Our life on fabric – getting to know each other

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Tactile Histories is a life history and textiles project for people over the age of 60 with sensory impairments. Throughout the project, the group will have the chance to learn and develop new textile skills, share their stories and work collaboratively with each other to design a patchwork quilt of their memories. 

 Tactile Histories is all about connections: to our pasts; those around us and the places we’re from – and to our innate creativity. So, how do the paths we’ve taken, as we start to re-tread them, emerge into a story that is tactile?

The age-old tradition of making patchwork quilts is where we start. Quilts are built bit by bit, using different textures, colours and ideas; a perfect way of telling our ever-evolving stories.

For many centuries, quilts have been made single-handedly and amongst friends and families, passed down from  hand to hand, with every new stitch, adornment and addition revealing the thoughts and memories of each new recipient. Quilts tell a story; the stories of personal histories and our place in the world; of events remembered, victories celebrated and of lives loved and lost.

Over the next twelve weeks, we will explore our own unique and personal pasts.  Fabrics, embellishments, print media, paints, pencils, paper and personal objects will be used to mark the twists and turns of our lives. We will try felt making, weaving, printing and appliqué and whatever else takes our fancy!


Weaving? I haven’t done that since I was at primary school!


The group gets down to business – let’s look at the fabrics, what have we got?

Pic 1

Everyone has a journal for the next 12 weeks. A place to record memories, explore ideas or stick photos. We cover our journals with the fabrics we like and use other pieces to create name tags; can you tell a little something from these choices?

Pic 2

Why did you choose your piece of material?

One because it’s pink, two because it’s cotton, and three it looks like a quilt

Pic 4

Well, as you can probably see, these are colours I quite like, and it’s an impulse thing – isn’t it? Because you’ve got to make quite a quick grab!

Pic 5

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Pic 7

I like a few different colours in it, there’s some brighter ones and it’s uplifting, that’s why I choose that one. 

Pic 8

Hard at work – a collaborative effort!

Pic 9

We get to know each other a bit better during the day. We play a game where everyone has to tell their partner something about their life. A few snippets of each person’s life are shared:

She’s got a really big family, lots of nieces and nephews, there’s so many that she doesn’t know how many!

Ten years ago she had a cochlear implant and it was a life-changing event … if she could pick one day of her entire life she would pick the day that was switched on and she would wear it as a badge. The first thing she heard was ‘are you alright?’ The audiologist didn’t expect her to hear anything so suddenly there was this noise.

You’re Bethnal Green, I’m Hoxton

No I’m not Bethnal Green! I’m Stepney! 

Alex, who is working on the project, talks to the group about her own work. She was inspired by the collection at the Foundling Museum, Britain first home for abandoned children. Foundling tokens (coins, a button, jewellery, a poem) were given by mothers leaving their babies, allowing the Foundling Hospital to match a mother with her child should she ever come back to claim them.

Pic 10

Alex show us her work, a collection of memories transferred onto fabric. The images are drawn from her own recollections and memories and those collected from family and friends.

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Oh that’s good, all the little animals and little dollies and fish.  It’s fantastic! She’s really got into it, really got hold of it. 

It’s things you can go back over.

The group are really inspired; minds are whirring, discussions are generated and ideas are starting to formulate – ready to go next week!



Author: Kara Jarrold

Kara is Head of Arts & Wellbeing at Sense. She leads on arts projects that find ways to empower people to find their cultural voice, working collaboratively and experimentally with artists and participants to improve access to art through the senses.

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