Love at t'Mill

This may one of my final blog posts (at least for a little while, until I've figured out my trajectory for the final practical project of the year!) This is also one of my last weeks in The Stow for a wee bit, and I must admit I'll miss it. In early January I'll be travelling back down to Falmouth, to deliver a presentation on The Cure for Love, bringing this project to a close.

The celebratory end of The Cure for Love happened last night, with a joint exhibition and embroidery workshop at The Mill community centre, where Tina and I held our Is There a Cure for Love? workshop in October. 

My embroideries were displayed with a booklet of all the texts I wrote throughout The Cure for Love. Each embroidery was numbered according to its corresponding text in the booklet.

In the workshop I offered two options; either make a love potion or a cure for love of your own concoction. It was enheartening to an old romantic like me that most participants chose to make a love potion; perhaps we're all more sentimental and optimistic around Christmas time?

Some of the ingredients of these, er, "love potions" were a little suspect, though:

Looking at the photos, it seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves; they've certainly all got smiles on their faces (me included!) I'm very lucky to have such supportive friends and family.

We even had a number of curious locals in, eager to have a gander and try their hand at stitching.

It was a lovely evening, and a very fitting end to The Cure for Love.

I suppose all that remains is for me to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Until next time (whenever that may be!)

A few thoughts on my interview with Joetta Maue

Much of what Joetta wrote in my interview with her chimed with my own thoughts on the process and connotations of embroidery, and with many of the contexts I am exploring through this project.

For example she wrote about the therapeutic quality of sewing, both metaphorically, in that sewing on fabric is reminiscent of suturing flesh, and literally, in that the quiet, meditative, repetitive action of embroidering soothes. 

Joetta at work
 (Just because I like to be contrary, I have to note that this, at least at first glance, appears to jar with the feminist artist and embroiderer Kate Walker's view that "passitivity and obedience (...) are the very opposite of the qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in needlework". However, in the interview Joetta goes on to write that, rather than using what is "thought to be a very passive form of expression" to "keep idle hands busy and docile", she uses her "hands and the medium to celebrate the vulnerability and strength of the female experience".)

 A fellow blogging embroiderer and Londoner, Emma Parker, goes by the online alias of Stitch Therapy. The banner at the top of her blog states that "A stitch in time saves your mind".

I certainly found sewing both soothing and (thankfully) absorbing during my long recovery from an illness.

Emma's banner for her blog Stitch Therapy

Joetta also wrote that one of the things which first attracted her to embroidery was its history as a woman's craft. Joetta grew up around embroidery and craft, and, like me, grew used to seeing her grandmother sew from an early age.

As she began to incorporate embroidery into her practise, she relished its ties with the domestic and thus chose to embroider on vintage linens. Like me, she feels that previously owned linens "bring their own history of women's voices and hands as well as the history of the homes they have lived in".

However, as Joetta is a professional artist and sells her work, she feels uncomfortable sewing on "inherited fabrics", whereas I sew almost exclusively on linens passed down to me by my grandmother, thus adding another layer of historical and familial context to the Cure for Love project. Joetta, however, sews on acquired vintage linens, but in a subversive fashion, while simultaneously acknowledging "the roles of the home and intimacy within the identity of the modern female". 

Though my intention in the Cure for Love project is not specifically subversive, I have created subversive embroidery in the past and imagine I will do in the future (particularly considering that a friend and I are now discussing creating a feminist zine... but more on that at a later date).

Don't Be An Art School Arsehole, an example of my slightly more subversive embroidery

Joetta also had some interesting thoughts about how "being feminist" does not mean "that you cannot embrace and choose to be feminine". She argues that the point of feminism is not "to force women to feel like they must do it all and succeed at it all and judge themselves on if they are being "feminist" enough". This nagging doubt is one I can relate to, as, being an artist writing and making art about love, I sometimes worry that I come across as some soppy dippy moonstruck teenager (which admittedly I am, save the teenager part). My current body of work is not overtly feminist, other than reclaiming a trivialised and traditionally feminine craft for contemporary purposes.

Drink Me In, one of my contemporary embroidered love poems reclaiming women's craft

Another of the points Joetta made is that autobiographical, introspective art (such as Tracey Emin's) is no bad thing, as it is often this that is most raw and universal. For example, Joetta's own work is about the universal experiences of "experiences of love, loss, joy, doubt, etc". This universal quality is something I aim for with the honesty of The Cure for Love.

Lots of interesting food for thought in my interview with you, Joetta. Thanks again!

Jen Bervin

On the more conceptual (rather than figurative) side of embroidery, my CEP tutor has just introduced me to the work of Jen Bervin.

Bervin uses needle and thread to "map"; mapping the punctuation and markings in manuscripts of Emily Dickinson's poetry in The Dickinson Fascicles, mapping the Mississippi in a scale model composed of hand-sewn silver sequins.

The Dickinson Composites, Granary Books, 2010
Unbound pages and sewn samples from the Dickinson Fascicles

The Composite Marks of Fascicles 40, 16, 38, and 34. Sewn cotton batting backed with muslin. Each quilt is 6 ft high by 8 ft wide.
The River (Mississippi Meander Belt). Hand sewn sequins on tyvek, mull, and paper. 230 curvilinear ft, 2010

Bervin seamlessly blends writing and embroidery, using embroidery to embellish and alter the poetry of John Van Dyke with "atmospheric fields of pale blue zigzag stitching to construct a poem “narrated by the air” — “so clear that one can see the breaks.”

Page detail, The Desert, Granary Books, 2008

The Desert follows in the tradition of altered books, the most famous of which is Tom Phillip's A Humument. However, unlike most altered books, where the unwanted text is simply censored or obliterated, the obscured text in The Desert can still be made out through the machine-stitched blue thread. This offers the viewer several different readings.

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter typifies a very particular type of Britishness that no longer exists. This is a Britain of stiff upper lip and quiet reserve. Perhaps it was the fact that this 1945 film was made during the Second World War that lent it this "Keep Calm and Carry On" feel.

The film was based on the Noel Coward play Still Life, in which two married people embark on a secret love affair. This is no tawdry affair, however; it's a brief, beautiful and bittersweet escape from the stifling mundanity of their lives. Laura (played by Celia Johnson) is Brief Encounter's narrator; she is married to Fred Jesson, and the couple have two small children. The highlight of Laura's week is her trip to the fictional Milford to do her weekly shopping and see a matinée film. One day, whilst waiting for a train at Milford Junction Station, a "smut" gets into Laura's eye. She goes into the refreshment room to seek help, and here Alec (Trevor Howard), the other protagonist, is introduced. He offers assistance, the two start chatting, and therein the love story unfolds.

Eventually the couple realise that they cannot betray their spouses and continue with the affair any longer. Their final meeting is marred by the interruption of an acquaintance of Laura's, who babbles incessantly while the two struggle to contain their feelings. Alec's train arrives and he leaves without being able to say a proper goodbye. As the train pulls away, Laura dashes out onto the platform, and for a moment it seems she will end her life. However, she dutifully returns to her husband and family. The film ends with its most famous and melodramatic speech (one which was re-enacted in The History Boys); Laura has been lost in her thoughts of Alec and what might have been. Her husband, Fred, realising that something has been amiss, says "You've been a long way away. (...) Thank you for coming back to me."

The film has been adapted for the stage by Kneehigh Theatre, a company I originally wanted to complete my CEP with.

This introduction by the director of the production, Emma Rice, is well worth a read.

I have chosen to embroider pieces based on Brief Encounter as much of my own writing deals with the idea of stiff upper lip and what it is to be British, together with thwarted love. In addition to the embroidery of the train on the handkerchief in the previous post, you can expect a sewn portrait of Celia Johnson and possibly one of Trevor Howard, accompanied by original writing on the theme of Brief Encounter.