Sew Engaging!

Our new ‘Sew Engaging!’ outreach project has been launched on the banks of the River Thames at Lechlade, Gloucestershire. The project has been designed by textile artist, Jane McCutchan, and funded by The Ashley Family Foundation. Jane holds a Barnett Bequest Fellowship at MERL, and a doctorate from the University of Reading, and uses our collections in her work. In this series of posts, you will be able to follow Jane’s adventures as she invites people to ‘up-cycle’ unfinished needlepoint kits, and stitch designs which reflect their feelings about the countryside.

February 14th 2015

Quintessential wintry countryside; a bevy of snow-white swans grazes the water meadow, a lonely narrow boat leans against the bank, the willows are colouring against a leaden sky. Swindon is 11 miles and another world behind, I cross Halfpenny Bridge, turn left, and the carpark of the Riverside Inn is full.

‘What do you love or hate about the countryside?’ I ask the Manager, business-like in a red top covered with hearts. Apprehensively, I pull the canvas out of my bag; three up-cycled pieces joined together; ‘The Old Mill’ came from a charity shop in Dawlish, two flowery seat covers are tacked on upside down. Squint, and the one on the left will become an apple orchard, the other a vegetable garden. I order coffee and a sandwich. Will she let me sit here and stitch?

sew engaging watermill

‘Watch out for the pins’, the rural scene is littered with small pieces of paper, pictures of icons people hate; solar panels, satellite dishes, wind turbines, power lines, road signs, wheelie bins, plastic bottles, broken bottles, a shopping trolley in the pond. The plan is to work them into the traditional scene using the same vintage colour palette, and invite the public to add a stitch.

sew engaging2
Summer Lancaster, Manager at the Riverside Inn, Lechlade makes the first stitch
Sew engaging no fly tipping

‘What are you doing?’ Two women pause, interested, I explain. ‘What a wonderful idea, we love doing this!’ Another Jane sits down, she is from Bath. My sandwich arrives, it looks delicious but we are too busy to eat.  Marion from Bristol is my next customer; no-one has heard of the Museum of English Rural Life.

sew engaging3

Lunch is coming to an end, Alex comes out from behind the bar, ‘May I try?’ I haven’t done this before.’

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I tell everyone about my Blog and invite them to visit MERL, when it reopens in 2016 and see all the needlework in the ‘Sew Engaging!’ exhibition. Donations of tapestry yarn and part-finished kits are needed; please send them to the museum.

Next time: Jane visits Cotswold Woollen Weavers at Filkins and gets a first ‘man stitch’.

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