Our first Stitching Together network event went really well. We welcomed a group of 13 researchers (including ourselves) to our Case Study Workshop at the wonderful Clayhill Arts in Somerset. Over two intense days we all had a chance to ‘taste’ a variety of participatory textile making workshops. Lynn Setterington introduced us to Suffolk puffs, emphasising the importance of easy-to-access materials and techniques when working with large groups of people with diverse experience and skill levels. Sarah Desmarais gave a taster of katazome rice paste resist printing and indigo dyeing, drawing attention to the potentiality of grappling with the trickiness of materials. Marion Lean asked us to creatively imagine the descriptive and expressive qualities of materials to translate otherwise abstract and dry data.
Emma Shercliff challenged us to think about our assumptions around skilled work and aesthetic judgements. Rebecca Collins encouraged us to dwell on moments of everyday humanity through mending. Alison Mayne peeled back the digital universe to reveal a different set of human imperatives within the shared online crafting communities. Stephanie Bunn reminded us of the very absorbing fundamental physical and intellectual achievements of making string.
Janet van der Linden also reminded us of this but through the basic structures of weaving warp and weft, stretching us into the digital world of sensory responsive, sonic e-Textiles. Music also held its place in Sarah Green’s workshop, creating a space for creative and stitched acts of self-repair. Fiona Hackney and Katie Hill, also keen to build long lasting positive impacts in people’s lives, encouraged us to explore how stitching interventions on clothing can stimulate changes to consumption habits. All the way through the two days, Amy Twigger Holroyd’s wonderfully self-managing knitting circle grew and grew, offering a welcome reflective pit-stop for all of us either between sessions or at the end of the day.
Our initial round of discussions structured around three key themes: planning, experience and outcomes. Each workshop group proved to be a powerhouse of thinking! Check out our wall of post-it notes…
But, we didn’t think of everything. Nicola Thomas, one of our ‘critical friends’, helped point out gaps in our discussions. No-one had yet placed any thoughts about the analysis of all this rich information gathered through workshop methods. And what was the place of theory? What happens when things go wrong? These, amongst other thorny questions, went on to form the basis of our final group discussions. We now have several sheets of A1 paper full of notes, as well as our wall of post-it notes, to work through in preparation for our second event: the Critical Reflection Workshop.
Of course, the limitations of the group, time and location couldn’t reflect the original contexts of all these research activities, but nevertheless, getting stuck in to the hands-on making and thinking processes gave us a much closer insight into the benefits and difficulties of these approaches than simply talking about them might have done. Most importantly for me, as we start to draw threads together for analysis, is to keep sight of the nuanced differences between each workshop activity. Yes, there are challenges shared by us all, such as negotiating the varied roles played in situ by the researcher, and yes, there are benefits common to all, such as the rich, granular detail of conversations shared by participants whilst sat closely together stitching or knitting. But in my view, we mustn’t flatten out the diversity in favour of the commonalities. More on this later…..