Making Futures Journal
Recrafting Waste using a Stitch-Based Methodology: A Collaboration between Makers and Matter
This compression of the theory and the research through the pulling of the practice, combined with the use of discarded materials, could be compared to a gardener making compost. As with composting, I have used the research as a period of time to focus ideas and energy. I have started with remnants, harnessed the valuable nutrients and ‘activated’ the waste to produce an outcome that has the potential to feed other research.
Here I set out the features of the stitch-based methodology. This framework is applied to all the practice-based investigations exploring ‘recrafting waste’. Each investigation emphasises different aspects of the methodology.
• Cast-offs = Discarded Materials
The ‘cast-offs’ are the waste or crafted waste materials that form the starting point for the new work produced. This element subsequently leads the practice, theory and research.
• Thread = Making x Thinking x New Skills
Thread or yarn is made of up of fibres spun together. The thread is three ply and represents ‘thinking through making’ spun with ‘learning new skills’, inextricably linked to the third which is the making of the work or the ‘practice’.
• Pierce = Dissemination
When sewing, the needle must pierce through the cloth in order to pass the thread through it. The point at which the plied thread (practice) pierces through the layers of cloth (theory and research) is where ideas are disseminated via an exhibition, artist’s talk, presentation or workshop discussion.
• Spool = Engagement
A spool is the vehicle that carries the thread. The practitioner brings their practice to others through engagement at workshops and events. The personal analogy of ‘self as stitch’ can be used to describe the dialogue with materials.
• Knot = ‘Felt difficulty’ (Scrivener 2013) in the research
Experiential knowledge is illustrated as a knot at the start of the research, and it acts as an anchor for the research. However, through the course of the research it is likely that threads will tangle and new knots will appear and upset the flow of the stitching. This results in the research becoming temporarily stuck.
• Backstitch = Analysis and Reflection
The trajectory is ultimately progressing but is augmented by continuous loops backwards and around. The backstitch illustrates the cyclical nature of the reflection process. It is here that the findings and outcomes from the above features are examined and critically analysed.
Structure as Patchwork
The overall layout of the research can be seen as a patchwork quilt. Drawing upon projects that are included in this research, Jacqueline Anderson, a fellow student, created a diagram to describe its structure (Figure 4). The front of the quilt represents all the artwork I have produced that is exhibited or shown to the public. The reverse of the quilt is where the thinking, making and theory can be found. The edges are the further research and threads that are needed to pull it together.
In order to formulate the research, I collated pre-made elements into new assemblages, like patchworking. This idea of dealing with what is to hand is aligned with ‘bricolage’ methodology. This method was adopted in the research of artist Mike Collier, who believes ‘It is flexible enough to allow a collage of overlapping timeframes to develop, each area of research informing the others in a conversation or dialogue between the reading, writing and studio work that moves back and forward in time allowing ideas to overlap and interconnect’ (Collier 2011). Although not described as a bricolage, Dr Katie Collins in a paper addressing the ‘Materiality of Research’ describes a way of writing that has similarities to Collier’s method. She uses the metaphor of quilting to explain how piecing fragments together is a more realistic method of writing and that piecing is also a ‘decentred activity’ in that it removes the human from a central role in the research:
When quilting, one can plan, cut and stitch many individual squares whenever there is a moment spare, before bringing them together to form the overall pattern, which is flat and in aesthetic terms may have no centre or many centres, and no predetermined start or end. This holds true both for the practice of quilting and how we might think differently about academic writing, with each contribution not a brick in a structured wall but a square ready to stitch onto other squares to make something expected or unexpected, the goal depth and intensity rather than progress (Collins 2016).
Collins uses the ‘subversive material’ metaphor to talk about how writing is part of life, and she challenges the idea of the solitary scholar. For her, this approach is gendered, ‘with metaphors that emphasise the piecing of fragments, both everyday and exceptional, we recognise a way of working in which every fragment that can be pieced together into a square is the preservation of a woman’s voice’ (ibid). What Collier and Collins have in common is an interest in connections rather than separations, and both refer a non-linear approach to academic writing and research. This notion of having no beginning and no end is like the aforementioned rhizome, a root-like subterranean stem seen in plants such as ginger. Based upon the botanical rhizome, Deleuze and Guattari introduced the concept in their book A Thousand Plateaus:
As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the originary and source of ‘things’ and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those ‘thingss’. A rhizome, on the other hand, ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles (Deleuze and Guattari 1987) (Deleuze and Guattari 1987).
By considering Deleuze and Guattari, I could see a correlation between this rhizomatic way of thinking and my own research development that was forming out of a sequence of seemingly happenstance events. In reality they were all interconnected, borne out of my engagement with a range of people and projects, coming into play at different points in time.
Investigation 1: ‘Recrafting Waste’ at National Glass Centre
Investigation 2: Public Art Commission
The artwork Adorn (2017) (Figures 12, 13) is a semi-permanent artwork commissioned for NGC, a public building. This second investigation exemplifies ‘recrafting waste’, with each of the features of the stitch-based methodology being brought into focus in equal measure. NGC has been the initial site of the research, and the Adorn commission enabled me to make a piece that worked towards a more sustainable way of working, given that the main source material, the making, engagement and installation all ocurred within the same building.
Through the act of recrafting, the waste glass has been transformed from something of perceived low value to a higher value; thus, the status of the glass has been literally and metaphorically elevated. Recrafting waste to make something traditionally seen as a symbol of luxury and status (because of the high costs of making chandeliers) could be seen as a subversive act that questions elitist systems. Initially marginalised materials have now become the centre of attention, and in recrafting waste I have attempted to empower the materials, giving them a platform to fulfil a greater potential.
Investigation 3: Site-Specific Installation
Investigation 4: Socially Engaged Practice
The word craft derives from the German word for power: craft (n.) Old English cræft (West Saxon, Northumbrian), -creft (Kentish), originally "power, physical strength, might," from Proto-Germanic *krab-/*kraf- (source also of Old Frisian kreft, Old High German chraft, German Kraft "strength, skill;" Old Norse kraptr "strength, virtue"). Sense expanded in Old English to include "skill, dexterity; art, science, talent" (via a notion of "mental power"), which led by late Old English to the meaning "trade, handicraft, calling," also "something built or made." The word still was used for "might, power" in Middle English (Online Etymology Dictionary n.d.)