This case study, which explores a participatory textile making research project, is written by Giuseppina Santoro. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.
Title of case study project or workshop
Web of Love – Strega Figia
Name(s) of researcher(s) and university affiliation, if any
Giuseppina Santoro – Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge
Context for research
PhD. The main theme of my practice-based research is to bring to light the views and frustrations of second-generation Sicilian/Italian women living within today’s culture in the UK. Questions about how these experiences aﬀect my life began as the main influence.
When did the research take place?
Disciplinary background(s) of the researcher(s)
Aims of research
The research aims include reclaiming my culture and identity using traditional folk art crafts to create contemporary art. My experiences of displacement here in the UK are communicated by looking at cultural elements of myself through Sicilian folkloristic avenues such as: cooking, food, rituals/practices and behaviours in spaces/places in the home. I am a mother of three who is constantly challenged by my many roles e.g. mother/daughter/artist/lover…
Description of research method
Over the course of a year, I spent many helpless hours at my mother’s bedside praying for her recovery. Alongside those prayers (recited in Italian in the hope that she would hear me) were thoughts and questions around the reality that she may leave me forever.
The crochet piece was made alongside thinking good intentions, like a spell. The blanket is the physical manifestation of this. The stitching solidifies the thoughts. The thoughts are written down with the artwork piece:
“Remember to plant a bayleaf bush for prosperity, thornless roses for love and a rosemary bush by the front door of your home to protect it and all those who dwell there. Each stitch I crotchet in my web of love is for you and because of you.”
Why did you choose to use this method?
“Jesus was saved by spider webs” she used to tell me as a child. So, in an attempt to protect her from harm and prepare her (and myself) for the possibility of her death, I began to crotchet a web with animus thoughts intertwined. Positive, loving thoughts (animus) is what drives the piece of crochet. My upbringing included a lot of healing arts practiced by the women in my family. It was my natural response to return the care that I had always received and to try to protect my mamma from any bad forces that may fall upon her at this critical time. The practices are tied up in many types of folk art practices (stitching, embroidery, crochet and cooking) and were/are often made and carried out together. The making of household items, clothes etc. is very much a social event among female family and friends and is part of everyday household chores.
What did you learn from the research process?
The process was time spent together: stitching together, praying together. I learnt that the presence of another whilst creating was enough to change my thinking. It was a long, bitter-sweet process.
The thinking behind this artwork was to create a kind of spell. To make something, an object, that I could leave on my mamma when I left the room, and that would continuously repeat the intention for her when I wasn’t with her in the care home. The ritual I created is a take on my cultural rituals practiced at home. Healing arts/ witchcraft are often misunderstood and can be associated with evil and negativity. This is the opposite of that. Only positive thoughts were embedded in this work.
Mamma and I often made things in the home together. My husband bought my first sewing machine for my birthday when we married in 1996. Before that I had used Mamma’s or Nonna’s sewing machine to sew. Mamma baked bread daily, so I made her cotton bread bags to cover the loaves once baked and cooling. I made new cushion seat covers for her favourite old sofa and also for her outdoor garden swing seat.
While I was working on the crochet intention blanket, I would take breaks and share with mamma what I was doing. There was an occasional response and she would smile or squeeze my hand. We were definitely making this together.
It was our final piece.
The power of being close enough to almost feel her thoughts. She communicated only with little breaths of acknowledgment. I spoke, she listened and squeezed my hand. I covered her with the blanket when I left for the day. I continued when I returned.
My grandmother’s crochet mainly springs to mind as a starting point. The women in my family work on embroidered tablecloths, pillowcases and bedding all prepared as part of their dowry goods that a wife brings to her husband at marriage.
My practice is informed by Miriam Schapiro’s ‘Femmages’ (1971 – 1985) and women’s textile works connected to the home and domestic space. Some of the works that informed this particular piece include: Greta Bratescu ‘Traveller’ (1971) and the often tragic cell pieces of Louise Bourgeois (1989), together with the uncanny artworks of Carol Rama, such as ‘space even more than time’ (2017).