At a snail's pace


"Slow and steady wins the race" is an adage my mother is fond of quoting to me when I am bemoaning just how long it is taking to move things forward. Never is this more apt than with needlework; as a family we recently got 'round to watching Fabric of Britain, and in the embroidery edition of the series (which featured a certain Royal School) learned that it can take six hours to embroider just two tiny cheeks of a face in split stitch. This makes my progress with my Canvas Stitches coral garden look positively speedy!

Jacquard Stitch on my Canvas Stitches coral garden piece


I have never been good at sharing works in progress, whether in the contexts of work, academia, or on this blog. It must be the perfectionist in me. Right now, though, I only have works in progress to show. This feels fitting; it seems like my life is a work in progress right now, moving forward, though in no way speedily. Slowly, slowly, at a snail's pace, I am learning technique, and I am learning so much about myself. Learning what makes me happy and keeps me healthy. This new experience is an education, in every sense of the word.






Although it's tough, sometimes even mentally and physically exhausting, I am enjoying every stitch.

Perhaps all this is why snails have appeared so often in my artwork over the years; from my oh-so-"conceptual" GCSE art project in which a colourful character hid their light under a bushel (or more accurately, inside a box covered with snail shells) within a colourful inner sanctum that was literally bubblewrapped from the outside world;













...to Dale the Snail (not my choice of name!) who takes pride of place in the Jacobean Crewel Work I (finally!) completed for my RSN course (still needs to be mounted, though).



Or perhaps I simply like snails... the way they carry their homes around with them, their dual timidity and curiosity at the world, and if you want to get really "Dartington", how they leave a trace of their existence behind wherever they go.

I'm learning other ways of taking better care of myself in addition to endless meditative stitching; learning to be thankful for all the wonderful people and experiences in my life, reading the work of my favourite writers, surrounding myself with art that makes me feel good. That includes the art of my contemporaries, for example the wonderful Hannah Hill, a young artist and good friend of whom I expect great things (and who is already making great things happen!) This piece in particular has been a great comfort of late; the text is taken from a piece by another young Tumblr artist, Eryn (of the blog "botanicalmovement"):

Hannah has really made Eryn's words come alive

I am, as ever at this time of year, trying to look for the little things that make winter wonderful, when it is such a difficult time for people like me, who have a tendency towards depression. So I felt I'd stumbled on a literary, stitchery, wintry goldmine when I came across this cross stitched Annie Dillard quotation by Jessica Kelly on Flickr:


Dillard is definitely a writer I'll have to do some investigating into pretty imminently.

All these wise stitched words have spurned me into stitching some of my own; I've written a wry little manifesto for myself moving forward:
  • Being a damsel in distress went out with wimples; be your own hero
  • Red lipstick wasn't rationed for a reason; it's a shell to fling at the world, a suit of armour
  • Playing the invalid invalidates you; heal yourself
  • What to look for in winter; fungus, ferns, frost; two bodies under a blanket; a warm dog sat in your lap
  • Remember you're a milk thistle; unlily your liver
  • Shout boo at every hissing goose to cross your path
I am picking away at embroidering the manifesto (tentatively titled "The Tentative Manifesto of a Big Girl's Blouse"... I wonder why?) and practising my split stitch while I'm at it. Picking it up after a hard day's stitching homework and returning to sewing as a form of therapy, which is so important for me.




I've also made the decision to re-open my Etsy shop. The time feels right, when I am so full of enthusiasm for the future. When these two little fellas have been transformed into rosettes, I will be putting them up for sale alongside framed embroidered art from The Cure for Love and other projects, and a few vintage garments I'm very excited to share with you all.


When the time comes I will post all the pertinent information and links here on the Poesie Grenadine blog. Until then, I'll be stitching!


An interview on the origins of Poesie Grenadine

Recently I've been contacted by a number of different students wanting to interview me on my practice as it relates to feminism, writing, and fashion. It's a real pleasure to answer their questions (not to mention immensely flattering!), and it wasn't very long ago at all that I was bothering artists Joetta Maue and Iviva Olenick with a plethora of nosy questions for my own projects.

This interview was with a fashion journalism student who is creating a literary magazine which focuses on the marriage between poetry and fashion. I'm very excited to see the finished publication.

What came first - your love for writing or your love for sewing?

Writing came first for me. I struggled with literacy at school, but after receiving my first "proper book" (with chapters!), Horse Pie by Dick King Smith, in my stocking, one Christmas when I was seven or eight, it was like turning on a tap; the writing just poured out of me.


When did you start doing each?  Why?

With the writing, the more I put in, (in the form of novels, poetry, non-fiction, plays) the more continued to pour out of me; this continued from the Horse Pie incident and hasn't really stopped, although my writing is a lot more pared down and concise now, as it often has to be embroidered, and embroidery is a very time-consuming medium! Aside from GCSE Textiles, when I embroidered a dress I'd hand printed with unfurling fern designs, I began embroidering in earnest after a very debilitating period of mental illness three years ago, as both an occupation and a form of therapy; I found the meditative, repetitive process soothing; perhaps I was stitching my ego back together again. Occupational or art therapy, if you will!

Are there any themes (in your writing and sewing) that you constantly use in your work?

As the above may hint at, I'm particularly concerned with public (mis?)conceptions of mental illness, notions of romance (and romantic notions), pop fem(me)inism, flora and fauna, the tortured artist cliche, sickness and recovery, the English national psyche, and art which is soft, twee, delicate or "girly" as a foil to darker subtexts.



Where do you get your inspiration from?

The online embroidery and feminist art communities are a constant source of inspiration and support, and I am very grateful to them, and to the web for making them so accessible. I try to take in as many exhibitions as financially possible, and, as it did in my formative years, my reading material continues to inspire me in wonderful ways. Being in nature is, in my opinion, also really important for the creative process, and helps me breathe.


What's your creative process like?  I.e. Do you find yourself writing first and then applying that to your stitch work?

The seed of an idea for an embroidery often begins as a scribble in a notebook, or, more often than not, as a note saved in my phone! There's always rather a lot of writing and planning done before I "commit to cloth". Documentation and reflection is a very important part of my creative process, and I do this by blogging over at http://poesiegrenadine.blogspot.co.uk


What is the significance of words on clothes/accessories for everyone to read?

Words on clothing will always make a statement about the reader to passersby or the general public. Why else do people buy branded clothing than to broadcast their affluence and sophistication to the world? Similarly, my brooches convey pride in oneself and allegiance to a feminist (or femme) cause; a pride in one's womanhood.




So far, which item that you've sewn has been your personal favourite?  Why?


 It's very difficult to pick an absolute favourite embroidery I've sewn; of the embroidered accessories I've created, my "Thunder Thighs Are Go" heart shaped brooch, with its play on the Thunderbirds catchphrase and body positivity, has proved a firm favourite with the Tumblr crowd and is a favourite of mine too (I may have to make myself one to keep!). I'm also rather fond of my Stitch Witches rosettes, created for my collaborative project Stitch Witches, which is soon to culminate in a zine celebrating contemporary and subversive stitch craft, curated and created by an embroidering girl gang of two.

CUSTOMISABLE Stitch Witches Rosette


Is there one in particular you believe to be most powerful?  If so, why is it?

People have really embraced "Thunder Thighs Are Go" as their own phrase to celebrate their bodies, and I'm moderately proud of that. I think that makes it quite powerful. Some of my embroideries on the subject of mental health, created in bitter and knowing irony, have been taken literally and reclaimed as a badge of honour, and I think either taken in this reading or in the spirit they were originally intended, they are powerful statements of defiance.



Describe some of the word play you use. 

My work is always underpinned by the written word, whether that be by beautiful etymologies, dreadful puns, or linguistic philosophy (though it is a little heavy on the puns!)

Currently, how many different projects do you have going on?
 
I'm currently taking a break from my most ambitious project yet; a hand made quilt on the subject of the stars and fortune telling, based around my character Polly Kettle, an occult siren. Whilst I'm ruminating on that, I've embarked on a blackwork series of turn of the century childrens' book illustrations. I'm also working towards bringing out the first issue of Stitch Witches zine with my collaborator Hannah Hill (http://hanecdote.tumblr.com/)

When you created your first piece, what were the reactions like from other people?

The people to see my first piece of embroidery were my parents, and I think they were tickled by the playful wordplay and clumsy stitches! Considering how amateurish it is, it's received a surprising amount of attention on Flickr.



What are your hopes for your creations in the future?

This September I will be starting the tutor training course at the Royal School of Needlework in Hampton Court Palace, to learn, practice and teach hand embroidery to the highest possible level. In addition to and because of this, I would hope to exhibit my work more widely, and expand my practice of participatory performance embroidery workshops, social events where I use embroidery as a tool to open up conversation on a theme in a fun and performative setting.

By the way, where did the name Poesie Grenadine come from? 

Poesie Grenadine is a French phrase which translates roughly (and very broken-ly) as "purple prose". As much of my earliest embroidery arose out of re-workings of terrible teenage love poetry, it seemed most apt. I'm also somewhat of a florid, pinkish person, so it's suitable in that way too!