Ingredients: Pieces of an old blanket cut into squares; fabric paints, sequins, buttons, zips, ribbon, any other sewing accessories; fabric glue; needle and thread

The Big Sell: Let’s make something big, bold and beautiful!

Strategy: It is official … knitting, sewing, all things fabric, are very much back in vogue. I visited a brilliant local social enterprise today, Blueprint 22 in Worthing (www.blueprint22.org.uk), who are just completing a graffiti knitting project soon to be exhibited in a local phone box. Back in October, the Guardian reported that knitting fever was hitting London schools with boys making scarves in their chosen cultural colours (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/oct/17/boys-school-knitting-clubs?INTCMP=SRCH).

As we have entered into an age of austerity  we seem to have sought comfort in traditional crafts. Otherwise known as ‘People’s Art’, these skills were historically the produce of the working classes, passed down from generation to generation, as they learnt to ‘make do and mend’ at the same time as celebrating the rituals of their communities. This opens up a discussion to be had with young people about how textile arts have been and can still be used to depict our battles, stories, shared histories. So, if you are working with a group of young people and want big impact, but without the time and effort that went into the Bayeaux Tapestry (http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/) why not try a Speed Tapestry?

I tried this one afternoon with a group of students:

1)      Provide each participant with a sheet of paper, pencil and a cut piece of fabric (I just cut up an old woollen blanket).

2)     Ask them to each think of a meaningful memory of a shared experience – for us it was the defining moment we decided to become a youth worker. It could be the time they were happiest, the thing they love most about their community, a positive image of youth.

3)     Ask them to sketch a simple image that depicts their individual memory, then show and explain it to a partner so they can check it makes sense to someone else.

4)     Once they are happy with their final image, hand out fabric paints and ask them to paint their image onto their square of fabric. They can embellish with sequins, buttons, etc… to make it as colourful and eye-catching as possible.

5)     Once everyone has contributed and the images are dry, sew together in a patchwork line or square to make a huge tapestry for display on the wall.

The Verdict:

We live in an age in which some young people have become disengaged from politics and local community action, often because it disregards their needs. Communal art work, such as banners, murals, tapestries and quilts, are a tool by which many voices can come together to shout out about the things that matter to them as a group. It is worth exploring these traditions with young people and by using a quick technique, such as fabric paints, it needn’t be inaccessible or boring. Finding a public venue for exhibition can promote each person’s unique achievement as part of a greater whole – and we need that right now more than ever.

Catchphrase: Shout out for sewing!

Left wanting more?

  • Look at Tracey Emin’s quilts to see how textile arts are no longer the province of the WI: (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/7464885/Tracey-Emins-quilt-goes-on-display.html)
  • This medium would work brilliantly as an intergenerational project, perhaps bringing together young mums with elderly women whose children are now grown, to celebrate their skills, experiences and achievements of motherhood with a collaborative tapestry.
  • As textile arts are traditionally associated with women, it would also work as a vehicle for exploring Feminist principles with young women, now often seen as irrelevant and aggressive rather than a movement for equality and freedom of expression.
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