Hand Stitch Perspectives

Kettle, Alice & McKeating, Jane

London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012  $55.95 from Book Depository or free to borrow from our wonderful public libraries system.

ISBN: 978-1-408123416

This is a collection of twenty essays by several people who have expertise in a particular aspect of embroidery.  Many of the writers have a connection with the Manchester School of Art, a school within the Manchester Metropolitan University.  Both the editors have senior positions on the staff there; Alice Kettle as senior research fellow and Jane McKeating as Director of Studies.

This is in no way a ‘light’ book, either in content or format. It is too heavy to read in bed. For me, some of the essays were also rather heavy.  Having said that, I only sampled from the august writing - some writing was so esoteric that I gave up, something I seldom do as I am used to reading academic writing.

However, there are some gems here. I enjoyed Heather Belchers essay, ‘Stitching a social fabric,’ where she examines the effects of some community stitching projects and the impact on the participants and the viewers. I also quite enjoyed 'From hand to hand: encounters with embroiferers from Kutch,' by Jane McKeating, which looks at the impact of the commercialisation of their work on the embroiderers' lives and on their skills.  There is an interesting take in one essay on embroidery and feminism.  I found June Hill's essay with the delightful title' The length of a needle', about Beryl Dean, a respected ecclesiastical needlework designer and executer, insightful and thoughtful. 

The book is due back in the library soon, but there are still some essays that I want to read before I return it, including one by Ian Wilson, titled 'The enduring trinity of fingers, thread and needle', and another 'Speaking up for silence,' by Nigel Hurlstone... please note that both these essays are written by men, of which there are not too many in the embroidery world we are familiar with here in Aoteroa/New Zealand, but who have contributed five of the essays in the collection.

I do recommend this book if you have an interest in the history or sociology of embroidery, or where it stands and may go as a fine art medium.  Be prepared to read thoughtfully and you will find some gems. 

Interesting and beautifully produced photographs appropriately illustrate the essays. I am still left with the feeling that the book, overall, fells like a collection of undergrad essays, with relevant references tacked on at the end should one wish to do further reading.  If any of you decide to read this book, I would love your feedback.  Feel free to disagree with me!  The book finishes with a glossary of stitches - invented stitches.  I suggest the extensions group examine them for possible ideas.

Erica Marsden