TEXTtile Project: Chapter One

Purple ink drawing
Blown purple ink drawing by a TEXTtile maker

How to break the ice with people starting on an arts project who may be lacking in creative confidence? After a quick intro to projects past and present, we decided to make our initial marks with ink blown onto paper, self portrait drawings on canvas and a quick light hearted ice breaker peer interview. This is how we got on….

We all met for the first time on Monday 18th April in the lounge of St. Luke’s Community Centre. It’s a quiet, informal setting with soft, natural light and a big table, it houses a small, members library and like all libraries it comes with a welcoming,  contemplative air. All in all, an apt setting for our Book Arts Project. The first session saw us interviewing the person next to us, nothing heavy, some back ground to likes and dislikes, the usual stuff like describing what a library is to an alien, favourite book characters,  is a Twix a chocolate bar or a biscuit and most importantly… Marmite, do you  love it or hate it? Firmly in the HATE IT camp on that one!  and I was not alone. (Other yeast – based spreads are available!)

After much furtive chat, brilliant life history, story telling and general getting to know each other we eventually got down to some ink blowing.

The ink drawings, along with the life history stories and group feedback from the workshop will form the first chapter of our TEXTtile book. Like the ink itself, the story is fluid and unpredictable. The book(s) we produce,along with the oldblogposts and film footage, will archive our work on our community workshops. This is live project, which will unfold and develop without being constrained, too rigidly, by complicated process lead activities, affording us a huge amount of freedom and, it is hoped, maximum participant input to the outcomes.

TEXTtile first pages of the book.
TEXTtile first pages of the book.

To gently push the group a little further, and get the creative juices flowing, we used mini canvases to do a self portraits- in whatever media on the table. This is the TEXTtile group, by the makers themselves.

“I really enjoyed that! I’ll be back next week and I’m going to bring my friend. ”

“That was good fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.”

“I’m not sure if I’m any good but I enjoyed doing something different. That’s the point isn’t it, trying new things. It’s not what you make it’s being part of something.”

It was a lot to pack into a two hour session, but created a really good, busy vibe. There was a real energy to the room. You can see some of the action in this time lapse footage shot by Nicole.


Already looking forward to the next session. Great start everyone!

Reflections: Over the past few projects certain repeat patterns have emerged. The initial session is full of inquisitive people. Brave, inquisitive people. Brave because it is not to be underappreciated how daunting such an experience is, people, by just turning up, have taken the hardest step and shown the willingness to be outwith their everyday experience, despite their sensory impairment or any other difficulties. Not matter who the participants or the venue, at the end of each initial workshop I am constantly in awe of the project makers for their tenacity and each time have a renewed respect for their positive attitude.

We are nearly always met with a chorus of , ‘I’m not any good at this sort of thing”, “I can’t draw to save myself”, “I haven’t done anything like this for years, since my eyes got bad/since my hearing went because I don’t like going out” or, as one of our TEXTtile makers said during the first session;

“I used to make things all the time, I did watercolours, I did really tricky embroidery, my work was in an exhibition once and someone wanted to buy it! I used to share what I made with my friends and family and it was something to talk about, you know, it was good conversation.  I loved it, it made me proud to show what I made. I miss that. I didn’t think I could make anything anymore, with my eyes as they are, I’m so glad I came today. I’m going to enjoy being with other people who like making things.”

By week four, with encouragement, participants are usually much more comfortable with the topics and making activities and the dynamic changes. It is at this point that we usually introduce a cultural excursion, a shared experience,  that the group can take ownership of and draw inspiration from. Getting out and about in museum / gallery type settings is also great for everyones confidence, as public spaces can be as intimidating as they can be educational.

“If you are involved in running similar, community, arts & wellbeing workshops we would love to hear from you and get an informed, proactive dialogue going, so please leave a comment and we will get back to you.

Like minded, creative people, working together to make a difference… bring it on!” – Alex McEwan, TEXTtile Lead.

Author: Alex McEwan

Alex is an artist who specialises in inclusive and accessible community arts projects, such as Sense's TEXTtile and Quilt Tales.

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