This case study, which explores a participatory textile making project, is written by Connie Flynn. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.
Title of case study project or workshop
Stitching Our Stories
Name(s) of practitioner(s) and institution/organisation, if any
Connie Flynn, Artist and Rachel Ridealgh, Community Librarian for Local Studies, Norfolk Library and Information Service.
Context for project
Stitching Our Stories is an independent socially engaged, participatory textile making arts project which was based on reports of domestic abuse and street harassment which increased significantly during the Coronavirus pandemic. A starting point for research was Norfolk Heritage Centre’s collection, especially local campaigns over the past fifty years demanding an end to violence against women. This project was funded by Arts Council England.
When did the project take place?
The workshops took place in person and/or by zoom in October 2021 and the textile banner went on to tour Norfolk Libraries in 2021/2022.
Background(s) of the practitioner(s)
Connie Flynn is a multi-skilled Artist who has exhibited widely since 1992 in a variety of gallery and museum contexts, both national and internationally. She has a B.A. (Hons) Art & Education, Post Grad in Art Therapy and a B.A. (Hons) Contemporary Textiles. Connie has much experience of working within the community, creatively engaging people of all ages and abilities.
Aims of project
Stitching Our Stories project has two aims, firstly for the participants to feel supported, to connect with each other, connect with culture, heritage and art, and feel that they are part of a shared women’s history and secondly for libraries to become places for open and honest discussion about gender-based violence is encouraged.
Description of project
A group of 25 women in Norfolk worked with Artist Connie Flynn and Community Librarian Rachel Ridealgh, they met in-person and via zoom for three sessions. The sessions included looking at local women’s history in the archive, introducing hand stitching techniques and thoughts on individual’s statements to be included on the candles, as a way of sharing a thought, experience or sending a message. After stitch demonstrations the women worked on motifs of flowers and candles. The flowers and candles were chosen as symbols, as they were often brought and left at vigils. The banner colours used were similar to the Suffragette’s palette – purple for freedom, white being purity and green for hope. Once complete the motifs were applied to a larger textile banner, constructed by Artist Connie Flynn. The banner will tour Norfolk Libraries to form a focal point for discussion.
Why did you choose to work in this way?
I have facilitated many projects, the Stitching Our Stories project had a tight turn around, for the banner launch event coincided with the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25th Nov 2021. Due to the pandemic we had to plan for another possible lockdown, so this dictated the time factor and whether to work in person and/or zoom or all by zoom if lockdown happened. This meant a certain amount of structure to move the project forward.
The arts are a very strong tool to work through and focus on a chosen subject or experience, giving a voice to an individual when sometimes words cannot be found or spoken. By choosing to attend the sessions with others and working on a participatory textile making collaborative project, can sometimes lead to a sense of not feeling alone, hence strength can be found in a shared experience.
What did you learn from the project?
Stitching Our Stories project has many threads – socially engaging, educational and therapeutic. The subject of violence against women is a complex one, it felt important to work on this project as a way of offering a space to make textiles, connecting with others and bringing an awareness to the subject. The individuals appeared to find their own way in being part of the group. The evaluation feedback forms returned with women writing about feeling safe and empowered as well as requesting more or longer session which showed they valued the project and there is a need for it.
Comments from some of the project participants
“As a domestic violence survivor I felt it was very important to attend something like this. Making something tangible felt empowering.’’
“I felt part of something – a group, women, history.’’
“I took part in the project as a means of connecting with other women and learning new skills and also as a therapeutic way of dealing with being a recent victim of harassment and at times feeling let down by police during the prosecution process.’’