Saturday, 13 October 2012

Stitch Up

On Thursday, my friend and collaborative partner Hannah and I squeezed in a quick visit to the Knitting and Stitching Show around college/internship schedules.

And my, were we glad we did! The amount of inspiration and (mostly glittery) goodies garnered was well worth the trek over to Ally Pally.

When we arrived at the overwhelmingly huge event, we were greeted by the sight of what could be best described as an old-fashioned circus fortune teller tent:

This, we learned, was The Unfinishable, a rather conceptual stitched sculpture. The tent was composed entirely of unfinished pieces of textile craft; half-woven rugs, partially embroidered samplers, even a somewhat-knitted single glove.

Beyond the mishmash patchwork curtains was a womb-like inner chamber where the sounds of clicking scissors and crafty chatter could be heard, and a brocade bench encircled a central pillar adorned with embroidery hoops, scissors, and fringing in golden tones:

I couldn't resist asking Hannah to snap me inside the tent, resplendent in my embroidery sampler-print dress worn specially for the occasion!

Outside The Unfinishable, but inside one of Ally Pally's many exhibition halls, we encountered the first exhibit; Mining A Golden Seam (gold was to be a recurrent theme of the show, and of my subsequent purchases!)

Participants in this exhibit had chosen everything from treasured family memories to Britain's coal mining heritage as their subject matter.

Next up on our whirlwind tour was the Mr X Stitch exhibit. This was a surreal experience, for me, at least; I'd spoken to Mr X Stitch (aka Jamie) via email, but this was my first time meeting the online embroidery community's kingpin in person. His stand was masterfully curated, which was no less than I would expect from Jamie!

This piece was by multi-talented artist Penny Nickels. Both the embroidery and lace border was created by Penny herself. The piece reads "Women Rise Up" in U.S. Sign Language.

A segment of the show which was of particular interest to me was the Royal School of Needlework's exhibit.

I found it almost unbelievable that human beings, and not machines, produced this needlework, particularly the whitework below:

I will definitely be looking into taking a course at the Royal School.

The darkest exhibit we saw had an Alice In Wonderland theme, which is arguably quite a dark theme to begin with! It was made even more so through the incorporation of bones and voodoo references into the set and costume design.

The pack of cards were bone juju dolls:

Fabric was slashed, and burnt or rusted:

The Queen of Heart's robes were adorned with bones and pins:

Bone and turquoise crowns hung from the ceiling over invisible heads:

The attention to detail and complete (re)imagining of Wonderland was astounding:

On the other side of the exhibit, the tone was slightly lighter, but no less surreal:

The place settings for the Mad Hatter's Tea Party were complete with totally impractical twisty dotty forks!

This clever exhibit cast words on the wall spun from circular drilled and threaded disks of clear plastic:

A trend I noticed at the show was pieces that played with transparency and opacity and incorporated words into their design, suspended or woven in by almost invisible gossamer threads:

One of the simplest pieces on display was this broken plate (accompanied by a broken teacup) stitched back together with gold (again!) thread:

Due to my interests, my work, and how I myself came to embroidery, I couldn't not include this piece in my review:

Simple, profound, and beautiful.

I heartily agree with the sentiment this exquisite blackwork expresses:

Alongside the blackwork were some intriguingly experimental (not to mention highly accomplished) student pieces:

Hannah's favourite piece of the show was one which was delicate in technique, but dense in concept. Named Team Spirit, the piece was an investigation into the drinking habits (and drinking culture) of young women. The piece told the narrative of a young women's passage through young adult life, chronicled in social situations involving alcohol. The piece resonated deeply with both Hannah and I.

This subject matter was executed incredibly intricately in miniscule stitches on a white cotton hand-sewn umbrella (presumably meant to represent a cocktail umbrella, or the deluge of alcohol young women are confronted with).

There was a huge amount of information and story to the piece, but it wasn't overwhelmed by this.

One of the most interesting things about the piece was the contrast between the alcohol brands, what these brands were meant to represent, and the anonymous character's private feelings and experiences:

The artist, Caren Garfen, even stitched synonyms for "drunk" into the umbrella's lace trim! 

I told you Hannah liked it!

Hannah and I will soon be releasing a zine for purchase, named Stitch Witches; an embroidering girl gang's explorations of body positivity, feminism, oddities of modern society, and vaguely occult themes! Watch this space, and "like" us on Facebook.


  1. Fantastic post! Thanks for the amazing photos and reporting!!

  2. Thank you for the nice words about my work! I wanted to clarify though, the hands are based on illustrations from a 19th century dame school text book depicting thimble exercises. The title's a bit of a joke.

    Anyway, Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the show!