Project Mend was born out of my own experience of stitching as a mindfulness practice. My ideas solidified during my studies with Alef Trust. Learning that stitching can lead to a state of mind that resembles meditation (Kirwin, 2012) and that textile art contributes to feelings of well-being, boosting confidence levels and increasing motivation for further skill development (Burt & Atkinson, 2011) led me to design a creative stitching project that would aim to facilitate cognitive, emotional, and social elements of well being. Secondary to the immediate benefits of the creative process, the textile art pieces were be utilised personally or jointly to create a larger community piece. Ultimately, “Mend” aimed to contribute greater awareness of creativity-based practices on a personal, community and global level.
Initially planned for female prisoners, the project was modified to include poverty-stricken women, as Covid-19 lockdowns prevented access to prisons. As the project (and Covid-19) progressed, further accommodations needed to include possible internet-based workshops, thus eliminating to a greater extent the targeted vulnerable female population. The stitching workshops were thus offered to women who had access to the internet and who were considered emotionally vulnerable. This group included women who suffered from depression, mothers of children with disabilities, care-workers, the elderly population, and women living alone during lockdown periods. Ultimately the volunteers comprised two groups – those requesting Zoom meetings only, and those preferring to attend workshops in person. This gave me the opportunity to experiment with two different workshops.
The first workshop “Heartfelt” was created for the eight Zoom participants. Each received a parcel containing pre-cut locally manufactured fabrics, embroidery threads, a journal and sewing notions such as embroidery scissors, needles and a bookmark with an inspirational quotation. These were delivered personally, and for two distant participants by courier. One participant commented: “What a wonderful surprise. Thank you for these very special and much needed goodies.” A Whatsapp group was created for participants. This aided in organising the five Zoom meetings that were scheduled to take place weekly and allowed participants to share their stitching meditations. Daily mandala cards (see left) were posted on Whatsapp, and participants were asked to journal their thoughts prior to their 10-20min stitching meditation. The initial challenge aimed at 21 days of daily stitching.
Feedback from the participants was inspiring, with one participant unable to wait for “Day 1”, stating that “I could not contain my excitement”. This participant, along with two others went on to stitch many more than the intended 21 hearts. By the third meeting, the group decided to donate the daily stitched blocks to create “little quilts of love”. These quilts are supplied to maternity hospitals to enable babies who are still born or die soon after birth to be wrapped with love. I have to date received sufficient blocks to make five quilts and am currently putting them together. Below are two in the making:
The group was so enamoured by the project that they have requested a continuation of the mindful stitching project. Two members have committed to making 100 blocks. Their contributions will be made into larger quilts that will be raffled. The funds of these will be utilised to purchase materials so that further community quilts can be made and donated to needy institutions such as orphanages and foster homes. One of these larger quilts in the making is pictured below:
For me this has been an exceptionally rewarding project which far exceeded my expectations of a Zoom project. Participants commented on:
- Their own experiences, stating: “I think I found myself and have more direction in life” and “I have allowed myself the special time to just be in the zone and mindful of what my mind, body and spirit are wanting to share with me.”
- The sense of connection through the group experience: “Good morning and thank you for this lovely group and connection.” “What a blessing to be part of this group.”
- Excitement at the possibility of change facilitation. I am currently analysing the feedback, but most women indicated an interest in sharing this practice with other women in their communities.
My second group “Meditative Stitching” has allowed me to delve much deeper into process art-based activities and to explore my role as personal change facilitator. Comprising only four participants who committed to attending six three and a half hour workshops once a week, we explored mindful stitching through the exploration of the five universal shapes described in Angeles Arrien’s (1998) book “Signs of Life”. Workshops began with guided visualisations, stream of consciousness writings which were followed by much freer stitching processes, sharing circles and embodied practices. After an initial delay, we enjoyed four consecutive meetings, before being impacted by a further lockdown. Our final workshop took place on Friday, 16th July.
These workshops have unfolded dynamically, adjusting to the needs and interest of the group. It has been a pleasure and a significant learning experience for me to enjoy first-hand the powerful energy generated by a small group’s collective search for meaning. By celebrating the ancient practice of needlework through a focussed activity, these four women connected readily with one-another, sharing their thoughts, feelings, hopes and belief systems despite different vantage points. They created a safe space in which they could express themselves freely and be heard without judgement as they explored the similarities and differences that the shape symbols held for them.
Below are textile examples of the exploration of the circle theme:
This group is likely to create individual pieces of functional art for themselves with will serve as a reminder of the process elicited by the Signs of Life workshops. I envision facilitating further workshops in which needle and thread are used in a tangible practice that is both spiritual and functional, serving not only to improve personal well-being but ultimately weaving threads of hope, compassion and understanding into the community.
Arrien, A. (1989). Signs of Life: The five universal shapes and how to use them. Tarcher/Putnum, University of Virginia.
Burt, E.L., & Atkinson, J. (2011). The relationship between quilting and wellbeing. Journal of Public Health, 1-6
Kirwin, B. (2012). How artists and meditation practitioners explore consciousness. Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory. Retrieved from http://www.hastac.org/blogs/bkirwin/2012/11/03/how-artists-and-meditationpractitioners-explore-consciousness