Stitches in Time

Harriet Riddell, a textile performance artist, travels with her sewing machine to stitch portraits of people. When she first started in Hatfield she went into a greasy spoon and asked if she could set up her machine. The owner agreed but said she?d have to pay for electricity and anyone complained about noise he?d chuck her out. She took a sit in the corner and stitched words she overheard then started on Errol frying chips. By the time she?d finished him and he?d seen his face on the cloth he was pinching her cheeks and welcoming her into the family with free food. That, apparently, happens quite often. A machine is a placid, soft tool, more so, she feels, than a camera, saying, ?You can get under people?s skin with sewing?.

 

Certainly it seems so in this latest project she?s worked on with sewers from Blackpool Embroiders? Guild. They were just tacking the final pieces in place on a bustling tablecloth for Banquet when I met them last week.

 

The tablecloth is a collection of previously embroidered napkins and smaller tablecloths, each containing hours of work in themselves, with hand-sewn flowers and lace decorating the cloths. Many of which were collected by members and from charity shops around Blackpool, releasing them from disuse and abandonment in drawers and cupboards.

 

Each member of the Guild chose a cloth or and, apart from the one rule of writing in black thread, everything else was up to the individual: some hand-stitched and others machined. All the quotes on tablecloth are from people with dementia who they visited, from conversations around memories of food. Some people spoke in riddles, but sentences and coherent memories did emerge:

?Rabbit was good it was off ration? stitched alongside an appliqu?d Rabbit. And four portraits: ?All our gardens were dug for food?, ?War made it hard to buy anything?, ?Ginger biscuits and things like that, pies, sponge cake?, ?We had to supply all the army rations?, ?Fish and chips, any day, any time, any where?, ?I like fun, I?m a Blackpool girl? These are all from exquisite portraits Harriet made live in the nursing homes she visited in the early days of the project. She sat with them and simultaneously stitched the residents? portraits and fragments of their conversation around them.

?I?m full of beans? Roy was the most upbeat optimistic gentleman of his age Harriet has ever met. He still had it, ?cheeky winks, little bit flirty?.

Gail, who had never written in machine embroidery before, met Alan and Ann over lunch. She ended up making the most moist rascal I?d ever seen, glistening with currents and cherries and almonds in buttons and beads. ?Sold by Alan and Ann in their bakery?.

There are so many lives in this tablecloth, so many hours of work ? in the original cloths, in the conversations had with the embroiderers, in the memories that formed those conversations, in the thinking of the stories and then in their recreation of them in appliqu? and stitches.

Janet?s cloth tells the story of Rose and Patrick with an organza cow and ?ooh cow heel it was sticky?. Rose and Patrick were from Oldham originally and came to Blackpool to retire. Sadly Rose got dementia which developed into Alzheimer?s so she?s in a home. Patrick lives in the flat they bought for their retirement and picks her up to take her to the Empowerment Club.

 

Janet took notes as they talked, then she agonised about how to represent the food. She decided on the cow?s face because cow heel looks ?absolutely disgusting?. The model for the cow came from her holiday in Lincoln where she?d taken pictures of the cows in the field next door to where they were staying. More hours. More life.

Cow heel: the lower part of a cow?s leg. Gail loves it. She used to cook it when first married, chopped it with stewing steak into a dish with water and onions into the oven, then thickened with Bisto. This was back when there used to be tripe shops.

Janet ate tripe for Sunday tea every week, as a child, cold with salt and vinegar and tomato and brown bread, like you?d put vinegar on chips. Apparently, it doesn?t taste of much, it?s more about the texture, chewy, jelly-ish, much the same as raw jelly cubes, bouncy. She didn?t think about it being cow?s stomach, just accepted what was put in front of her. Mind you, since she?s thought about what it is she?s not so keen.

This project has followed another one the Guild had undertaken for people with the same issues ? tactile textiles. When people have Alzheimer?s they can get very agitated and need something to keep their hands occupied, so the Guild made some little lap mats with beads, or zips, things to fiddle with that can be put on your lap and messed with. It?s very soothing.

Janet spoke of someone who was having problems feeding her husband. He kept knocking things out of the way because of his confusion. She got one of these mats and that meant she could feed him. ?They were just our scraps and left over bits and this tied in really nicely and followed on, working with people with the same issues, instead of us sewing isolation.?

Time and scraps that might be ignored or overlooked by some have been cut and stitched and pressed and paired into the most vivid and vital tablecloth I?ve seen. Harriet plans to set up her machine in the Winter Garden next Saturday, stitching portraits of people there, with the tablecloth hanging up on display. Well worth a few hours of your time.

Pallet Therapy

 

Each Wednesday volunteers gather at Cherry Tree Allotments in Blackpool to grow vegetables in raised beds, drink tea and share healthier lives for themselves. They meet on an allotment run by Grow Blackpool where as much as possible is upcycled. Including the people who come…

Planters, plant staging and the raised beds are made out of pallets. The untreated wood has approximately a four year life span, longer if treated. Conner is currently building a tropical pond and greenhouse out of pallets (treated with used engine oil provided by garages, so all the chemicals are burnt off, it stains a nice dark brown). They also make play cookers which they donate to nurseries around Blackpool. The plant staging in the greenhouse, Connor says, would normally cost ?20-?40 per unit. Here they could build ten with that money, and they?d probably be stronger.

 

A newcomer is activist Sarah Hall. She can only grow plants in tubs in her own garden because of the cats, so comes here to supplement her learning on growing and sharing food. When she?s not here, she collects food for Streetlife https://www.streetlife.com/, keen to promote healthy eating habits not just in her kids but in as many young people she can*. Her aim is to grow fruit trees across Blackpool, where people can help themselves to food. She makes her own jam, and knows how easy it is. If it doesn?t set, you can eat it with yoghurt.

 

Debbie got an allotment in St Anne?s after a three year wait only to lose it the same day because she moved out of the catchment area. She?s just started coming to Cherry Trees and loves it. ?The muckier I am, the happier,? she says, and hopes to get her own allotment here to share produce and knowledge with this good group of people.

Talk moves to the winter and sightings of Siberian Swallows ? a sign of a hard winter, which will at least kill of the slugs. Sarah marvels at how they manage to squirm themselves inside her home. Debbie can?t believe she gets them in her flat on the third floor. Julie suggests they take the lift?

It?s hard to find community these days, they reckon, but there?s one here.

 

Enter Michael Powell of Treehouse that runs projects focusing on creativity and the outdoors. He?s here to build the planters for the fourteen banquet tables http://www.leftcoast.org.uk/banquet/, and in doing so, hopes to build confidence, self esteem and trust in himself and those helping him.

 

Watching George, Andrew and Tim rotate the crowbar and mallet around themselves to prise off the slates of a pallet (donated by various local businesses) I see that trust. They take it in turns to stand on the pallet, weighing it down, while another levers the crowbar, swings the mallet, wood splintering and flying. And another hammers. They?re making the planters for the Banquet tables, and are quietly confident in the job. George only has a backyard at home and while he can grow cabbages in tubs he comes here to grow more and bring the veg home. His suggestions for the planters are mint and radish, both still growing now, or beetroot leaves. Sarah likes the idea of richly scented herbs, like garlic chives or rosemary on the table. There?s talk of having salad leaves in them too.

Michael is making the tables out of pallets too. He spends much of his life driving around scouting for piles of pallets and then building up the courage to ask for them. People are, generally, only too happy to give them away. The table and planters he?s making for Banquet are influenced by his passion and awe of the natural world. He began working with wood and recycled materials, about two years, as a response to a growing interest in nature and its different connections, movements and relations. It is an attempt of interpreting and explaining the world around himself through the physical act of making something, out of something either discarded or gathered from the natural world. He has become increasingly interested in natural building techniques and permaculture over the past few years. This project has been influenced by his research and experience of these. As an experienced community support worker and workshop facilitator, as well as artist he?s enjoyed how this project has allowed for a collaboration of these two worlds, leading to the co production of the banquet table for this event.

Tim, now welding a saw on a fresh pallet, was part of the People?s Pottery project. His plate detailed a game pie: grouse and other birds. He comes to the allotment because he likes getting outside, and not just for his food. His arm moving smoothly back and forwards, blade cutting through the soft wood. The only weather he doesn?t like is the wind with rain. If it does rain when they?re all down here, they head to the poly tunnel to sow seeds. However, it?s rarely as bad outside as looking at outside from inside?

Today, luckily, the sun shines down on them. They?ve fourteen planters to make and plant up and, with some already finished, their focus is sharper than the saws they?re using. The Banquet Table and its makers is a union up there with home grown tomatoes and onions for chutney.

 

* If you?d like to donate food for Streetlife you can leave it at the Lighthouse http://tristans-lighthouse.co.uk/

Grow Blackpool is a charity and welcomes donations of tools or plants. Just take anything you don?t want to the New Enterprise Centre Lytham Road, Blackpool. They don’t have the skill set to repair broken tools just yet, so only unwanted usable ones please.

Dream Team

Where is home to you?

What is it?

Streetlife Banquet CJGriffiths Photography (22)

These questions were the starting points for the collaboration between Unfinished Business and Streetlife for their performance Walk Talk and Eat with Me on Friday 23rd October.

For Jack ?Too? home is family, people who stick by you. When you?ve problems you know you?ve got someone there. You look after those who look after you. It?s people who understand you. He has his travelling family, initial family and another family. When things got bad at home when he was little he used to go across the road to his neighbour who is now his best friend.

Jordan adds another view: Home is where you feel most comfortable, your surroundings. ?Blackpool is mine, because I was born here. I?ve lived in Lancaster and Coventry, but I know where everything is here. It?s where I feel most comfortable.?

For Jack ?One? it?s when he?s with his Grandma and Granddad.

Leo feels at home when he?s being creative. London, too. His brother and Anna (with whom he runs Unfinished Business) give a sense of home. Little rituals also give a deeper connection.

It?s about feeling comfortable, for Anna. That isn?t necessarily a place, but being around people, who are not necessarily family. It?s about feeling understood, and that sense of familiarity.

For Owen, home is a cup of tea.

Lee?s family split a long time ago in a lot of different directions, so that idea of home isn?t relevant to him. He spent a lot of time with friends, his dance group. They became his family. Wherever they were was his home. Now he?s got a little boy, home is wherever they?re together. His crew is all he needs.

Then again, you can have home in your person. As Jack ?Too? put it: Home is your heart.

The consensus was home is people who care about you, who have your safety and wellbeing at heart. Jordan has totally relied on Streetlife since he?s been back in Blackpool. He goes to the shelter every night. It?s where he?s safe, where he sleeps. ?I?ve got a bed. That?s my home.? He?s built relationships with the leaders. They?re his family.

The event explores notions of home, homeless and food. How hard it can be for people, and challenging perspectives about homeless people that aren?t hundred per cent correct

People have a stereotypical view of what a homeless person is, which, according to Jordan, is dirty clothes, rugged looking. He went on, saying ?Not all of us look homeless. We wear decent clothes, keep pretty clean. And if they bumped into us in town they wouldn?t think we were homeless.?

None of the guys in the project beg. Jack ?One? said he had too much pride. Jordan said they don?t need to with the help they have from Streetlife, the emergency shelter for 15-25 year olds who have nowhere to go.

Walk, Talk and Eat with Me will start on the promenade, then the performers will guide small groups of five or six people to the Winter Gardens. At the Winter Gardens the whole group of almost 50 – audience and participating performers – will create and eat a meal together made up of food brought by the audience to the show.

The guys hope that people will appreciate how much hard work as gone into all elements of the show, to share their views on homelessness and maybe they?ll find common ground. And of course, for everyone to have a good laugh.

For this to happen, the group realise it?s about practice. It?s a very short process: six days over all. But throughout they?ve been working as a team. They ?have got each other?s back, and will help each other out.? As Jordan says, ?We?ll smash it. As long as we?re all working together, we?ll be fine. No one?s a leader. We?ve all got the same input as everyone else. Our opinions are equal.?

They have a range of skills that will see them through. While Jordan acted in school, he?s never done anything like this before. Part of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he was dancing the Old Bamboo, kicking legs out, twirling the stick. So anything could happen?

In fact none of them have done anything like this before, but with Unfinished Business they?ve been writing and working on developing their focus and building confidence as individuals and as a group. After this first three day process they have a sense of belonging to the group.

Jack ?Too? explains: We?re doing stuff to embrace the improvisation of the event, as well as talking about our time in Blackpool. When you?re homeless there are loads of things going on around you. People?s lives are very different.

Jordan continues: We?ve been given ingredients and practicing making random dishes from them, so when we go to Winter Gardens we?ll have an idea of what to do in 30 minutes.

It?ll be all cold foods, salads, cheese, meats etc they won?t be cooking anything to keep within the time. Jack ?One?, a qualified chef, has done all his levels at college. He?s pretty confident about making a meal on the spot.

Jack ?Too? describes himself as the naked chef.

Jordan makes a mean mashed potato, and is excited about exploring his skills further…The day before we met he made his own crazy recipe which he called: Brillsy cr?me brulee. For this he cored the apple, mixed Nutella with water to fill the apple with, put meringue under the apple, poured the chocolate sauce on the top, sprinkled crisps around the side, more meringue on top, put a few carrots on the apple? And et voila! (With a flick of the wrist).

Whereas Lee made a swan out of his apple.

Jack ?Too?s challenge has been working with ingredients he can?t pronounce and has never heard of. One meal was aubergine, onions and tomatoes cut up and wrapped in seaweed. Verdict? Absolutely disgusting.

It was Owen?s first day of rehearsals, but he reckoned he could make an aubergine into something tasty. He?s a track record for getting people eating things they didn?t think they liked.

One thing they agree on: Meeting Leo has been brilliant, the way he thinks and brings new ideas to the table.

Everyone has a story to be told, and the group is interested to hear them. If you?re interested in sharing yours, then get your ticket for the show and prepare yourself for a gastronomic feast and good old laugh with these guys…

 

Apple Picking. Gallery

Philip Parr rounded up children from Mereside School to discover the delights held in the apple tree just next door to their playground

Cherry Tree Food Fest in Pictures. Part I.

Common Ground

I’m particularly struck by the sustainable and ecological nature of the work. The ethos of all the projects I’ve visited so far is to draw from the resources of the area – either literally – in terms of making salt from the Wyre or finding orchards for apples – or metaphorically in terms of inspiration that comes from the stories of the participants. While many of the participants were not necessarily aware of the other strands of the project when they first embarked on, say, designing their own slipware plates and bowls, the overlapping of the artistic drive of celebrating what we have where we are is reinforced every time I visit a project.

This is perhaps most evident in the apple picking project, the salters and the people’s pottery project – all three making space and time for the sheer creative joy of making things from the earth. Once time is made to work with and handle the most basic of elements, more value is inevitably placed on the element. The increased sense of wonder that comes from excavating the source of something, making connections between what we take for granted, is boundless.
And nourishing. It adds the x-factor to any recipe, just as much as eating food you’ve grown yourself. In an era that mixes a cooking programme virtually every night on tv, spiraling food prices and increasing obesity, it feels imperative to have such community based projects that encourage this knowledge and build it into enjoyable and inclusive events. Beachcombing along the Fleetwood seafront, anyone?