Updated: Jul 4, 2018
I first saw the colourful ‘Illuminate’ tapestry when it was exhibited across the first floor mezzanine balcony in the Jubilee Library, Brighton earlier this year. Since then it has been on a journey to 3 schools in the city, on the 23rd June parts of the tapestry came back on show in the library along with a heart-warming wall hanging made by children, all under 11 years of age, from Queens Park School.
Julie O’Neil, the Libraries Service Manager welcomed attendees and Linda Beanlands (one of the Network’s organisers) thanked the library staff for their helpfulness in providing a weekly space for the women to meet and sew, as well as a local retailer, C&H Fabrics and the council’s Safety Team who also provided venues to meet. The Deputy Mayor, Cllr Alex Philips emphasised that the tapestry tells the city about its diversity (there are 25,000 female Brighton residents who were not born in the UK) and that their creativity helps us to relate to their lives and what matters to them, a short film then provided further insight into the making of the tapestry.
The 12 metre tapestry (with other pieces ready to be added), was described by Kate Harvey, a teacher who coordinated the making of the Queens Park School tapestry as having a real impact on the children who saw it hanging in the assembly space. Kate said the children ‘were blown away by it’ and that it created conversations ‘about democracy and the rule of law and what that says to them’, it made them question where the tapestry makers felt they belonged and if a lady seemed to be happy or not. The teachers gave the older children words to think about in small discussion groups, while the youngest children drew pictures, but even the 6 years olds were chatting about the profound issues prompted by the tapestry - belonging, citizenship, democracy, justice, kindness, fairness, respect, responsibility, liberty, the rule of law and sanctuary.
The tapestry also went to St. Luke’s school, Sarah one of St. Luke’s teachers said that it had made the parents feel it was a welcoming place and it offered them a bridge into the social fabric of the school. Two ladies from the Network, one from Syria and the other from Jordan reiterated how welcome they felt in working together on their squares for the tapestry.
Sam Beal (a School Partnership Advisor) explained that there were plans to have the tapestry visit other schools in the Brighton & Hove area, at this point Linda opened the discussion to broader uses and I highlighted the tapestry’s importance as a tool, to facilitate the teaching of democracy and power, integration and the meaning of active citizenship in an non-antagonistic, creative way. Another member of the audience thought that nursery schools should also be involved; the creative process was also meditative so it would bring other benefits to the children and it was also suggested that such a tapestry would be helpful in other areas of the country where they had less experience with diversity.
Finally Pinaki Ghoshal, Executive Director of the B&H Families, Children and Learning was pleased to see how much had developed in such a short time from the initial ‘One Voice Partnership’ (part of the Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee); he thought it was ‘fantastic’ that the children at Queen’s Park school had produced so much in only 2 weeks and he also emphasised how important it was to have mechanisms to celebrate diversity in the city.
My thoughts are that the making of a tapestry in school offers a creative route to a shared learning process and the teaching of issues related to the children's concerns, it is an opportunity for children of all backgrounds to actively participate, this enables a discussion about what democracy and equality actually means and would help promote inclusion, understanding active citizenship and most of all it is a process that encourages communication no matter how diverse the school. With the use of recycled pieces of cloth and access to fair trade pieces it also offers a wonderful opportunity to link discussions on sustainability and working conditions as the use of textile in clothes and fashion is the second most environmentally harmful industry today.
Film about the making of the Network of International Women’s tapestry by Cathy Maxwell and Piera Anna Tomasi:
Related issues A stitch in time: embroidery as a force for social change from the British Library: http://blogs.bl.uk/european/2015/07/a-stitch-in-time-embroidery-as-a-force-for-social-change.html