Fabric of Faith: Creative Workshops (July-September 2016)
Dr. Claire Dwyer
The Fabric of Faith project is a collaborative arts project undertaken by Making Suburban Faith with artist Katy Beinart. The project emerges from our research on creativity within faith communities in Ealing and Hanwell and particularly the significance of textiles for different faith groups. We organised a series of creative workshops in July to September 2016.
Our initial inspiration for a textiles based art project were the set of hand-stitched kneelers in St Thomas’ Church. The church contains a wonderful set of handmade kneelers which represent local landmarks and church groups. So the collection contains stitched versions of the M4, the E3 bus and Heathrow airport, as well as representations of the choir and the other church groups such as the Brownies.
The church also contains textile banners and we found examples of textile banners in many other local churches such as those in St John’s in West Ealing.
We also explored the importance of religious textiles with many other faith communities locally including the women’s groups at West London Islamic Centre, the Ealing Liberal Synagogue, the London Sikh Centre, St Joseph’s Catholic Church and the Sangham group, a group for older Asian women, which meet at St Thomas’ every Thursday. Through these networks we recruited a group of around twenty women to participate in the Fabric of Faith creative project which met on Thursday afternoons at the church hall of St Thomas the Apostle in West Ealing.
At the first creative workshop the participants gathered to meet each other for the first time. We had asked everyone to bring something they had made to share with each other and talk about. It was lovely to see the wonderful embroidery and needlework which people had brought along to share. Some of them had been done many years ago and been kept carefully away in boxes in the loft or drawers in the attic. Sharing work was a good icebreaker and a nice way to get to know each other. Textiles quickly became a way to share stories about home, family and migration.
Katy showed the group two of her own textile projects – a map made of bobbin lace which showed her family’s migration journey and embroidered images of flowers and seed packets (inspired by her great aunt’s work as a botanist). We then shared with the group some of the research Katy has been doing thinking about textile maps – and the ways in which our project might be based on a mapping of faith in our locality.
Our first activity was a group was to write a prayer or line from a prayer onto a large paper table cloth. We liked the idea of a shared table-cloth which we might make together – reflecting on multiple traditions of sharing food and religious food cultures as well as examples of decorative table-clothes found in many different faith traditions.
At the next workshop we began to sketch out designs based on the lines of prayer on the tablecloth and to embroider some of the lines of prayer we had collected together.
Over the next few weeks the group worked together on their individual contributions to our decorative table cloth. While some of the designs remained as lines of text others were embellished with images or decorations using different embroidery stitches and applique designs.
Using lines of text we began to piece together a ‘map’ of Ealing which used lines of text to map roads and added a ribbon of blue material to make the river Brent.
The creativity workshops were an important space to share skills and stories. The experience of sewing together also opened up a space of story telling about our families and our histories. We learned about how different participants had learned to sew – from their mothers, aunts and grandmothers and what sewing meant to them. In addition to sharing our prayers we also shared songs, laughter, sorrows (and tea). Over the six workshops we made new friendships and learned a lot about each other.
In the final workshop Katy showed the group some of her ideas about how the different elements of the design might be put together in an installation. She has experimented with raising the individual pieces from the table cloth and linking them with silk threads to the map – perhaps as a more effective way to suggest the many different journeys and stories of migration which we had shared.
We asked each of the participants to be photographed by our PhD student photographer Laura with their contributions. Below are some of the participants with their work.
Fabric of Faith installation was shown in Ealing and at other venues in London. The installation included the work of art made of our sewn pieces alongside some critical reflection on the role of creativity, faith and migration drawn from our follow up interviews with the workshop participants.