Changing Lives women’s services and I have worked together on a number of projects over the last five years. These include The Partnership Quilt and The Red Umbrella Archive, but also include some writing projects such as the reports and academic papers that accompany those projects, as well as some forthcoming work related to our overall relationship.
Earlier this year, we started working on a new project: I was invited to explore the meaning craft activities have for staff and the women they support in their drop-in and group-work services. We were going to work on these through embroidery workshops and interviews, which would then be turned into an interactive exhibition. We even already had our exhibition venue sorted, as we were going to combine it with their ongoing ‘Forever in Bloom’ project led by a paper artist and one of their domestic violence services workers.
Since the UK went into lockdown about 6 weeks ago though, we paused this project. Instead, we have been working on a new idea: the Sewing Through the Pandemic project. This is a project where we invite women across the different services Changing Lives provide (eg. housing, domestic violence, criminal justice support, etc.) to sew a page of a collective diary. Together, we would develop an embroidered, collaborative, and mindful diary of the covid-19 pandemic.
As part of a regular welfare check, case workers would be able to take a toolkit to create one page of this stitched diary to a woman to complete. The purpose of this activity, is to allow us to name our emotions, engage in mindfulness practice, and build hope together.
Each pack contains: a square piece of white fabric, an embroidery needle, thread in 7 colours, and instructions. Each colour represents a different feeling or emotion. For example, yellow means ‘I feel happy and excited’ while grey means ‘I feel tired and grey’.
Every day, the women are invited to stitch a few stitches in the colour that best represents the feelings on that particular day, creating a stitched diary day by day. The women are aware that others are also working on their own pieces of fabric, and that we will come together when it is safe to do so to see each others’ work.
Throughout the time of social distancing, self isolation, and the lockdown, we will use this activity as a way of staying in touch asynchroneously; as a way to be in touch without talking to one another.
When it is safe to do so, we will host a series of events where women can come together to talk about their experiences, show their work to one another, and to turn the individual squares into a banner, quilt, or stitched notebook.
I have created a video explaining how to create the toolkit, and include a list of materials (including links of where to get them) below:
- A square of white cotton fabric: 25cm x 25cm (if you are not able to measure this out exactly, please err on the side of caution and make your square slightly bigger than this so we can cut it down to the correct size at the end of the project. I bought this: https://www.online-fabrics.co.uk/white-cotton-fabric.html if you buy 1m you can probably get 15-24 squares cut
- A sewing needle (Hand embroidery needles, size 3-9 are good because they have quite large eyes to thread them). I bought these, but they’re currently out of stock (https://www.hobbycraft.co.uk/hemline-size-3-to-9-embroidery-crewel-needles-16-pack/566985-1000). You could buy these instead: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hemline-H200-39-Embroidery-Crewel-Needles/dp/B003K7W3LY/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1M8QTQE7LXG79&dchild=1&keywords=embroidery+needles+size+3-9&qid=1587461058&sprefix=embroide%2Caps%2C148&sr=8-2 or https://www.amazon.co.uk/Colonial-Needle-Embroidery-Crewel-Needles/dp/B004KZ0TQ6/ref=sr_1_9?crid=1M8QTQE7LXG79&dchild=1&keywords=embroidery+needles+size+3-9&qid=1587461058&sprefix=embroide%2Caps%2C148&sr=8-9
- Embroidery thread in yellow, orange, red, blue, green, grey, and multicoloured. I used this pack, but it’s currently out of stock (https://www.hobbycraft.co.uk/assorted-embroidery-floss-8m-100-pack/639961-1000). There are lots of different multi-coloured packs available on amazon – you can get one of these and pick out the right colours for this project – though often they will not include a multicoloured thread; this may have to be bought separately. We’d all have slightly different shades of the colours and slightly different embroidery thread materials, but we can balance those out when we put them together towards the end of the project. Each 8m skein of thread has resulted in enough thread for 4-5 packs when I made them.
- Printed out 1-pager which is visible just below this list of instructions.
- An envelope to put all the materials into (any will do!)
Remember, if the items on my list are sold out, any other brand or online shop will do as long as you’ve got some white fabric and the right colours of embroidery thread!
If you don’t know where to start with the embroidery or are looking to learn some new stitches, the “Cutesy Craft” YouTubve channel has a series of different stitches, which they have collected in a playing list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThrKhhlaolA&list=PLVpHtgzOMJ6RHIFMboFAqerCQJI_I9DQ- (though video 2 in the list would probably be a bit much as it includes pattern transfer, which the women won’t need to do). The actual stitch videos are all very short, detailed, and well-explained, though