This case study explores a participatory textile making research project by Lindy Richardson. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.
Title of case study project or workshop
Politics in Stitch: giving prisoners and students a united voice
Name(s) of researcher(s) and university affiliation, if any
Lindy Richardson, University of Edinburgh
Context for research
Academic research project as part of national project organised by Artichoke Trust
When did the research take place?
design, embroidery, politics, sociology
Aims of research
Community outreach through collaboration. This project tested the possibilities of meaningful connection of dual, but separate activities, with diverse groups inside prison and in a University setting.
Craft for conversation. How effective is craft in facilitating the opening up of conversation around challenging subjects?
Testing textiles as a method of communication.
Description of research method
We ran identical workshops with two contrasting groups of women, i.e. a group of women prisoners in Cortonvale women’s prison, and a group of undergraduate design students in the University of Edinburgh. Each group started with discussions around topics of equality, diversity, voting rights and voting responsibility. Participants were asked to create a responsive slogan as a reaction to the discussions. These were then translated into protest badges which acted as a template for embroidery designs.
Embroidery workshops taught the participants in each group basic stitches and textile techniques and supported the groups in working up their designs as individuals but with a united focus. The final pieces were all brought together in a large banner as part of processions, where thousands of women marched across the UK celebrating 100 years of votes for women.
Why did you choose to use this method?
The workshops encouraged discussion around equality, diversity, politics and political responsibility. By providing a physical activity, that is embroidery, the participants were involved in stitching alongside the mental stimulation of ongoing discussion. Difficult and opposing viewpoints were less confrontational in this setting with a balance of physical and mental activity.
Protest banners have a long tradition in textiles, bold statement created through time consuming techniques. Content for the stitching required careful consideration and commitment. By working in groups whilst stitching the individual statements, the workshop settings facilitated ongoing discussion around the focused topics for the project.
What did you learn from the research process?
The two very different groups shared similar views and challenges in outlooks on equality and voting responsibility. The final banner created a strong visual statement communicating thought-provoking statements to a global audience, all through stitch. The banner and our groups’ activities were featured on a BBC report of the national project, as well as appearing in newspapers and on websites across the world. Prisoners’ voices were heard, students’ eyes were opened to the disenfranchised of our society, and both groups embraced the responsibilities and possibilities of political responsibility.
One prisoner watching television on the day of the march to see if they might just spot our banner in the masses immediately recognised it, resplendent in the summer sunshine, a piper dancing in front of it, with her very own piece right there, on BBC television.
“That’s oor banner. We were watching the telly and we saw oors. I knew it was going to be in the procession, but it was right at the front…and on the telly. Then the next day, the governor brought me the newspaper all laminated, with our banner, and I have got it on the wall in my room (cell).” Prisoner M
Tony Martin, deputy governor, remarked on the impact the project had on individuals: “I can assure you it probably outstripped their family’s expectations of what they would ever achieve.” And when asked about outcomes and legacy of the project, Tony Martin commented: “Very few ever thought of voting previously. I am pretty confident that when they go back to the community they will be far more likely to vote now.”
Suffragette banners from the early 20th century
Sarah Corbett and craftivism
Embroidered stories, The Needlework development scheme. Heritage lottery funded project. Working with groups including schools, prisons, refugees and migrants, the Embroiderers’ Guild and the University of Edinburgh to conserve and re-house a 70-piece collection of 17th-20th century textiles. http://embroideredstories.eca.ed.ac.uk/ / https://www.instagram.com/embroiderednds/