When we first started the project we look at the idea of encouraging group work, or having many people working on one piece. This could be working on one piece of cloth at the same time, or having the public contributing a small amount of stitch to fabric within their own time when they come across it.
At The Storehouse Cafe we have cosy corner to display the plaques created during our workshops there. As well as the small exhibition, we have decided to leave a larger hoop for those who pass through the cafe to add small sentiments to. Patrons of The Storehouse Cafe tend to be more transient, passing through or only staying to visit for a short while whilst they eat lunch. By adding a small amount to a larger project, it allows an opportunity to engage in the project without having to commit to a whole embroidered plaque, which can take many hours of stitching.
During our workshop at The Storehouse Cafe on the 6th February, I started ‘The Big Blue Plaque’ by stitching the words ‘positive experiences’ across the middle in the hopes it would encourage others to do some stitching themselves.
June and I decided it would be appropriate to create an information sheet with what we would like participants to do, and some instructions on creating a back stitch for first time embroiderers. This will be printed double sided on A4 by Claire and left alongside the big blue plaque.
These instructions can be used as a teaching guide in future workshops, as well as be included in our free downloadable pack.
Today’s workshop was a very quiet one. Although June and I were ready at 11am, it seemed that the foot traffic at The Storehouse did not pick up until around 12.30pm, and even then those visiting seemed to be on lunch breaks. We considered that perhaps starting the large group embroidery earlier than the set up of Cosy corner may be a good idea, as it would give the opportunity to join in to those with shorter visits to The Storehouse Cafe.
I started by hooping up a mix of hand dyed linen and blue cotton fabrics in two sizes so that any future participants could select their fabric and just start working straight away. After this, June and I worked on our individual blue plaques and discussed how to better promote future workshops. June said she would get in touch with a friend and local textile artist named Hannah, who may have some connections in Bradford who could help. I agreed to search online for local craft groups, or other groups that may meet in the week, and send them emails inviting them along to the last workshop at The Storehouse and the following workshops at Great Horton Village Hall.
Although we did not have any new participants this week, I do feel that seeing June and working in the space was beneficial as it gave us time to consider our next steps in promotion.
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!