I had an email this morning from a textile arts friend, mentioning something I’d never heard of before – ‘slow stitch’ and ‘slow cloth’ (and as we all know, ‘cloth’ is a reverent term for ‘fabric’ or as we say in Aus – ‘material’) ‘Cloth’ implies something has beeen done to the fabric to give it a whole new meaning, which I won’t go into here – but that’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek observation, just in case you don’t know me well enough to hear me speaking between the lines, and I digress.
Since the mid ’70’s I have stitched and studied the art of the stitch, having an exhibiting life as a creative embroiderer years before I found myself in the world of quilted textiles. In all that time I had never come across this term, so of course I googled it. To my delight but some amazement, I found there’s a whole new generation out there discovering the joys and expressive potential of the hand made stitch and in particular the most basic stitch of all, the running stitch. It’s been around for ever, long and short, in thick and thin thread, string, leather thonging, cord and more, and of course we all know it as the stitch most used in hand quilting. It appears in countless ethnic embroideries around the world, as both outline amd filler.
Above is a pic of one of the small samples I did in a workshop, “The Expressive Stitch’, taught by Canadian artist Dorothy Caldwell in Western Australia, more than 4 years back. Let me tell you there’s a few hours’ work, perhaps 6 – in that little 6” square piece and I’m no slouch with the needle. We each designed motifs from our own individual lives while we learned about the needleworked / embroidered cloth pieces, Kantha, that Indian women in the Bihar region have traditionally made, and which now regularly find their way to collectors in the western world. Down the years I have seen some very old textiles and fragments in museums – most memorable being a fragment of layered brown (dirty?) felt, hand quilted with linen thread in a cross hatch/diamond pattern. From the outer Mongolian steppe, and dated around 400AD it was most likely padding that went between horse and saddle.
The hand made stitch has been gathering favour in contemporary fibre art for some years now. But what felt new to me was the near evangelical fervour I detected in the bloggings of several recent converts to the expressive, therapeutic, relaxing and calming effects of hand stitch. Of course, the traditional quiltmakers and embroiderers have always known of these qualities, but now it seems that some ‘art quilters’ are tiring of frenetic zooming all over cloth with fancy computerised speed regulated machines, and responding instead to the slower pace of hand stitchery with it’s minor imperfections … if you wait around long enough, most things come back into fashi0n again, in some form or other :-p