrics in England and it is literally opposite us as we develop our stitches into cloth! Next to me June is stitching ‘Warm and dry on a wet day’. And we are really appreciative that the space is so beautifully heated for us today.

On the table next to us I hear a conversation about how to start. ‘come – let us all think of a word’ I hear someone saying. It is necessary to be cooperative when working into the same fabric cloth. I later read the single words carefully stitched in large bold type into their fabric: ‘Diversity’ ‘Banter’ ‘Cohesion’ ‘ Lumituri’ ‘Smiles’ ‘Children’ ‘Memories’. Along an edge, in smaller text ‘Joy health for everyone in the world’.

And then …more people arrive. We move our table cloth that June and I have been working on, over to a larger circular table, so we can all squeeze round. This then accommodates two families and a single women sewing an angel using a little embroidery hoop. A further layer of activity then begins to take place over the fabric. A young girl wants to sew a unicorn, her father thinks quickly and resourcefully and gets up an image onto his phone, that he can then trace onto tissue paper. Mum helps with some of the stitches.

Sitting next to me a young boy is being taught to sew out the names in his family, slowly Tom Milton, Chloe Milton, Cody Milton and Eliza Milton take shape in black stranded thread.

Meanwhile June has been preparing lunch. We advertised ‘small bites’ and cherries, grapes, baby tomatoes, halved pork pies, little sausages, hummus, crisps, slices of french bread, nicely cubed cakes fill our fourth round table. I think this may feel familiar to children, as, with the addition of paper plates, it is probably reminiscent of children’s party food. The food also gave our event a degree of informality.

We had had a quiet start, but soon the room had become full and active with stitchery. We had a mix of people, all ages. I spoke over lunch with a local accountant. I counted two families, about four children, a refugee and her daughter, a lady on her own, our mother, granddaughter, grandmother trio, their friend, all collectively stitching away.. Some people knew about the event through word of mouth, others had seen our posters at Great Horton Community Hall. ‘When are you going to do this again’ ‘When is the next event’ ‘Can we take this on in our own community group’ were some comments we heard back from people there.

June’s ability to use the transferable skills of curator is seen in many small ways; the food for example, placed onto the table into manageable sizes, with the packaging placed beneath so people could interpret what they were eating, was sensitively presented. Also, being local seems to offer many benefits to the project, some of them subtle and everyday, but no less important. June knew, for example, knew that the caretaker of Great Horton Community Hall had overslept and had his number so he could pop round, almost immediately, to open up. June knew her way around the kitchen, could find glasses and knew where tea bags were kept – again highly useful when trying to work quickly and calmly across a range of tasks. Outside of the context of this event – but still very important to it – June had lobbied for round tables, being more democratic spaces than rectangular, and more conducive to open conversation. The round tables now form a key conceptual and practical resource to this project, and hopefully will do into the future. Finally, everyone knows June or may have heard of her, so people do not feel intimidated or threatened to take part in a project which is new to them.

Some thoughts on tracing paper, writing and embroidery.

The morning of Saturday 16th March it was pelting down with rain, my car splashing through torrents of water washing over the motorway on the way to Bradford. As I drew up at Great Horton Community Hall I saw Leigh. It was still and quiet, the rain had subsided a little, but the community hall was locked, so we sat in my car and chatted.

Leigh and I talked about the process of transferring an image onto cloth in embroidery, and about the use of tissue paper she had instigated. I noticed, through my own embroidered blue plaques and those of others, how the the tissue seemed so delicate, its pink tone almost with skin-like qualities, expressing something of vulnerability of the process. There is something interesting in embroidering partially blind to the final outcome, with a spontaneity in the process so that no piece can ever be recreated in exactly in the same way. When finally the embroidery is finished, picking away at the paper is an enticing part of the process, as the stitches become revealed. Leigh uses this process in her own work, because she says that she can get an accuracy of line in no other way. The paper she uses is conventional tracing paper. About 10 years ago I attempted to capture the precise replication of someones else hand written gestures in stitch in much the same way. I never quite got all the pieces of paper removed, and seem to prefer it now with them left in place.

We saw June pull up in her red VW. Efficiently she rang Steve, who almost immediately appeared, in the rain in a T-shirt, to unlock the community hall. Now we could start our next venture for Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences.