Slow Stitching and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined as:

the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; being fully aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and your surrounding environment. It also involves acceptance, meaning that you pay attention without judging, for instance, without believing that there's a "right" or "wrong" way in a given moment.

Despite the fact that slowly constructed textiles and other slow crafts offer its maker the time to consider the act of what they're doing and consequently how to progress, creating something that may require a repetitive motion can induce a state of mindfulness, where the act of doing increases skill and therefore the disassociation between your mind and body - quite the juxtaposition.

There are countless reasons why slow craft and slow stitching have come to the forefront of knit and stitch groups; it is ancestral to sit in a group and make or mend. For exchange of knowledge, for the upkeep of spirit when something is monotonous, for the sharing of resources including electricity... With the act of darning and mending, it is the need to recycle, the need to preserve your everyday heirlooms and, the excitement and satisfaction that comes with making things better again.

Boro Exhibition - Somerset House


We all understand the necessity for patching up clothing that has been so loved and is now so moth eaten, whilst the history of Japanese Boro shows the joy in creating something from others' scraps in a patchwork manner. These two approaches to upcycling are mindful on resources and also mindful of resources - they see the beauty in the material itself and hope to preserve what it represents. For instance, taking your grandparent's linen apart to create a quilt, or patching it up again so that it can be continued to be used, can be a way of respecting the item itself and of respecting your grandparent's lives.


Linen repair


Along with stitching for preservation and functionality, there is also stitching for the sake of it. There is a physiological need humans have to feel satisfied - it's comforting, it increases our well-being, it shows that we're skilled... There isn't a time when we don't find ourselves whetting our appetite on Pinterest for inspirational stitches and crafting, and as much as we would like to recreate it, we know that handwork involves personality as much as skill.

There is a project going on at the moment called Needless Post - the chain letters of the 21st Century. At the culmination of the project, there will be 25 pieces of embroidery that 3 people will have each worked on, each piece of cloth injected with the chain person's own aesthetic, resources and personality. We find the collaborative spirit enticing and enjoy the fact that each stitch adds to the cloth's story, in a similar vein to mending and Boro.


Needless Post Steph's Round 2 of the Needless Post, almost ready to be posted to it's third chain


Richard McVetis, a teacher here at our Sewing School, is a meticulous hand-stitcher. His art pieces are nothing more than awe-inspiring. He lays out before each class the new pieces of stitching that he's working on and it is as if we're having a private exhibition, for nothing matters but the piece itself and the fact that Richard is telling us the amount of time it took to create. For Richard, it's probably a little bit of a respite from his day job - "same for me", we hear you cry.


Richard McVetis Richard McVetis - '5 o'clock shadow'


Frances Burden, another teacher of ours, again does her blackwork embroidery on the side. Both Fran and Richard use simple stitches in their work and so the act of repetition could be monotonous (especially when working on a large-scale as they often do), yet it offers delight upon finishing a segment or whole of the piece, and consequently, the process could even be regarded as having a function, being that it takes them away from the possible monotony of day work into something that is reflexive - an inherent movement. In fact, Fran's first solo show 'Against Idleness' investigated usefulness and functionality within the convergence of fine art and craft practices.


Fran Burden blackwork Fran Burden's blackwork sampler


Then on the other hand, when it comes to actual functionality within craft practice, we go to Celia Pym who runs workshops in mending and darning after the exploratory projects conceived during her MA at the RCA. The act of mending is purposeful, more so than stitching for the sake of stitching, and yet, say you mended a hand-me-down tea towel, would the function of the object become more imbued with emotion and so transcend the fine art-functionality debate anyway... Is it only craft when it has a physical and functional purpose, or is it craft when the function of the object is emotional too?


Celia Pym Norwegian Sweater - in progress Celia's Norwegian Sweater in the process of darning


Celia Pym Norwegian Sweater - completed Celia's completed darned wool Norwegian sweater


We make because we can, or we make because we need to. Slow stitching offers a way to explore the possibilities of what our hands can do with moments for pause and reflection. It offers the viewer a chance to see the progress and ability to conceive the amount of human effort that went into it. There is no doubt that stitching is good for the soul - whether it is for function or purely for fun, it has its purpose.


Tom of Holland mending article in Uppercase 24 Tom of Holland mending article in Uppercase 24


If you're new to hand-stitching, or even if you possess handwork skills already, we have courses here at Ray Stitch that will open you up in body and soul. They offer you the chance to learn something new, spend some time with like-minded people sharing stories, and ultimately be inspired to inject your personality onto cloth.

Check out our upcoming hand-embroidery classes on our website. Currently, we have dates set for:

Celia Pym all-day darning on Sunday 10th May, / Richard McVetis two-session workshop starting Friday 15th May / Julie Arkell brooch-making workshop on Saturday 23rd May and Sunday 27th September / Nancy Nicholson all-day hand-stitch and embroidery on Sunday 31st May


Words by Steph.