Hand stitching, the Slow Movement, and the time of COVID-19

Sometimes stars align, and when they do, new and positive possibilities open up. In this post I want to talk about three things that have recently impacted my life and have the potential to significantly shape the future and the role we play in its shaping.

About six months ago, after visiting a wonderful exhibition entitled ‘Craftivism: Dissident Objects and Subversive Forms’ at the Museum of Australian Democracy, I purchased a very modest-looking little book from the museum shop. It was called Craftivism: A Manifesto/Methodology. It was written by Melbourne-based fibre artist and activist Tal Fitzpatrick as part of her PhD. It changed my life. The Manifesto got me stitching – something I’d never done before; it introduced me to ideas that I have since come to associate with the Slow Movement; it inspired me to develop – along with my colleagues – the Stitch & Resist project; and it enabled me to discover ways of thinking and of doing that have proven invaluable in a crisis that a few short months ago I could not have imagined.

Slow

The Slow Movement is alleged to have begun with Carlo Petrini’s protest against the opening of a McDonald’s (fast food) restaurant in Piazza di Spagna in Rome in 1986, and the subsequent introduction of the notion of ‘slow food’. Over time, the ‘slow’ epithet has been taken up in relation to a variety of activities and aspects of culture: slow cities, slow fashion, slow gaming, slow media, slow education, slow medicine, slow parenting, slow consumption, slow living. In 2004 journalist Carl Honore published In Praise of Slow, a book which the Financial Times claimed is “to the Slow Movement what Das Kapital is to communism”. Honore talks about Slow philosophy here: https://www.ted.com/talks/carl_honore_in_praise_of_slowness#t-1038812 and describes it as “a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better”.

Richard McVetis, ‘5 o’clock shadow’

My exploration of the Slow Movement recently brought me into contact with Saul Griffith, an engineer, entrepreneur, energy expert and climate change activist who coined the term ‘heirloom design’ to refer to the creation of goods that last for at least 50-100 years, are repairable, and upgradeable. I was really struck by this phrase, not least because the term heirloom explicitly connects heritage (that which is inherited from ancestors/the past) with weaving. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that needlework samplers are often spoken of, and treated as, family heirlooms. The phrase ‘heirloom design’ also raises the question of what we inherit, and, of that, what we want to pass on and what we want to discard or recreate. At no point in our recent past has this question been more poignant or more pressing.

Stitched ‘sampler’, SA State History Collection, HT1991.0116

Connection

One thing that much of the writing on the Slow Movement seems to share is an emphasis on connection. While the desire for connection is by no means new, many Slow advocates suggest that in post-capitalist societies people are less connected to the food we eat, our neighbours, our environments, our bodies, and so on, than has been the case in other times and places. Some have suggested that our belonging is now more defined by our consumption – the citizen-as-consumer – than by any sense of ourselves as part of a community that together creates the change we want to see and the world we want to live in. In order to contribute to a shift from the former to the latter – a shift that COVID-19 and the issues it brings into sharp relief suggests is crucial if we are to bequeath a future that is worth inheriting – we need to consider what ‘slowness’ might entail, and how, in a time of crisis (and beyond), it might contribute to wellbeing.

Stitching

Slowness does not come easily to me. I love the buzz, the adrenalin rush, the over-commitedness, the bordering-on-manicness that (for me) goes hand-in-hand with city life. I’ve never wanted to live in the country, grow my own veggies, make my own bread, darn socks, or read long bed-time stories to rosy-cheeked children. But I have long been concerned about the world we live in, and more particularly, the way we live in it (or off it, rather than with it). COVID-19 and the changes it has brought to date, have forced me to slow down and to find new ways to fill my leisure time and take care of my mental health. While at times this felt like a curse, it has also been a blessing. I started hand stitching and now I’m hooked.

‘Slow stitching’ is another phrase (and activity) that I’ve recently discovered. It is used to refer to a practice that is repetitive, creative, reflexive, meditative, comforting, and sometimes meandering. It often involves breathing new life into old things. Textile artist and advocate of slow stitching, Ellie Beck (whose work can be accessed here https://petalplum.com.au/) describes hand stitching as “one of those processes that really brings me back to the moment, to my self, to my thoughts, to my environment.” She also suggests that stitching is something that people have long done in groups, while sharing stories, materials, support, time.

The Junior Sewing Circle of the North Lima Congregation, Wikicommons.

Hand stitching, slowness, connection, active citizenship

Recently, the Centre of Democracy launched Stitch & Resist, a project designed to address the question of how we might continue to resist injustice, engage in active citizenship, and take care our ourselves and others in the midst of a pandemic.  The project aims to provide resources, inspiration, and opportunities for people to make hand-stitched works that comment on the world in which they live and the issues that concern them. It encourages people to share their thoughts and works with others, to create together, and to recognize the power of collective action. It also provides an opportunity to dip your toes into the Slow Movement, and perhaps even to shape the future.

‘Resist’ stitched by Nikki Sullivan, pattern by @BadassCrossStitch

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