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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Thinking Through Textiles Workshop

As part of my mission to learn how to sew, I decided to participate in a 'Thinking Through Textiles' workshop at UAL by Sukhwinder Sagoo-Reddy.

The night before the workshop I was walking between Kings X and Euston stations when I came across this incredible patchwork quilt/tapestry in the middle of the street outside an off-license. The light from the shop shone through the fabric in the dark and made it appear like a kerb-side stained glass window.

The embroidery was very detailed and looked stunning, I could have spent ages looking at each section close-up, but I was stood in the middle of the road, alone in the dark and decided it wasn't the safest place to be! I loved the bright colours and patterns, and it was great inspiration for the textiles workshop the following day.

The workshop was really fun and thought provoking. We started off by going round the group and telling everyone which course we were studying and why we had decided to attend the workshop. I was really surprised by the number of creating coding students at the workshop, many of whom were frustrated by the digital nature of their studies and wanted to explore tactile media. The workshop primarily involved making, using the materials to respond to a series of questions posed by the lecturer, we had only 10-15 mins per item we created. After we had finished making each "build" we had to show it to the person next to us and guess what each other's work was representing before explaining our original intention.

The first question we were asked to respond to was "what is my creative practice or passion?". I instinctively knew I needed to create something incorporating the EU flag since campaigning for the European Union has been such a big part of my identity and creative practice for the last 7 years. I find a piece of dark blue felt, and this beautiful light blue gauze which I sewed together using bright yellow thread in the shape of the EU stars. However, this wasn't bold enough to express my rebellious streak, so I found a dark red thread and stitched the words "FUCK BREXIT" across the flag. The lecturer laughed at this and asked to take a photo.

The second question we were asked to respond to was "what bothers me?". I decided I wanted to represent inequality and privelige, so I collected a brown canvas material, brown rafian, a silver material which looked like chain mail and gold beads. I placed a small square of the silver material at the centre of the brown rafian, to emphasise the contrast between the priveliged elite surrounded by poverty and suffering. I attempted to sew the silver material with a crown shape using yellow thread and gold beads, to represent the monarchy (but also a wider metaphor for privelige in society) however the crown was a wonky and not obviously identifiable until I explained it to my partners. On the brown canvas, which very much reminded me of potato sacks, I sewed the rafian which looked like a choatic, mass of mud and twigs, to represent the "unwashed masses"/proletariat.

The third question we were asked to respond to was "what drives me to work on what I do?". I had to think for a moment, and I was struggling to come up with an idea, so I decided to create a textile representation of a painting i made in 2020, titled 'The Guiding Light'. The design represented the "struggle through the darkness" to reach "the light" or a better future. The overall message is one of hope and resillience through personal sytuggle emphasising the importance of combatting apathy to persevere in the struggle for change.


The fourth question prompt was "Given the ideas you want to explore for your project and consider your specialism - what is the connection between your ideas and the concerns you might have in your project?". I knew immediately how to respond to this question, as I have myself encountered denigration of "craft" (creative practices traditionally considered feminine) by the fine art world. I was worried when I told my tutor that I wanted to deliver a research project that involved sewing textiles, that it would be dismissed as "not proper art". So, I responded to this question by creating a caricatured depiction of a landscape painting, using foam, tissue paper and felt and stitching the words "CRAFT ISN'T ART" over the landscape. When I showed it to my partner, she said she loved it so much she asked if she could keep it, and I duly obliged.

The fifth question we were asked to respond to “What conditions need to be in place for me to progress the dissertation/project?". The group had a discussion about what these "conditions" could be; money, resources, relationships, etc. I realised that I had all of these things in place already, the one thing that I am short on is time. I have been concerned about whether I can keep on top of my coursework whilst doing two part-time jobs and decided to "see how it goes", if it is proving too challenging, one of my jobs will finish in June 2024 and I can catch up after then. To represent this concern, I cut a square of a white canvas material, to represent freedom/space and then cut a circle out of black foam, stitching the roman numerals of a clock around the edge. I decided not to give the clock any hands, as I was not trying to represent a specific point in time, but the gneral notion of time. My partners asked me if my problem was "time management", and I responded that I am, generally, very well organised and pro-active with my work, the problem was simply that I had too many things to do (at the moment, at least).

The final question we were asked was "What would enable me [to do xyz]?”. I interpreted this question as "What are you trying to achieve through your studies?" and a song from the Muppet Movie "Rainbow Connection" came to mind. I wanted to create something 3-dimensional since other students in the workshop had pointed out how illustrative/pictorial my other builds were. I took red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple tissue paper and twisted it into an arch, which I stitched onto a square of black foam. I then stitched the word "CONNECTION" in white thread. I wasn't quite sure what my response meant, but I also wasn't exactly sure what the question meant, so I thought it was a fair response.


Overall, I really enjoyed the workshop and I am very keen to attend more of this lecturer's textiles lessons. It made me feel more confident in working in tactile media and also opened my eyes to how texture and materiality can be used as a communication tool.





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