For the first trial felt mat, I decided to needlefelt dots of fibre within a circular area, leaving a border of undecorated felt where I was going to try writing some text. I can’t post a photo as I sent off the samples with my assignment without taking any, but it was – just – OK – really I didn’t like it at all! I spent some time stitching into and applying bits of fabric and fibre to another piece of felt and while there were lots of nice effects that I may use in the future, nothing was singing to me. I looked at my solitary mat and imagined a few more alongside it, and I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do.
Soooo… back to the theme book to pick up on another of my early ideas – a set of napkins in napkin rings. Napkin rings are physically the perfect shape to embody both the embracing, enclosing aspect of the circle and the openness I was trying to convey. Embroidering text onto napkins would mean that it could be rolled up and half hidden, to be revealed in the act of opening the napkin and preparing to eat. “Hospitality can begin a journey towards visibility and respect” (Making Room, Christine D Pohl).
I still wanted a non-matching set, and at first I thought about making each napkin ring in a different way. I looked at various textile napkin rings and cuffs on Flickr, at how they were constructed and fastened. I sampled a quilted ring using indigo fabric, and I thought about weaving and embroidering, and I thought that they wouldn’t be a non-matching set but would just look as if I’d tried to include every textile technique I ever used! As Tim Gunn says, “Edit, edit”.
I thought about the cards I had wrapped with fabric and how exciting they were. I looked at my pile of blue and white fabrics from around the world, and my indigo shibori fabrics which include a few overdyed colours as well as much blue and white, and I decided to weave the napkin rings, all on the same warp, in fabrics using a free Saori style. Each one would start with a slightly different base point – Ghanaian batik, Indian block prints, sari silk, Javanese batik, and shibori, refecting cultural diversity. Indigo, forms of which are used in so many countries, would link them all together.
So I warped my little loom (for the first time!) and wove. I had been thinking about numbers, having decided that I wanted an odd number, as more in keeping with my theme, I settled on 5, since 7 is supposed to symbolise perfection and I didn’t want that. Thanks goodness, I would never have completed 7 in time!
I found the perfect napkins on Ebay, all the same size, all white damask, but each with a different pattern. I love that they are used, not pristine, and have their own hidden stories, if they could only tell. On each one I wrote, with stitch, the words of a detainee held at Yarl’s Wood, a UK detention centre for asylum seekers, a place which epitomises the very opposite of hospitality – a scandalous place where traumatised women and children are made prisoners. Yarl’s Wood Befrienders go to visit and support the detainees, and the words are taken from their web site, with permission. They are very moving. I stitched them over and over in shades of blue, moving from pale to dark, to reflect something of the “journey towards visibility”.
So I should be done, at this point. But no, that really is something else in the background. In a moment of mania I decided, not for the sake of the assignment, but for the sake of the work, that it wasn’t complete. I’d wanted to incorporate some of the snippets of text that I had jotted down throughout my theme book, but I hadn’t wanted to mix them up with the words of the detainees, detracting from both. So I was thinking hard about how to include them in the piece in a way that was continuous with the rest and added to the whole, and what I did is the next instalment…