• Articulating Stitch: skilful hand-stitching as personal, social and cultural experience

SHERCLIFF, Emma, 2015, Thesis, Articulating Stitch: skilful hand-stitching as personal, social and cultural experience PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This practice-led PhD research explores the nature of embodied knowledge acquired and practised through the rhythms and patterns of hand-stitching processes, such as embroidery, plain sewing and patchwork quilting, undertaken by individuals
alone and in dedicated groups as recreational craft, artistic expression and social life. The scale and pace of hand-stitching match those of the body, grounding cognitive and emotional experience in a tangible process. The hand-eye-mind coordination required cultivates a distinctive form of attention to the self, which has renewed importance in the context of the anti-
haptic experiences of screen technologies that infiltrate our daily routines in the home and the workplace. Working with the premise that skilled hand-stitching concerns more than technical ability, I examine how these activities articulate dimensions of subjective experience. In turn, I explore ways in which the relationship between an individual and a group is constructed through their crafting skills.
My previous experiences of textile crafting as a social activity drew me to this question, and my interest as a practitioner and teacher in the contemporary and future relevance of skilful work motivates me to better understand what it is that I, and many other stitch practitioners, do. With the tacit knowledge of a practitioner I know how to stitch, and from my investigations into the history and theory of textile art, craft and material culture I know about stitch. However, my view is that when absorbed
in the process of making other more immediate and personal sensations take over. An exploration of haptic sensations relative to these processes underpins the investigation, and I focus instead on the dynamic relationship between practical skill, the body and its proximity to tools, materials and other people during actual experiences of making – the repeated gestures, coordinated hand movements and the skilled precision of tool use and fingertip manipulation – to provide a new context for the study of embodied knowledge known in and through hand-stitching.
In order to explore this I have used a combination of ethnographic, auto-ethnographic and creative research methods including interviews, observation, video recording of a patchwork quilting group, participation in practical stitching sessions with a village embroidery group, undertaking workshops with students, and my own reflective stitching practice.
It has emerged from the research that patterns of hand-stitching processes share characteristics with certain modes of social interaction sought by participants in order to experience sensations of participation, belonging or interdependence. Similarly to other oral traditions, an embodied knowledge of the practice includes patterns of interaction and particular attitudes and behaviours that are inseparable from the practical skills.
However, people also stitch on their own; as a private, contemplative activity, hand-stitching allows a person to carve out time and space for introspective reflection. Whilst this could be thought of as a different kind of experience altogether, I suggest that mastery of these skills enables control over when and how to use them, which, I have found, allows a practitioner to adjust the type of experience sought: participation in a shared conversation or activity can be exchanged for isolated contemplation and a sense of self-reliance.
I conclude that hand-stitching surpasses its technical or artistic attributes when considered as a material practice that offers particular metaphors for other processes of joining, collaboration, integrity – or even separation and isolation. Practising these skills is possibly the only way to acquire this embodied knowledge, which needs to be understood as a mode of interaction if it is not merely trivialised as quaint, as domestic labour or archived as ethnographic curiosity or as art object.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W230 Clothing/Fashion Design
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W230 Clothing/Fashion Design > W231 Textile Design
Date Deposited: 24 Jun 2015 17:52
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2018 15:45
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1693
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