Another project held up but the pandemic of 2020, but I think it would have taken a very different journey without the experiences we hall had over the last 2 years.
The seed for this started long before I became involved back in 2019. Rosemary Hill from The Plays the Thing theatre company based here in Milton Keynes, commissioned some short scratch plays from women writers for a festival that year. Chloe Todd-Fordham wrote a play about a group of women (widows) who had met for 25 years to support each other. They sat and stitched, drank tea and supported each other, putting the world to rights - can you image the scene?!
This practice has happened for years of course all around the world, women meeting and making together and chatting, it's what community is about. In America the groups were often called 'sewing bee's - women being as busy as bee's making quilts for each other in groups, much more fun!
Fast forward 2 years and Rosemary pulled together the funding to create a longer play based on the original 'Tapestry' play and Chloe was commissioned to develop further ideas and plot twists.
Without giving too much away, I was asked to create the 'prop' for the play with a group of stitchers from Milton Keynes.
We started the process last November (2021) I invited ladies with an interest in stitch and or performance into a Facebook group. We had a zoom meeting to introduce the project and then arranged three face2face days to start the process of making a banner. For those who could not attend the meetings we shared on line the thought process and gave out packs with fabric and prompts. I also visited other groups of stitchers to get them on board with the project. The project is about a patchwork and its stitchers, celebrate the power of community and connection.
Chloe was great at creating conversation starters and although many of the ladies didn't know each other at the beginning of the workshops, after a few giggles and home truths, they soon relaxed into great conversations. The original plan was to weave into the plot our own stories verbatim, but this became too complicated, so instead she was inspired by the chatter and rhythm of our conversations and how we communicated as a group.
Lots of clatter, laughter and emotions became the background to the play.
I had pulled together the fabrics for the banner, I wanted the final design to be strong and colours with a bold design. I chose circles as the main motif and starting point - life starts and works in circles, over the so many stitchers found amazing symbolism with the circle. If they didn't find stories to represent in their patches, circles are just lovely to stitch around - and this banner is for the 'joy of stitch' - every contribution was welcome.
So here we are, five months after the first zoom meeting the banner is finished and it's big!
We had around 60 squares contributed by around 40 stitchers - so much thought and time has gone into the squares, it's a wonderful sight to behold.
There is also a protest stitched into the banner which has added to the size, but also added to the power of stitch and community.
The play has been designed by Victoria Maytom and directed by Yasmeen Arden
The play is being performed twice at the Milton Keynes Gallery as part of Rosemary's 'Women in theatre' festival at the end of March - lots of interesting other performances and debates planned.
I don't know how the play will shape, I've just made the banner with 40 lovely sharing stitchers. So I'm really looking forward to seeing the play on the 30th of March with others, sitting around the Sky room - in a huge expanded 'sewing bee' experience.