I had called a meeting of the Stitch and Think group who are working towards an exhibition around the idea of mending – a reminder that they had all promised to have working samples ready for early March – I was ahead of the game I had made several pieces of porcelain with mending mottoes on and was feeling pretty confident that I had done enough….then getting out of my car to go into the meeting I dropped the carrier bag containing all 4 porcelain plates. KERACK! My passenger Basil Kardasis said “Thank f… it wasn’t me who did that —– this has happened for a reason Janet”. quick thinking on his behalf but I felt strangely elated.
When I unpacked the bag of broken bits, only one plate had survived – my W H Auden poem plate – more of which later. But on seeing my pile of broken crocks the group became animated, they fell on the pieces re-arranging back into plates and all said they preferred them broken, because now I have proper mending to consider not just simulated, contrived and controlled versions. For myself I felt sick – I was so proud of those plates; then, OK – move on; then, suddenly – FREE ! I no longer felt I had to remake them in a way that would not compromise Hanne Rysgaard’s standards, Hanne had helped me make the plates and she is a stickler for skilled work. So now just my handkerchiefs with the embroidered mending mottoes will be developed for the exhibition, as the group thought they were a better idea – leaving the plates as research development. Meanwhile, jeweller Syann van Niftrik, had started to look at the way the stitching had been exposed by the break…
she photographed it saying I had given her a great idea – well it’s an ill wind. The work Syann had brought with her in response to the museum visit was a set of buttons, made in one afternoon, from various cast off metal objects from her studio. She had soldered loops onto their backs to make them useful.
But when she saw my broken plate it reminded her of the carapace of Chinese Cracker fireworks for the Chinese New Year celebrations, so she now is planning to make cages of wire in the form of the exposed linen stitches – to put together as necklaces.
The button idea has developed through a collaboration with Syann, Basil Kardasis and Dail Behennah – they have been not exactly working together on an idea for making buttons to fasten a collection of significant fabrics to fashion into a garment. Basil talked about a maxim of his father’s, who was a tailor – a decently made buttonhole was truly important – you could die if it is poorly made. Think about this.
So he has found an old sampler of how to make tailored buttonholes and and has requested us all to bring him pieces of fabric which we feel are personally significant and he will buttonhole them all together to make a sort of group portrait – I think!
Meanwhile Dail Behennah had been looking at developing her mending jewellry or rather jewellry to hide moth holes, she has been using sewing dictionaries to develop different shapes to stitch in precious metal wires. Below are her pieces base, the lower one based on the arrow head used in tailored garments to strengthen edges of pleats and pockets. The Bristol Mending Samplers have been a real source of inspiration.
Another decorative and functional mending system has been devised by Matt Benton, Matt works in several media but uses vitreous enamel for much of his work. He has made mend shaped small enamel plates with drilled holes all ready to be stitched onto a worn area of a garment.
While everyone seems to have been inspired by the mending idea, one maker hates the idea of mending anything to use again. Hanne Rysgaard, who I have been working and talking with throughout our collaboration, admitted that she thought that anything broken should be discarded, in fact she thought that using broken things was a sign of disrespect for the user – she put it very succinctly “I am worth the best things” and “broken things have lost their energy” these statements caused much argument between us, and although she can see the worth of mending for sentimental reasons (in fact I recently spent some time darning her damaged but favourite red winter scarf ) she still feels that to surround yourself with broken things is disrespectful.
So what will she make for the exhibition then? She has bought a large and beautiful wash jug and bowl which is only slightly cracked – and as I pointed out to her she would not have wanted to buy it if it at the unbroken price – but she wants to remake this, so is in the middle of casting a mold to give rebirth to a damaged but lovely object – but will she leave evidence of this break?
Other makers are embracing the idea of sewn mending wholeheartedly, Jess Turrell,a jeweller and enameller has mended broken crockery by stitching linen covers and it looks like she may cover a whole tea set! This spoon is useless now and she calls it “inappropriate mending”
the cups and saucers have become un-useable but several of the group thought they had attained another aesthetic value…oops the slippery slope of the values of art v craft emerge…….moving swiftly on, all the stitchers were impressed by her precise work in fabric, she has an instinctive feel for elegant making with disparate materials.
As does Jilly Morris who is an applied artist working across a variety of materials, but here is researching the idea of skin which, for humans, is the area most often in need of mending. She also looked at sticking plasters – below she has pinned them into position onto a sheet of tracing paper liking the translucency akin to areas of our skin.
Playing with the idea of the transparent papers she is was advised by most of the textile makers to move towards making her mending ideas in fine animal skins, parchments, seudes and kid leathers which we have given her to play with.
Two makers are using this project to develop areas for their advanced degree studies and both have stayed close to their own materials. Steph Wooster is a knitter and designer, undergoing an MA by Research at UWE Bristol, she showed us some large pieces of patchworks that have been based on the use of straight- jackets
I won’t go into the details but she has developed the fabrics while researching at a local hospital’s archives; she found the jackets were copiously mended through constant use. Controversially for the group, she thinks that one overlooked benefit in the use of the straight jackets is that the patient has to hug him/herself…………..and that before the use of these garments the patients were chained in cellars. However this has lead to the sampling of some sumptuous fabrics
Dawn Mason is studying part time for her Ph.D by Practice, she is course leadr in Drawing and Applied Ats at UWE. and she has used the old making manuals to develop pieced papers which are darned, patched and stitched together. She talked of feeling a sense of loss for the present society’s skill base when looking at the original mending samplers. she is currently researching gauntlet making out of the papers she is stitching together, so maybe a move into 3 dimensions is developing.
Whatever else is thought of in the old practices of mending it certainly is proving a rich research area for all these different makers, The group has truly become more than the sum of its parts, we were all fascinated by the different aspects each maker had discovered for them selves and the truths we had to uncover to start to explain our thinking behind the making.