Book review: Claire Wellesley-Smith – Slow Stitch

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this one, and I’m pleased to report that it’s been worth the wait. The book is in the usual 128 page hardcover Batsford format. Its full title is ‘Slow Stitch: mindful and contemplative textile art’. The quality of the images is uniformly excellent and the text is well-written and thoughtful. It’s divided into four sections: Slow, Materials and Techniques, Cross-cultural activity and Contemplative. It’s redolent of a particular philosophy and approach to the process of stitching and it’s worth reading carefully and, well, slowly.Slow stitch

The first section (‘Slow’) relates slow stitch to the Slow movement in general, and discusses the related issues of sustainability and use of resources. ‘Materials and techniques’ identifies sources of old and new materials. It also has a relatively brief section on dyeing using native plants. I expected there to be much more about natural dyeing in the book, but actually there are plenty of other sources of information about this and there’s no particular need to explain it in any greater detail here. ‘Cross-cultural activity’ looks at some relevant stitching traditions, including Kantha and Japanese boro. It also contains a good section on mending (both practice and philosophy) and on piecing and patching. Finally, ‘Contemplative’ is perhaps the most important section of the book in that it expounds the benefits of mindful practice, together with some practical suggestions for developing ideas. I especially like the idea of the stitch journal as a means of daily practice in stitching. I, too, feel that there’s something about stitching that helps in problem-solving, and with the flow of ideas. The process of stitching contributes to creativity and the flow of ideas.

It’s always interesting with these books to see the range of work that the author draws upon for illustration of ideas. Claire has included examples of the work of some of my favourite artists, for example, Judy Martin (if you don’t know about the Mantoulin Circle project, do follow the link and have a look), Roanna Wells, Mandy Pattullo and Christine Mauersberger, to name but a few. And above all, there are lots of examples of Claire’s own understated and calming stitched works. All are beautifully photographed. If you’re familiar with Claire’s website you will know how good at photography she is, and I expect these are her own photographs of her own work.

This is not a ‘how to’ book, although it does contain some guidance about using plants for dyeing and suggestions for e.g. stitching a square and producing kantha stitches. As much as anything, it’s a book about ideas and a particular approach to stitched textiles that I, for one, find very appealing.

Finished cochineal piece

I’ve finished the cochineal piece that I’ve been working on for many weeks at a snail’s pace. Here’s the finished article just out of the hoop:Cochineal Klee-inspired piece

You’ll see that I put quite a lot of white and grey into it. Just because I felt like it. When I started this piece I wanted to get some pink and red contrasts (cool contrasted with warm reds and pinks) but didn’t have much clear idea other than that where I was going with it. I collected together various threads that I thought might work together and then just picked them out to use as I felt like it. This is fine in a sample piece. However, I think the next stage with this is to experiment with composition a bit more, so that the principal shapes and lines in the piece are more planned. I may also experiment with using line more, rather than working the colour in blocks. First, though, I’ll get this sample finished off, by backing it with something suitable and neatening the edges. I’ll post a photo of the finished piece once I’ve done this.

I’ve ordered a copy of Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art by Claire Wellesley-Smith. This was published a couple of weeks ago, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it. Some readers may remember that I went on a course on natural dyeing with Claire a couple of years ago, and came away deeply impressed and very keen to try out natural dyeing techniques. If you haven’t come across it, Claire has a beautiful blog. She doesn’t update it as frequently as she once did (I can relate to that) but it’s well worth a look. And if you get the opportunity to go on one of her courses, drop everything and go.

I’ll probably get round to writing a review of Claire’s book at some point, so look out for that.