Claire Wellesley-Smith Resilient Stitch-Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art

Claire Wellesley-Smith (2015) Dyer’s Field. Recycled wool, found dyes. Installation view as part of ‘Material Evidence’ Exhibition, Sunny Bank Mills, West Yorkshire. (3 x 1.5m)

The experimental nature of this textile artists relationship with materials has influenced the way that I relate with materials. In studying textiles Claire Wellesley-Smith has sought to fully understand them and their properties and qualities as she often spoke of the resilience of cloth. In considering the porosity of cloth she saturated long large lengths of industrial wool with dye to see how the cloth performed, dried, and resumed its function. A particular preferred focus centres around the use of hand sewing and darning to mend and strengthen. Claire Wellesley-Smith often covers large areas of fabric with multiple stitches which pierce and interrupt the cloth to explore the contraction and manipulation of the surface (2021). I relate to the use of pulled and stretched threads to stress the cloth and to cause tension as well as to repair and to make more robust. On reflecting upon her textile work I have started to think about the use of stitch as part of the narrative, of part of the story telling of another’s experiencing, of my own experiencing. The use of vintage cloth used every day has a story to be told, of a wealth of experiencing held within every fibre. I like the idea of using vintage linen bedsheets from the 1900’s, of something of everyday value and worth, of its survival based upon strength, of the layers of meaning built up through years of use, of the natural imperfections based upon use. Using traditional techniques, this Yorkshire-based textile artist Claire Wellesley Smith explores the relationships between craft, social history, and the natural environment and shares her slow stories of making through repair and reuse. I can relate with the inter-relationships which are naturally created through the intuitive making processes using vintage cloth like linen to make stories more known.

Claire Wellesley-Smith (2013-20) Details of Stitch Journal. Recycled linen, naturally dyed silk threads

Through reading and reflecting upon Resilient Stitch-Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art (2021) I have been encouraged to further review my textile practice to ask questions of myself and my creative process. I have reflected upon how my making has moved on, how my practice continues to change and evolve in the material I use and the processes I engage with, of slowing everything down to be more contemplative and considered. I continue to develop my skills and techniques through experiencing with others especially textile artists. I continue to react and respond to the materials I use in process whereby the materials are an integral part of the context and theme alongside sharing my work with others. I now wish to increasingly integrate hand stitching to the surface of dyed cloth however not to embellish for its own sake for decorative purposes in isolation but rather to illustrate different types of experiencing and different emotional states of distress and repair, from splitting and rupturing to mending, strengthening and recovery, to consolidate and increase resilience.

Claire Wellesley-Smith (2013-20) Details of Stitch Journal. Recycled linen, naturally dyed silk threads

“As you practice slow and intentional stitching, your life, your attitude, your creativity, your health, your spirituality… all of it will benefit as a result.” Mark Lipinsky
I fully appreciate the value of slowing down, being fully present with increased noticing and letting go…with a naturally mindful pursuit like hand stitching, of the benefits to mental and physical health and wellbeing. Mindfulness practice is often advocated and actively encouraged within the arena of adult mental health, of the multiple advantages to body and mind when able to accept and acknowledge rather than avoid and ruminant. I like and I am influenced by the layering analogies within the repair dialogues, of adding value through stitch, of fully embedding the stitch within the material’s own narrative. As Claire Wellesley-Smith noted stitching to repair something adds a layer of narrative to the object, my personal relationship to it is changing from a passive to an active one (2021 p.74).

Claire Wellesley-Smith (2015) Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art. Batsford-Pavilion Books Ltd, London.
Claire Wellesley-Smith (2013-20) Details of Stitch Journal. Recycled linen, naturally dyed silk threads
Claire Wellesley-Smith (2017) Providence Street. Found and recycled fabric, found dyes, hand stitching. (40 x 50cm). Resilient Stitch-Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art (2021) Batsford- Pavilion Books Ltd, London.

Reinforcing to renew also strikes a chord with my own experiencing as demonstrated in repair dialogues. Hand stitching can be used by stitching over the weakened area to strengthen the material or by patching in front or behind the weakened area to add a new layer which can then be toughened further through adding additional stitching to create another layer. Natural woollen blanket fabric including bedlinen from vintage materials like linen are deemed ideal materials to use to strengthen, reinforce and to add recovery.

Claire Wellesley-Smith (2013-2020)

Ultimately textiles have such an ability to tell stories, through the materials, their use, their wear, the relationship we have with them through our making. Our identities and experiencing are so often wrapped up in and embedded within materials especially bedlinen, of its capacity to calm, soothe and quieten, to enable rest, recuperation, and to restore, to protect and comfort. Material has the capacity to evoke emotion through memory, which naturally promotes reflection and exploration of experiencing to further process prior events, to bring stories to life, to awaken the senses, to increasingly integrate within our sense of self, our identities and who we are.

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