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Banished – the making of a story 

Because I never start a new work knowing what it is I want to do or say, I was curious to find out more about the process I follow when making one of my narrative textile pieces; about how I get from point A (sourcing/finding the piece of fabric) to B (when I snip off the last thread, knowing it’s done).

To that end, I documented as much as I could, by taking snapshots, and jotting down my thoughts as they shifted and changed throughout each day. Sometimes, when very engrossed, I forgot to do so and will have to fill in the blanks.

The image below shows the underside of the original cloth, which I found in a charity shop, stained by me with black pigment ink. At this point I feel completely neutral about it, except that I like the juxtaposition of the stark, graphic quality of the ink splatters, with the bright stitched lines.

I leave this piece alone for several months, while finishing other projects. When I next look at it, I rummage through my pile of collected bits and bobs, literally feeling for the right shape and colour to present itself. The mood feels playful. I’m aware that two contrasting styles are developing on the left and right side of the cloth. I still think of it as a kind of workshop sampler, to show students, not as a developing story. I decide that it’s a good way to approach every new work – keeps anxiety about content and meaning at bay.

The first shape that caught my eye
Choosing red thread
A line of zigzag seems to belong


The next step is to personalise the stitched red flower.

When I start experimenting with netting overlays, my mind shifts into another gear. I no longer only see shapes and colours, but something deeper emerges. I think of erasure, of what we choose to reveal, and choose to hide.

At this point, I take out my reference files to flip through and find an image, or words, to hang onto a feeling that was beginning to emerge. When I look at these images, culled from the internet and other sources over many years, I do so with  ‘soft’ eyes, without any specific attachement to outcome. Difficult to explain. I know what I need when I see it.

I find a line of type I’ve used before, “Get the fuck out of my house.” I remember when I heard it – listening on the radio to the initial trial of Oscar Pistorious.  At the time, I was busy working on ideas for one of those gorgeous exhibitions curated by Margie Murgatroyd for the Casa Labia; the theme (in a nutshell) was interpretations of Paradise. Oscar allegedly shouted those words to the intruder he thought was in his house, and on that day, the sentence collided with my pondering of the biblical fable of Adam and Eve, and the snake and the tree of knowledge, and their eventual banishment. I heard the god of that story, shouting the same wards, as he chased them from his garden.

I love what happens when you invite the unexpected into your creative process.  When I first looked at this cloth, and splashed it with ink, I had no idea it would lead me here. To a retelling of an old fable; a poweful and cautionary tale of what happens when humans exist separated from nature.

I’m drawn to visual images from the 12th to the 15th century; a certain purity and innocence existed then, combined with a magical understanding of how life and the universe worked. I decide to use this depiction of Adam and Eve to finish my story.

In the end Adam feels superfluous to this tale, and is left out. Because this is also a tale about the right that every woman has to live the life she wants.

All the pieces are coming together. I love how it looks as if Eve is inviting the snake to join her.

All that is  left to do, is to tell the other side of the story.  And to rewind the colours, and find the next cloth.

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