Dr. Emma Shercliff’s professional output

Articulating Stitch: skilful hand-stitching as personal, social and cultural experience

Thesis – Published 3rd Jul 15

In this practice-led PhD I explore the correlation between the nature of embodied knowledge acquired and practised through the rhythms and patterns of skilled hand-stitching, and the crafting of mutuality and cooperation acquired and practised through participation in collective making.

The hand-eye-mind coordination required cultivates a distinctive form of attention to the self, which has renewed importance in the context of the anti-haptic experiences of screen technologies that infiltrate our daily routines in the home and the workplace. The research questioned ways in which this skilled activity might articulate these dimensions of subjective, personal experience, and in turn, it aimed to reveal ways in which the relationship between an individual and a group is articulated through their crafting skills. I focus on the dynamic relationship between practical skill, the body and its proximity to tools, materials and other people during actual experiences of making – the repeated gestures, coordinated hand movements and the skilled precision of tool use and fingertip manipulation – to provide a new context for the study of embodied knowledge known in and through hand-stitching.

The principal research methods involved a combination of ethnographic, auto-ethnographic and creative research methods including recorded conversations, observation, video recording of a patchwork quilting group, participation in practical stitching sessions with a village embroidery group, undertaking workshops with students, and my own reflective stitching practice.

It has emerged from the research that patterns of hand-stitching processes share characteristics with certain modes of social interaction sought by participants in order to experience sensations of participation, belonging or interdependence. I offer a definition of skilful stitching that considers these relational attributes as well as technical proficiency. I conclude that hand-stitching surpasses its technical or artistic attributes when considered as a material practice that offers particular metaphors for other processes of joining, collaboration, integrity – or even separation and isolation. Practising these skills is possibly the only way to acquire this embodied knowledge, which needs to be understood as a mode of interaction if it is not merely trivialised as quaint, as domestic labour or archived as ethnographic curiosity or as art object.