Sunday, 4 May 2008
Last friday, amid all the London mayoral election shenanigans, I had the great pleasure of meeting some of the members of the New Embroidery Group. The New Embroidery Group was founded in 1967 by the late Ione Dorrington and was supported and inspired by their first president Constance Howard MBE. So, it was particularly apt that we met at the Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles at Goldsmiths.
The idea for the meeting was to find out if any of the group's members would be interested in taking part in the Sampler project, and for me to find out more about their work. I have to admit that I was slightly nervous about presenting the idea to the group. I didn't know whether they'd think the whole thing was just bizarre, and run a mile.
Anyway, I'm pleased to report that they didn't run...and we had a really interesting and lively morning discussing embroidery, music and sampling. The more we discussed the shared language and the processes involved in both art forms, it was great to see the group start to make those connections. We looked at a selection of textile samplers and other pieces of embroidery from the Centre's collection, which led to a fantastic discussion about the techniques and stitches used. It was at this point that I started to fully realise the high level of expertise and obvious passion for embroidery within the group.
The group then showed, and talked about, some of their own work - the inspiration behind the pieces and some of the techniques used to create them. This is one of the things I love most about textiles, when people start to talk about work, when they can handle the pieces - turn them over, look at how they've been made and share their knowledge, inspiration and ideas.
Over lunch, we listened to a selection of music the group had brought with them. I'd asked them to bring along one of their favourite pieces of music. This ranged from opera (Maria Callas), choral (Magnificat by Giovanni Batista Pergolesi), and a clarinet concerto (Finzi) to Rhapsody in Blue - Gershwin, cuban (Buena Vista Social Club) and Amira - a female Bosnian singer I hadn't heard of before. I'm not a classical music head, so it's great for me to be taken out of my comfort zone and be challenged to listen to new stuff. If you click on the names above it links to musical extracts from each piece or artist(s).
Music clearly plays a significant part in each of the embroiderer's lives. All of them talked about listening to music when they were stitching, and a couple were singers. As the music played we sat and chatted about why they'd chosen each piece - which led to discussions about the ryhthms, dancing, the love of a particular instrument, a particular singer's voice, the communal activity of singing in groups and the power of choral music, the ability of music to transport you to other places, to help you to relax or to invigorate you, and the links between sound and colour.
We were hoping to start sewing during the day, but sadly we ran out of time. The group left with embroidery hoops, dj imagery, threads and a square piece of linen with which to design and embroider a Sampler logo for the project. I'm hoping they'll all take up the challenge and I'm looking forward to seeing the results.
A huge thank you to Jackie, Liz, Pat, Gillian, Kate, Kathy, Janice and in particular Liz Ashurst, for all sparing the time to travel over to New Cross and for their interest in the project. It was great to meet everyone.
And last but by no means least a huge thank you to Jan, Margaret, Julie and Janis at the CHRRC for all their work helping me to prepare and deliver the session and to Srdjana for helping to film the event. I'll post some clips when I've had a chance to edit the recordings.
I wait with baited breath to see if any of the group take up the challenge of participating in the project. I really hope some of them will get involved.
If you'd like to find out more about the New Embroidery Group, please click on their link in the collaborators section of my blog.