The 52 Stitched Stories community arts project
The project began life on the Isle of Arran at the beginning of 2019. The aim of the project is to make a postcard piece of creative work every week for a year. On the island this has been interpreted as a stitching project, although we use that term very broadly. The project quickly gathered pace and the amazing art community in West Kilbride (just over the water) joined us. Although we work as individuals producing our visual narratives we come together in our community groups monthly and have also managed to come together in a shared gathering in West Kilbride.
Inspired by the work of Cas Holmes the intention is to allow the body of work to construct personal narratives through visual art. The project is about more than the postcards though. It is about sharing, inspiring and, ultimately, friendship. In Arran, the members have created an extremely special and diverse community, which has provided both inspiration for the work and highly supportive social connections.
The project is expanding fast, and the main force behind it all, Fiona Doubleday is managing this skillfully. The focus of the project is collective and everyone’s participation is what makes it, but without Fiona’s enthusiasm and organisation the project wouldn’t be what it is today. A textile artist, writer and teacher based on the Isle of Arran the initial idea for the project came from an art postcard auction that Fiona entered on the Isle of Iona. Realising how doable it was to make these ad hoc but beautiful pieces of art, she came up with the goal for making one a week.
Last month saw the half way point of the Stitched Stories project year, and the Voice joined members of the group at a celebration lunch in Whiting Bay. It is an exciting time for the Stitched Stories group, for while there is a tight knit group in Arran and West Kilbride, at the start of July, the project had just gone viral, with Fiona reporting that there had been 2,000 hits in 48 hours across the world. People from Australia and South Africa, America and Canada, and Europe and England were expressing interest in and inquiring about joining the project.
While the group is welcoming new members from all over the world, Fiona has her sights set on locations closer to home in 2020. Her aim is to create a Stitched Stories trail along the west of Scotland, setting up Ambassadors in each place, and to get this going they are applying for funding from Creative Scotland and developed a travelling workshop.
The group has developed a wee travelling workshop as part of 52 Stitched Stories. The workshop has been designed to fit neatly into two small vintage suitcases so that it can be taken on public transport. The aim is to travel to reach other creative communities who would like to get started with their own 52 Stitched Stories journey. The group will bring some example postcards and also a stitching workshop that allows others to get started with their own postcard. With the travelling workshop, there are new groups starting in Scotland, starting in 2020 there are groups setting up in Skye, Dunoon, Dumfries and Rotheshire.
A sense of creative community
During the lunch The Voice spoke to several members of the group who talked about their involvement in the project. Kirsty said, “It’s about what you want to do not what you ‘ought’. It’s very inspiring and very freeing because you don’t have to do things to a certain pattern, or convention or order. You’re only stitching a fabric postcard. Some people put on words, a picture, or stick on objects, shells, or paint it. People in the group join with varying amounts of experience. Some do a postcard a week, but if not it’s okay, you can do one here or there, and may catch up another week with more. And when we meet and share the work we’ve done, you can get ideas from others work. “
For another member of the group, belonging to a creative community has really helped her mental health. Abigail said she suffers from depression and anxiety but making the postcards and joining the group meetings have really been beneficial for her. She said “the project gives me focus, and a reason to get out and meet others. It is very therapeutic to me. Because of my depression and anxiety my postcards can be quite dark, so I find it a good way to express my feelings. The experience of being part of the group has been life-affirming.”
Another member who joined the group at the start of the year has lived on Arran for 2 years and while has a creative background she had not been involved in visual art before. Jane said she’s not stitching oriented but was interested in the idea so thought she would give it a go. She said “I’ve been playing with natural dyes, like nettle, lichen, and I have been to Spin Off with Tessa McLeod so some of my postcards are woven, and I have made patterns along the dye lines”.
We asked her what her inspiration has been over the first six months. Jane said, “At the moment it’s not planned, it’s more intuitive responses to things. Things I see and in the natural environment. Later on I may plan more, and I have a notebook, so I put down ideas and things to explore. I like that there’s a bit of a push too, to actually do it. Although the one postcard a week is flexible, I find it helpful to keep me on track, whether I do none for a week and then two or three another week.”
She said, “I really enjoy this project, I find it’s a bit like a journal, it’s like a record of the particular moment, and so it means I also don’t worry about whether it will work out well. I’m not too precious about it if it doesn’t work out well. It doesn’t have to be wonderful, but it can go in anyway because it is what it is.”
For Fiona, the most important part of the Crafts and Company group is the ‘company’ part, it’s a collective. The Voice asked how the project is different to other craft groups and why did she think there is such commitment to the group. Is it the challenge of the weekly postcard?
Fiona said, “It’s the challenge of the project and it’s also the mutual support. And with this, it’s bringing in people who haven’t sewn, so it’s not turned out to be only for particular people and that is its greatest success, it’s for anyone. The informality is what makes it work. There is no management or committees, and it’s brought loads of people together who wouldn’t otherwise be together. We’re a really diverse group of people. And the group genuinely take an interest in and enjoy each other’s work. So the work is done on your own mostly, in your home, and then shared at the group meetings and people feel that enjoyment and interest when they come. Another point is we’re not doing this work for sale, so we don’t have that element in mind and that makes a big difference”.
If you’d like to join the group in Arran or remotely, or start a group in your community, contact Fiona at email@example.com
No experience is needed because Fiona is organising a mentoring element to the project, for people who would like to have a go but would benefit from working alongside a more experienced member for a while. And due to the continuing interest, the project is now a rolling programme, so that the start of your Stitched Stories year will begin when you join.
The combined body of work from the Arran and West Kilbride groups is to be exhibited at the The Barony Centre in West Kilbride and also on Arran in March 2020.