(Written by Alexandra Jordan)
Saturday 14th October
This was the first day of the project! It was amazing to see we already had trees waiting to be put up that had been posted ahead of the launch.
Most of my day was spent explaining and discussing the project with members of the public. Observing how people have been engaging with the growing collection of trees has been intriguing and has led to us keeping the tags with people’s names and information about their tree attached to the background fabric as well as the tree.
It was also lovely to see a school’s contribution and quite a few young children who engaged with the exhibition knew the children involved. This not only encouraged them to take part in the exercise themselves but also continue conversations about trees and our message about refugees.
I noticed that at least 50% of the children that wanted to stitch trees were boys which I thought was brilliant. Seeing as textiles is stereotypically seen as a woman’s craft, it was encouraging to see this stereotype does not apply in the younger generation. Over the course of the day I observed that most families would sit and do a drawing and discuss the project but then take home packs to finish the process at home.
This was also the evening of the private launch which was a well-attended event! It was lovely meet members of the Young Embroiders Guild and I helped a few with their stitching. Moving around the room it was amazing to see so many people coming together and discussing such an important issue. Alice gave a short speech about her inspirations and motivations behind the project and her hopes for the growth of the project. She also mentioned her solo exhibition in the library to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the installation of her colossal piece in the Discovery Centre and also mentioned her “In Conversation with…” talk at the end of November.
Saturday 21st October
This weekend has brought about some amazing conversations concerning refugees and refugee situations with the general public. One in particular was with a gentleman who talked about his local church community in Chandler’s Ford renovating and renting out a property for a family of six refugees. The idea is when this family is ready to move on this home will be used by another refugee family.
An interesting meeting was with an Albanian lady who was a seamstress but hadn’t sewn by hand for over 10 years. Another lady came in to stitch a tree and discussed the difference between feeling sympathy and feeling empathy for displaced people. She also mentioned she would be returning with her two grandchildren to get them stitching!
Saturday 28th October
The first people in today were a young girl and her mum who did drawings and then took a pack home to stitch with her grandma. Later on, in the day a lady came in and wanted packs to take away as her five grandchildren come to her house every Sunday for tea and she thought it would be a nice exercise for them to do.
This lady went on to talk about how she set up the Wessex Quilters group with a friend who now lives in Wales. This other founder had recently undertaken a project where she researched all the names on a war memorial, sometimes in so much detail she managed to contact the families. She then did a presentation about each individual to her church group. Her idea was that they were more than just a name on a wall and she wanted to show that. We discussed that that refugees are more than the label ‘refugees’, they are people – just like those names on the war memorial. For this reason, the lady I was speaking to felt her friend would be extremely interested in the Stitch a Tree Project.
A woman came in with her daughter’s French exchange student. Our talk led to her explaining that the young girl’s parents are actually god-parents to two adopted African children that used to be refugees and now live in France.
A particularly lovely moment was when my textiles teacher from when I was in secondary school came in. Not only was it wonderful to catch up but it was lovely to see her whilst being involved in a textiles exhibition. She was actually the reason behind my inspiration to go into textiles and study it at university. During our talk, she mentioned her own inspirations for pursuing textiles; When she was 17 she saw a piece of Alice Kettle’s work that made her decide to become a textile designer making seeing Alice’s work and being involved in the tree project all that more special.
My final part of my day was spent with two lovely women who both attended the Manchester School of Art BA(Hons) Textiles in Practice degree (which I graduated from in 2016!) and graduated in 1994 – one not having stitched since then! One now lectures about fashion and the other has her own jewellery collection and works with wire and beading. They both mentioned how enjoyable it was to have a needle and thread back in their hands, reminding me of the exhibitions message of the power and nostalgia of textiles.
One of the women has two young sons who had never stitched before but were incredibly enthusiastic. One tasked himself with learning fly stitch and the other satin stitch – both with successful and beautiful results!
The more time I spend in the exhibition, the more I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories of nostalgia, thoughts about refugees and anecdotes about their families and lives. This exhibition truly is starting conversations about refugees and especially with young children which is fantastic!