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.

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.

Great Horton Village Hall – 27th February 2019

It was such an unexpectedly warm day for February, that when I arrived at Great Horton Village a little early, I sat with my door open, radio 1 rather loud, and eat my sandwich in the warmth of the sun.

So, this week we (Leigh and I) are creating Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences in the larger, open space at Great Horton Village Hall.. I am standing at the back beginning a new piece dedicated to St John’s Church, just a few meters away, where my real connection with Bradford began with ‘The Sleeping Bag Project’. The project was about reclaiming sleeping bags left at music festivals for people without homes who stay over night at the homeless shelter at St John’s Church. What the project became, although supposed to be a gift to others, was a process of reclaiming embroidery for me. It also fostered my relationship with June – which was very inspiring and exciting. I (re)discovered, through working with June, that embroidery could be both poetic and useful, and found a place at Bradford which was so accepting of this idea. I successfully overcame shyness in the creation of bold steps with art and stitch-based work that involved others. Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences, I hope, is another stage in this inquiry.

June and I have discussed the possibility of placing Blue Plaques into the streets of Bradford to mark actual sites which are meaningful to people…not possibly for this project, but could be suggestion for a future piece and this plaque I am just beginning is a start in that direction. Starting this piece from scratch, also became an opportunity to photograph (and Leigh video) the different stages in the creation of Blue Plaques. If we are to share our process with others as a downloadable pack (a recipe of our activity?), then processes in our journey I think are important to capture. I only hope they do not take the mystery out of the project by being overly matter of fact.

It feels almost as if Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences is evolving into a club at Great Horton Village Hall – and maybe this is its future potential. We had two groups of ladies sitting at two tables. They are the same group that came the week before and I believe the two weeks before that. Their blue plaques are developing slowly, patiently and methodically over this time, their use of steady line, slight insertion of graphic imagery in places, and filling stitches to create bolder type are looking diverse and accomplished, unified by the blue fabric and restriction of the embroidery hoop as frame. I can’t help to compare and see how my stitch looks very wobbly and uncertain in comparison. Heads down, sewing, gentle chatter, people seem to be at ease.

In the room next door the ESOL group had arrived. This is a group of people for whom English is their second language. Leigh and I went over to introduce ourselves and then mid-through our session, during their break, they came over to peek through the door. Leigh was welcoming and did a terrific presentation – communicating so clearly for those who have little English – bringing out physical examples of our stitch based work to show. Standing in the space, with others busying away on their Blue Plaques, hopefully gave the ESOL members a good sense of the project and felt at ease. To make this connection is really exciting and may open up Blue Plaques to more people, and possibly, through the very edited text that is achievable in stitched-based work, may become an accessible and hopefully interesting way to build confidence in basic English language skills. On talking with the instructor, it became evident that we could further this, possibly taking the project to other similar ESOL groups beyond Great Horton Village Hall.

These three always sit together. I had not realized that it was child, mother and grandmother around one table! Just through the open doorway, is a glimpse of the ESOL session taking place in the small room. Notice behind the table, electric kettle, tea, coffee and biscuits set-up for us, which is a brilliant touch to any workshop.

Grandmother, stitching with her daughter and granddaughter around the same table.

Bradford Soup, The Storehouse Cafe – 21st February 2019

I packed up my son Thomas into my car, and we drove in the dimming evening light, off to Bradford together to go to Bradford Soup at The Storehouse.

June and I had been to a Bradford Soup at The Storehouse Cafe together about a month ago. The principle is quite simple – and effective. You give £5 for the cost of soup and then charities pledge for small amounts of money, you cast a vote for the charity you wish to support, and then the collective money given for the soup is distributed accordingly.

But is was all very new to me the first time I went to Bradford Soup…I recall as I entered The Storehouse Cafe, someone greeted me with a bucket into which I threw my £2 and £1 coins. I was then presented with a small, penny size disc, which would be used later in the evening for casting my vote for the charity or venture I wanted to support. The presentations were deeply moving and very inspiring. The questions from the audience following each presentation were very probing, with detailed requests to know exactly how money would be spent. Once the presentations had taken place, we were invited to go up and get our soup (which was homemade at The Storehouse with donated food from local supermarkets and retailers) and then cast our vote with our little penny size token. I suppose there was about 15-20 of us at Bradford Soup that first night, so the money raised was approximately £100 – it was evident that this money would make a great deal of difference to the projects and ventures presented. Being at the Bradford Soup was excellent if a little unnerving for June and I; we had intended to present Blue Plaques ourselves that night, but at the last minute we were not included the schedule. What a relief! We realized through being on the sidelines at Bradford Soup that night, what the event really entailed, and how very professional and sincere each of the presentations had been and, if we were to pledge for some support for Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences, it would require some very careful thought and preparation.

So we are back at Bradford Soup and it is Thursday 21st February, the event runs from 6.30pm-9pm. June and I when invited to do so, make our presentation. We are nervous, but we had some structure to our talk (no PowerPoint allowed!), scribbled onto small pieces of paper. I am pleased June had put together an order in which we would both speak. We did not really want to pledge for a lot of money, mainly to provide refreshments at our sessions at Great Horton Community Hall. What was was really key to us was the opportunity that Bradford Soup provided for us to network and possibly build up communications with other community groups who may be interested in being involved in Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences. We had printed out little flyers which also promoted our community event at Great Horton Village Hall, to which we invited everyone in the room . Afterwards discussions developed, involving a possible development of Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences at Bradford Media Museum. Quite touching that we should build this connection, as the Bradford Media Museum cafe, is the venue where June and I often meet up, to discuss our ideas, including a few months ago, Blue plaques of Intangible Experiences! This, as an outcome in itself was very positive and unexpected. As Thomas and I left the Storehouse we noticed the moon was huge bright and low. Thomas liked the way the moon appeared through the trees. He was very tired and we just about got home without Thomas falling asleep in the car.

This morning, as I write this, I receive a text from June – and we were lucky in receiving £100 last night at Bradford Soup (I left with Thomas before the announcements were made). A wonderful bonus to our project and the refreshments that we maybe able to provide – possibly more embroidery hoops too!

Great Horton Village Hall – 20th February 2019

June, Leigh and I developed Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences at Great Horton Village Hall on the afternoon of Wednesday 20th February. We set ourselves up in the medium sized space close to the kitchen area, Leigh laying out our embroidery hoops, threads and scissors, and fabrics. Myself and June Hill in the kitchen getting some mugs ready for coffee and plates of biscuits. Leigh and June had introduced the project the previous Monday 11th February, so it was really great to see some people come in, actually holding their blue plaques that they wanted to develop further.

Leigh has set up the workshops so there are a logical series and progression of step-by-step processes being taken. It is a structured method, which is helpful in building clearness around what is expected of people as they take part in the project.

There is preparation work before embroidery begins. First of all an embroidery hoop – a range of sizes are presented on a table – is chosen. Leigh has already secured some blue fabric into the hoops before the session began. Then a piece of A4 paper is collected, and a correct size circle is traced out onto the paper – quite simply drawing around the embroidery hoop – with a pencil. Taking the printed out alphabets, participants then write out their thoughts, comments and feelings about place or personal experiences of neighborliness onto the paper, within the circle, tracing around each letter individually, gradually building up letter forms to spell out their words and phrases. This ensures that the writing is large and bold (easier to sew) and also reflects the font used in actual blue plaques. After this is complete, the writing is traced out onto tracing paper and then pinned onto the blue fabric stretched within the embroidery frame. I wonder, in the future, I should take some really clear photographs which demonstrates all these processes – which maybe useful when we come to designing our ‘downloadable resources pack’ almost like the photos you may get in a cookery book perhaps?

I believe the majority of people at the workshop had been to the Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences workshop with June the week before, and had got to the stage of sewing into the tracing paper and transferring each letter onto the blue fabric. I have tried this method before at home, and I always love the surprise of ripping away the tracing paper after embroidering, to see the text beneath. After general introductions, people sat around the circular tables, and quietly carried on sewing, with murmurs of conversation occasionally punctuating the quietness of the room.

A little girl, who had not been to the previous weeks workshop, appeared through the doors. She sat next to me, and we started her own Blue Plaques together. She had not been to the previous weeks workshop. I tried to explain the project to her and then helped her to sew, she was very patient, and after some time, she got better and better at it. It was great for me, to be hands-on with the project in this way.

And then quite suddenly the session seemed to be over. Tables were packed away, chairs stacked, items tidied into our plastic tub and it was 3pm and time to leave our space.

It seems that to have continuity between workshops, was a real asset, to working at Great Horton Village Hall. I suppose at first there is quite a lot of newness to be involved in a project with which you are unfamiliar, that maybe be a little intimidating. But after just one session everyone seemed very settled, both in the space and their stitch work. They obviously knew what they were doing, and I felt, almost the feeling of a type of ‘club’ was emerging, and I wondered if this is something that may continue and become stronger through subsequent session we hold there.

A Note from Leigh:
It was very useful to be able to catch up with June and Claire again and we discussed a few things the project needed:
A poster for the Great Horton Community Stitch Event – I will make this using photographs from the previous sessions which Claire will send me via dropbox.
An Eventbrite for people to sign up to the Stitch Event – This will allow us to obtain numbers and cater for the group size. It also means we can cap the event at up to 50 people, so as not to crowd the space.
These would need to be put together by the next day in order for June and Claire to be able to take them along to The Bradford Soup the following day to promote the event.

As I had missed a previous workshop due to illness, I still want to give the time I would have been there to the project, and so we agreed that my attendance at the Stitch Event would be the best way to do this – it would allow June to concentrate on the catering, I could take lead on helping with the practical stitching and Claire could focus on recording the event (e.g. video, photos, feedback).

The Storehouse Cafe – 7th February 2019

When I arrived into the Storehouse I was very excited to see that Lisa had completed her blue plaque from our last session at The Storehouse, while June had developed a lovely plaque on the small piece of fabric that I had dyed and posted over to her. I also brought in the piece I had been working on for a friend. As June and I sat down to have a bowl of soup, we acknowledged how we both actually found the embroidering aspect easier at home. For me, I like to embroider with my things around me, but the chance to develop my piece while Thomas was doing his homework worked really well too. It is nice to be on hand for Thomas, while at the same time be occupied on something of my own.

June told me some ideas that Leigh and her had had, with regards possibly developing written blue plaques with younger children at Great Horton Village Hall. I also wondered if these pieces could possibly be translated into digital stitch, as a method of retaining the individual character of the children’s writing while also having the work created in cloth and stitch.

The creation of ‘cosy’ corner: June and I then developed Blue Plaques at the Cosy Corner. We had some help to install the plaques onto the wall, and then left a few resources on the table for anyone to go over, in their own time, to get involved.

Bradford Soup Question: June and I had planned to bid for some money to support Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences at Bradford Soup in a couple of weeks time. Having been before, we were both party to the wonderful, noble and humanitarian projects presented in Bradford and the brilliant way they had been presented. This also put a little fear into us both! We started to plan the order of things that we may discuss. But, then the question: what do we really want money for? I felt flummoxed. This opened up what was really of most value, was the items, space and food that could be donated by The Storehouse. We also felt that people themselves present at Bradford Soup could provide a useful network or understanding of other community groups for whom Blue Plaques may be relevant.

Research and Development Phase: June mentioned that we were in the ‘research and development’ phase of the project. This seems at first a strange thing to say, as if we had not conducted mini Blue Plaques together already, even before applying for funding to the Arts Council. But then, a consideration that we are in R&D, does actually make a lot of sense, recognizing that by doing this project we are learning on the way. We are finding that it is only through actually taking the project on for real, with others, that we can really appreciate its strengths and areas that we may need to work on. The location provides (in a physical sense) a great space for sewing (excellent natural light, low tables, lovely atmosphere), however many people who visit The Storehouse are using it as a destination to eat, meet people and then leave. The space and peoples expectations of it may mean that it is not necessarily conducive to sitting down to stitch. It maybe, that we are understanding through working on the ground, that the location itself, the community that visit it, needs to be understood, and this is most reliably achieved when actually in the space with the project. Is this something we need to be attentive to when designing our ‘downloadable pack of resources’? We may have discovered that the ebb and flow of people and their expectations is something to work with, and to be adaptable to. So, a standardized ‘pack’ may not necessarily be the most beneficial? Rather, each workshop may need to accommodate the site and context in which the embroidery takes place, and this is a very particular, non repeatable/non standardized element of developing a socially engaged project.

The Storehouse Cafe – 24th January 2019

Our first meeting – Blue Plaques of Intangible Experiences at The Storehouse with The Thursday Group. I brought the plastic tub of equipment for the workshop. Inside were embroidery hoops, needles, blue dyed fabric, threads and consent forms. When the Thursday Group arrived, and we talked with the leader, it became apparent that they were not really expecting us to be there. It was fine though, Leigh carefully talked through the project and then the members went to get something to eat and Leigh, June and I settled on the soft and comfy seats and continued our own individual blue plaques and talked. It was, I realised, a great venue for sewing. The banks of windows and natural light was such an asset, while the soft seats and tables had a nice degree of informality.

It was only us and the Thursday Group at The Storehouse. A couple of members came to sit down with me, while Leigh had laid out some equipment on another low table. A method that Leigh introduced was to trace lettering she had printed out first onto paper, and this was then transferred onto the fabric. We used the windows as a kind of lightbox, placing the blue fabric in its embroidery hoop in front of the paper with the previously traced out text, and then this was copied through, pressing really hard with the pencil to get a good line that was visible onto the blue fabric. It happened that The Storehouse had a little lightbox as well – which was a fortuitous coincidence – and worked well as an alternative.

I had two members sitting opposite me. Conversation flowed across our table and also across the room at large, talking embroidery and then catching in with other conversations that were still carrying on from lunch at the larger main tables. One member opposite me was very adapt at sewing. I noticed how he worked with white thread into large stitches to trace out lettering (choosing to write freehand and not use the tracing method) and then afterwards he inserted little blue stitches at intervals. Next to him, another member, who had never sewn before took the task on, I showed him how to begin and develop simple backstitches, and then as he had chosen to write Bradford FC was an opportunity to talk a little about football and my recent experience at Manchester United. Leigh was on hand to support him. She didn’t smother, but was discreetly available to us all. I helped another member to fill in the traced out lettering with biro; it was quite tricky to do.  Leigh and I realised that next time we should use felt tips or markers for tracing out the lettering, to make a bolder line. It is these details that are difficult to predict, but will make a difference, to speed up the tracing method prior to sewing. 

All this time I was attempting to document aspects of the session using the hired video camera from university. A tangent, but exciting for me to begin to try out a few video clips, with the hopeful expectation to be able to edit them into a small film clip.

June also showed me some textiles in the small vintage shop, little printed handkerchiefs that we recalled as children. We also bought some small hand embroidered textiles, as I had found that when experimenting with creating my own Blue Plaque that I preferred working with a textile that already had embroidery on it – as a small intervention into someone else’s craftwork seemed to relate to me and an interest in working site specifically. These I have since dyed blue.

The session had a steady pace. I was able to pop in and out of my own hand embroidered work, listen to conversation, support the other two members at my desk, take photos and video, walk around the vintage shop and enjoy being in the space and with people I had never met before, who were all such nice company and friendly. In this sense small embroideries work well, as you can get very absorbed in your task, but it can also easily be put down and then started again. We also handed out little kits, so that some members could carry on working at home. I was glad that we would be working with The Thursday Group again in a couple of weeks time, and to build on what had just started to happen.

The sentiment of the writing onto the fabric, seemed to be very natural to those embroidering, sharing loves and companions that have meant a lot to an individual seemed to come easily. I think that the workshop went really well – the atmosphere at The Storehouse is always lovely and welcoming – and the flowers and plants, smell of home cooking creates a generous and homely and clean place to be that was a charming and meaningful backdrop to our workshop. Aside from bringing along felt tip pens, possibly using tracing paper to trace out the words, I am not sure we need to do anything differently. I need to learn skills in video editing and how to use this wordpress!