Between The Waves: Experiences at the 2014 Feminism in London conference

The Feminism in London conference made me feel uncomfortable. It also made me feel elated, disgusted, relieved and confused. And in that regard, I would say that it did its job. Feminist conversations are oftentimes uncomfortable.

However, as I am what some people are terming a "fourth wave feminist", I sometimes feel caught between, or perhaps under the various waves of feminism. And I must admit, I'm not entirely satisfied with any of them. That perhaps, is also the point. Feminism must move forward as it encounters new barriers to the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

I felt particularly caught between these waves when listening to the opening speech of the conference by Gail Dines. She called for a return to radical feminism, which originated in the 1960s with the rise of second wave feminism. Radical feminism's fly in the ointment is patriarchy; male domination over all aspects of society. Now, as a modern day intersectional feminist, I have a bone to pick with this idea; for example, what about race? What about class? Sexuality? Trans rights? I would argue that as a white, middle class, heterosexual woman, I have more privilege than a black, working class, lesbian woman; I get a bigger slice of the pie. Intersectionality is about being mindful of this and supporting all our sisters in their struggles against the multiple oppressors they face.

 I also believe that men have their place in this too, and can effect positive change, so long as they don't attempt to dominate a movement that is primarily about women's rights. Case in point the recent cock-up with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg wearing "This is what a feminist looks like" t shirts which were allegedly made by women under sweatshop conditions. If true, this is certainly an  utter outrage, but to my mind also rather begs the question: what were these men doing making the feminist conversation about them? At which point we return to the issue of patriarchy. These men are the living embodiment of the word, taught to believe everything is always about them. It's up to "scrappy upstarts", i.e. the thousands of women who attended and supported the Feminism in London conference, to remind them that it's not. This is a message from the speeches at the conference that I wholeheartedly embrace: that feminist revolution is a collective effort. That we must pull together to make our voices heard.

There was a strong focus on the increasing "pornification" of our culture at the conference. The next day, I was idly scrolling through Tumblr when I happened upon a fashion editorial advertising a new line of Barbie-themed garments. One of the t shirts proclaimed the legend "This bod's for you." Many women today claim that they don't need feminism; some because they think feminist = man-hater, some because they believe there is equality now, so what's the point of feminism? Well, I would argue that when our own bodies are not for us is precisely the point at which we need feminism. That's not even taking into account the disparity in what men and women are paid for equivalent jobs, to give but one example of inequality.

A young woman who is painfully aware of this inequality is Freya Pigott. In Freya's own words: "I am a 16 year old student with a love for standing up for what I believe in." And what Freya believes is that injustices committed against women have to stop.


As part of The Art of Feminism exhibition which made an appearance at the conference, Freya exhibited a textile piece entitled I wish the content of this would age quicker than the fabric will disintegrate.

The mismatched fabric squares making up the work are machine embroidered with statistics related to gender inequality and observations on the misogyny Freya encounters in society today.




I found the below the most harrowing: More people would dial 999 if they were to witness animal rather than domestic abuse.






Creating this piece was a considerable act of bravery for Freya; some of her classmates criticised her efforts, asking what the point was, and stating that "it wouldn't change anything"'; as if art has never changed the world!

I was invited along to the Feminism in London conference by Catherine of Significant Seams, to document a discussion on how craft can change the world.

Catherine was joined by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective and Deadly Knitshade to present the talk Crafting Politics. Creativity couched as craft rather than art was important here; the speakers concluded that art is less accessible and more exclusive than craft, which is a form of creativity which transcends class, gender, and race divisions. Of course, the particular forms of craft discussed by the speakers, stitching, knitting, and patchwork, are to a large extent still gendered female, though "manbroiderers" such as Mr X Stitch are doing their best to debunk this. However, as Roszsika Parker notes in The Subversive Stitch, the very term "manbroidery" wards off the associations with "trivial" femininity embroidery still holds.



Through her work with the Craftivist Collective, Sarah Corbett has encountered some male activists who say of Craftivism that it's "crap"; that activists need to be angry, to shout, to effect change. Sarah argues that she is channelling her anger to reach the right audiences, and simultaneously creating joyousness out of anger. This reminds me of a glorious cross stitched quotation I saw once: "I sublimate my rage through needlework". Craft can be political in unexpected ways, partially as consequence of its "girly", "fluffy" associations.

As Deadly Knitshade noted, when you tell people that you are protesting or raising awareness through needlework or knitting, they relax and say "Oh, that's really interesting". In a similar way, colleagues in a school I was working in recently couldn't seem to reconcile the fact that I wear a lot of pink lace with the fact that I'm a "rampant" feminist; my feminism and Craftivism are thus both slightly stealthy forms of politics.

Craftivism is neither high (elitist) art or confrontational (scary) activism. It is Craftivism; activism using craft in a quietly beautiful way.

Returning to the theme of second wave feminism for a moment; Catherine argued that textile crafts were thrown under the bus by second wave feminists in the 1970s, just as research was beginning to indicate that they were the most effective hobbies for better mental health and deeper relaxation.

 I concede that during the second wave domesticity was in feminist firing lines, and needlecrafts were part of this domestic sphere (hello, the enduring phenomenon of Jane Austen). However, during the 1970s a number of feminist artists turned to textile craft as a means of self-expression and manifestation of "the personal is political"; the collaborative work of Judy Chicago particularly springs to mind. During each wave of feminism, craft has played its part; think of appliquéd Suffrage banners in the first wave; of Womanhouse and The Birthday Party (both instigated by Chicago) in the second; of Craftivism, and the reclamation of craft as an undervalued, gendered art form in the third.

In each wave, in each era, there is much to be proud of in the efforts of feminists, craftswomen, and women who fit into both categories (why, hello there). I think there will be much to be proud of in the waves which follow, as well.

Summer Dreaming

I had the dreamiest of weekends, starting on Friday night with cocktails and dim sum and night time strolls along the South Bank with two of my best pals.

Rose and lychee martini
You could say my weekend started on Thursday evening with a visit to the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, but I'll save that for another blog post... it was a very stirring trip indeed.

Saturday was spent sewing and sipping sangria in my favourite dress with good friends. I met up with two of them the next day for wanders around the Walthamstow Garden Party. I'm sorry to say I misread the festival; I had thought it would be small and somewhat provincial. I could not be more wrong; it sprawled across Lloyd Park, with mouthwatering food and drink (I spilled chimichurri sauce on my dress trying to eat a very unruly burger), and an inventive array of activities for the little ones, including neon bright den building and wood work (there's something lovely about seeing a four year old girl expertly inserting bolts into wooden pieces of a rocking horse).


Dens built by local children
Significant Seams had a lovely display of a summer garden in full bloom, created entirely from discarded plastic. I particularly liked this tree of life, which, a volunteer told me, was based on Mexican paintings.







The garlands of wishes (destined for the wishing well) for the community were very sweet, too. Look what this one says.



I just have to put the finishing touches to a big commission proposal this week, and then this weekend I'm off to Brighton with Pip to visit friends and partake of even more cocktails. It's a hard life.

Putting one stitch in front of another

Hello all. Where oh where have I been for the past month and a half? Well, I've been feeling under the weather, in many ways quite literally; the storm that huffed and puffed and blew our neighbour opposite's fence down didn't help. This time of year hits me hard, but at long last I seem to be emerging from the big black maelstrom that was gathering above my head.

In the winter months I find solace in posting loved ones little treats, in an effort to raise our collective spirits as the nights draw in and the days grow shorter.


I have also been spring cleaning (so appropriate for November, I know), and my bedroom is finally an approximation of what I've been wishing it to be for years (though there's still bunting to be put up; one can never have too much bunting...). More importantly, however, my room is clean and tidy, which I must say is something of a revelation to me. Who knew this would lead to me actually knowing where things are?! The plan now is to apply my (somewhat idiosyncratic) organisational methods (business cards go in a box with embroidered patches, obviously) to the makeshift "studio" in the loft, which is currently crammed to bursting with fabric, thread and other gubbins.

Noelle the narwhal "helping" me get organised
And yet more gubbins are pouring in; I seem to be becoming a receptacle for all the unloved fabric and needlecraft equipment that has been languishing in the attics of loved ones and acquaintances; not that I'm complaining in the slightest! I've had a surfeit of gorgeous '60s and '70s quilting cottons of late, and other bits and bobs which aren't quite to my taste are taking a little trip to Significant Seams to be turned into all manner of exciting textile-y goodness.

A little peg lady who sat atop a swag bag of fabrics donated to me; I think she looks like a little mini-me, don't you?

Besides gathering a snowball of beautiful fabrics, there is so much else to look forward to right now; mine and Pip's two year (really??) anniversary is coming up on December 1st; Christmas holed up in the Highlands with my family and an almost obscene amount of delicious food; returning to Hampton Court in January invigorated and ready to give my training in the ancient art of hand embroidery my all. Until then, I shall be taking time to look after myself and enjoy the season, and above all simply putting one stitch in front of another.

A rainbow on my window one recent morning reminded me to be grateful for the little things in life



"Working towards normality": the story of my life

Tea, comforting films, Pip, and the spirit of the Suffragettes are helping me power through


Colours of the deep blue (and green and purple and pink and orange and grey) sea

The beginnings of a coral garden


                                   
Tarnished jewel-toned seawater cottons and metallics



Jacquard Stitch (Please try to ignore the surrounding spaghetti junction; Canvas Work is like sausages; it's delicious, but you don't want to see how it was made)


Big Teeth

Possibly thanks to my little exhibition at Arts and Crusts, I was recently contacted by E17 Art House, a local picture framers and gallery, and asked to participate in a new exhibition there to coincide with Waltham Forest's literary festival in October.

Words Over Waltham Forest aims to incite participants and the public to "tell tales, spin stories, recite rhymes, loosen tongues as Words over Waltham Forest celebrates creative writing, literary inspired art, reading, freedom of expression, language and literature across Waltham Forest."

I have a couple of plans for "literary inspired art" afoot, but first I must create a piece for the Book Marks exhibition at E17 Art House. And, always being one to bite off more than I can chew, I've decided to create a follow up to On Being Soft, my first soft sculpture artist's book.

This new book will be titled Big Teeth, and in keeping with the literary theme, will focus on fairytales and all the allusions to textiles therein, and how there is no such thing as a happy ending. It will have more than a whiff of Hounds of Love about it, being narrated by a heroine who is unwilling to give into love and its trappings.

Here is the design for the book's front cover.


Big Teeth refers both to the wolf in grandmother's clothing ("My, what big teeth you have") and to being afraid of the unruly emotions of life and love (life's "big teeth").

I picked up all the fabric to construct the book from fabric donations at Significant Seams for a very reasonable price; I love the slightly worn, pre-loved look of donated fabric. The fabric this embroidery will be stitched to make up the front cover is a faded "toothpaste stripe", which I felt very appropriate.

Sewing the seams of change, sowing the seeds of change


This Wednesday evening I shall be leading a Craftivist stitch-in for the Craftivist Collective‘s project “I’m A Piece”. The Collective are asking stitchers new and old to contribute an embroidered jigsaw piece to a giant art installation raising awareness of world hunger and injustice to support Save the Children‘s Race Against Hunger campaign.
Participants are asked to create two more jigsaw pieces; one with a personal message to remind themselves that they are part of the crafty call for change, and one embroidered with the phrase “I’m a piece”, to be passed on to their MP to urge them to use their power for good.
So far I’ve stitched up my first piece for the art installation. I decided to put a Significant Seams spin on things by embroidering the words “Sewing the seams of change, sowing the seeds of change“, and creating the puzzle piece in pinks and purples, the Significant Seams colours. The words are sewn in a sketchy stem stitch, with “Sewing the seams of change” highlighted with running stitch to represent “seams”. I’ve added a few gold bead “seeds” around “sowing the seeds of change“. To tidy up the edges and create a pretty border, I’ve finished the puzzle piece with blanket stitch:
I'm a piece 003I'm a piece 004
If you’d like to get your stitch on and add your voice to the call for change, join me this Wednesday 30th January from 6 – 8pm at 131 Wood Street, Walthamstow, E17. You can book online here, and join the event here.

Maple Leaves and Plush Punch


exterior
Last Thursday evening, Significant Seams invited E17 creatives and locals to take a tour of our new premises and hear our plans for its transformation.
We’re moving from Unit 23 – 24 Wood Street Indoor Market to 131 Wood Street; just over the road, opposite the Flowerpot pub and Brother’s Fish Bar! (Potentially a very dangerous location for Significant Seams staff!)
The premises needs a certain amount of capital work, and so we don’t yet have an exact opening date, but are planning a grand opening in March, in conjunction with a site specific textile project that is currently (rather appropriately) under wraps.
I’d fashioned a tree from our bountiful (though less so now!) supply of brown fabric earlier that day, which we hung from the rafters, and asked visitors to contribute their ideas for how the space might be used and how they would like to be involved.
Ideas weren’t just written down on forms, however; to go with our handcrafted tree for Wood Street, we’d ordered in stunningly realistic maple leaf post it notes.
image (8)
image (2)
Suggestions ranged from the practical to the downright kooky; some of our younger visitors had suggestions such as a giant birdcage for children to play in!
image (5)
What was most evident from both written and verbal feedback was how enthusiastic our supporters are about the move, as are we; it means more space, more convenient opening hours for our customers and service users, and, most excitingly, affords us the opportunity to offer the only inclusive community space in Eastern Walthamstow.
Non-alcoholic Plush Punch (which certainly still packed a punch!)

Jammin'

Just got back from Significant Seams' first "Awesomestow" Christine's Tomato Jam Stitch-In with Oxfam and the Craftivist Collective. It was, if not a roaring, then certainly a contentedly purring success.


The stitch-ins are inspired by the story of Christine, a Kenyan woman who makes and sells tomato jam to support her local community. Tomatoes are a fairly drought-resistant fruit, and thus easily grown in Christine's home town near Nairobi. 

In this spirit, craftivists all over the country (and the world!) are coming together to stitch messages about the food crisis on to jam jar labels. These jars will then be filled with tomato jam following Christine's own recipe, and passed on to people in positions of power, or businesses which are able to call (or shout) for change.


Sarah Corbett, founder and leader of the UK's Craftivist Collective, was on hand to guide us in our stitching, and lead discussion on the issues surrounding the world food crisis. It was fascinating and often deeply unsettling food for thought (pun intended). It's certainly inspired me to educate myself so that I can make more informed choices about how and where I eat.

It wasn't a sombre evening in the slightest, though; there was plenty of tea, and a few tomato jam sandwiches for each of us!


Yes, you read right; tomato jam sandwiches. They were surprisingly moreish. The general consensus was that the jam was closest to plum than any other fruit.

We were hosted by Walthamstow's gorgeous Arts & Crusts café, who provided us with a wonderfully DIY outdoor space, which was festooned with Craftivist Collective and Significant Seams quilts and bunting.

 

My role for the evening was to Tweet (via Sarah's iPhone... I've yet to invest in one myself) all the happenings, and I think I did a pretty good job! Got some nice "soundbites", for example:



Sarah Pelham, Oxfam London/South East's current intern, was on hand to snap and film us throughout proceedings, and took this rather nice shot for me to Tweet:



Well, after those sandwiches I was still feeling a little peckish, so I've just tucked in to a big bowl of pasta infused with, you guessed it... tomato jam! And now I'm off to bed. Good night, everyone!

K x

Afternoon Twee

I'm afraid this post is very text and image-heavy, but it's well worth a read/glance, I promise!

The past week was amazing. I honestly can't remember when I've been happier. I love my "job" (and my workmates), I've met new and very interesting people, spent plenty of time with loved ones, and I'm feeling hyper-creative (with an emphasis on the hyper!)

Saturday was a packed day - I took my cousin Emily in to Significant Seams with me, with the intention of us "holding down the fort"; perhaps fortunately, there was no fort to hold down, as Wood Street Plaza got all the foot traffic, and I didn't have any major disasters.


Emily the Entrepreneur

Slow day at work = sneaky photograph of my outfit
I had it far, far easier than my colleagues, in fact; Mark and Debs were busy demonstrating extreme knitting under a gazebo on the Plaza.






They had a captive audience of small children, but unfortunately I missed the younger knitters' efforts!

Em and I were then dismissed from our duties for the day, and after scoffing a venison sausage each and trying on dresses at Gigi's (me as potential outfits for graduation, Emily for shits and giggles - both equally dangerous, the owner is the most accomplished saleswoman I've ever met!), we proceeded to Lady V's for a cream tea.










As you can see, Lady V's is a veritable tiny, twee, chintzed-to-the-rafters paradise. It was even set off by menus bound in antique book covers and a gently tinkling toy piano track. It's well worth a visit if you're ever down Walthamstow way (it's located in Wood Street Indoor Market, as is Significant Seams). Lady V herself also hires out her bone china for films and parties. I may have to look on putting on a performance of some kind there with a few of my arty friends...

Having suitably lined our stomachs, Em and I nipped over to neighbouring Hackney to the Girls Get Busy zine festival. This was my first Girls Get Busy event, and it was absolutely fantastic. Although I was always very keen to go along to a GGB do, the main purpose of my visit was to meet the artist Hannah Hill, who I wrote about in my previous blog post.

With Girls Get Busy's founder, Beth Siveyer, and Hannah. I was a bit tipsy and nervous and made a bit of a tit of myself in front of Beth. Ah well. (Photograph courtesy of Roxanne Werter).


Hannah and I have decided to start a collaborative project together, which will most probably take the form of a zine. And that's all I'm willing to betray about the matter at the mo!

I picked up one of Hannah's cute-as-a-barrel-of-puppies Girls Get Busy t shirts, and a handful of zines. Here's my swag:


Photograph courtesy of Hannah Hill


It was so inspiring talking to the girls at the event; young women truly doing it for themselves, making things happen, and reaching out to (and supporting) one another. Definitely something I would love to get involved with, and will be going along to again in the future.

Yesterday was more family-orientated. I took Emily and family along to the newly re-opened William Morris Gallery, where Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry is currently being exhibited. It's so much bigger and richer in detail than I ever expected. I love Perry's subtle but biting sense of humour, and the busy-ness of his work.

Unfortunately I forgot to take along a camera, but I'm sure I'll be back soon. Fingers and toes crossed, Significant Seams will soon be working on a project in conjunction with the gallery, and crossed even harder, possibly I will too...

The rest of yesterday was dedicated to chatting, eating, drinking, making merry, and sewing, all taking place in our back garden. A large contingent of the Rolison (well, Swift; my mother's side) extended family was present, all having a jolly good time.

Some of my younger, more distant cousins became acquainted with my final university piece, On Being Soft:



The award for Cutest Moment of the Day goes to my little cousin Louis, who fell asleep wrapped up in the picnic blanket next to our dog, Rosie. She kept edging closer and closer to him for comfort!


And the award for Least Sociable Cousin goes to... me! For sewing/blogging/working through the entire gathering.


I'll post the fruits of my stitchy labour up soon. Until then,

Take care

K x






The Knitter, the Stitcher, and the Quilter.

No, this is not a "walked into a bar" joke, or a Perraultian fairy tale.

It's all just in a day's work.


Today, a knitter (Debs), a quilter (Catherine), and a stitcher (me!), gathered to (hand)stitch together Walthamstow's Neighbourly Quilt.

Back in May I was just finishing off my first internship with Catherine at her Walthamstow-based Social Enterprise Significant Seams (I've just begun my second internship there).

My first jaunt at the Significant Seams Hub was based around a community arts project: the Neighbourly Quilt project featured here.

Significant Seams asked residents of E17 to hand in fabric squares decorated using various textile techniques, or attend a workshop to learn a technique with which to decorate their square. The theme of the square was to be either "something which makes good neighbours", or "something which I love about Walthamstow".

We received 68 patches in all; more than we expected, and more than our target!

Catherine and Debs had already spent a couple of sessions hand-stitching the quilt together, and now that I'm back from Scotland, I'm joining in too. Here's our handiwork:








Here's (rather) a few of my favourites:














One of Debs' beautiful pieces



Neighbourly Patches

I taught a Neighbourly Quilt embroidery workshop earlier in the week, and yesterday a couple of my friends joined us at the Significant Seams Hub to work on their patches.


Lucy's patch is based around the sharing of cultures in Waltham Forest, with a Diwali-inspired "henna" design.

Nathan's patch features Awesome Games, his favourite shop from childhood, in Walthamstow Market.

Here's a selection of completed patches:


They're coming in thick and fast!

"Art Lasts, Life Is Short"

You may notice that the blog has a new look. This is because I'm embarking on a new project, entitled On Being Soft (which it does say, though not very clearly, on the new blog header. Still, at least it looks soft! My wonderful ex-housemate Dini de-wonkyfied the higgeldy piggeldy hand-stitched text for me.)

The germ of the idea for On Being Soft arose out of a call for artists for an exhibition titled Soft (see what I did there?) which will be shown at The Mill from the 21st June 'til the 15th July. The exhibition will be a collaborative effort between The Mill and Signficant Seams, where I am currently intern for the Neighbourly Quilt project.

In last year's E17 Art Trail, Significant Seams exhibited a Neighbourhood Quilt. E17 residents were invited to add a gold thumbprint indicating where they lived on this quilted map of Walthamstow. The quilt was then exhibited at The Mill.

The Neighbourhood Quilt


For this year's Art Trail we are asking Walthamstow residents to contribute a patch which celebrates what they love about Walthamstow, or what makes good neighbours; hence, the Neighbourly Quilt.

My patch for the Neighbourly Quilt


With my patch, I decided to celebrate both Walthamstow's green spaces and the (oft-mentioned on this blog) arts and crafts pioneer William Morris, who was born in Walthamstow.

I embroidered Morris' motto "Art lasts, life is short" on to an appliqued pollarded beech tree. In the Walthamstow woodland area of Epping Forest these ancient trees are numerous, and many are carved with graffiti stretching back over a number of years. I embroidered the motto as if it was etched into the tree's bark with a knife. This was my first go at applique and gave me a chance to try out blanket stitch and couching. The dark green hearts of the background fabric are the same colour as Waltham Forest's logo, and (I feel) add just the right amount of twee.

As completed patches come in, they are beginning to reflect the diversity of Walthamstow. Each portrays an individual narrative, which when sewn together as the quilt will tell a bigger story of our town.


My friend Lucy working on her patch

If you're a Waltham Forest based textile artist, working in any soft medium, watch this space for details of how to submit work for Soft.

A post on my new project, On Being Soft, to follow.




Work for Sale

Phew, it's been a busy couple of months! A proper update to follow, but first (although I realise it may be a little late to post this) I will be selling some of the pieces from The Cure for Love at:




Through the talented, enterprising, generally rather wonderful lady who runs Significant Seams.


That's in Wood Street Indoor Market, Walthamstow, (London), this Saturday, from 10am - 5:30pm.


Check out the Market's website; it's going to be quite the day!