Sunday, 27 September 2009


I have been re-reading the book ‘In Praise of Shadows’ that was first introduced to me at the Textural Space conference by Lesley Millar back in 2001. This quote from the Preface by Charles Moore has helped to reinforce some of my feelings about our desire to belong, something that was reinforced time and again in the conversations i had during the Stories of Cloth project.

“One of the basic human requirements is the need to dwell,
and one of the central human acts is the act of inhabiting,
of connecting ourselves, however temporarily, with a place
on the planet which belongs to us and to which we belong.”

Another interesting book that looks into the theme of belonging is ‘Eternal Echoes – exploring our hunger to belong’ by John O’Donohue.

“The hunger to belong is at the heart of our nature.”
“Our hunger to belong is the longing to bridge the gulf that exists between isolation and intimacy. Distance awakens longing; closeness is belonging. Everyone longs for intimacy and dreams of a nest of belonging in which one is embraced, seen and loved. Something within each of us cries out for belonging.”

“Although each soul is individual and unique, by its very nature the soul hungers for relationship. …….It is your soul that longs to belong
…….your soul is also ancient and eternal.”

“Belonging does not merely shelter you from the sense of being separate and different; its more profound intention is the awakening of the Great Belonging which embraces everything.”

“We are in a huge crisis of belonging. When the outer cultural shelters are in ruins, we need to explore and reawaken the depths of belonging in the human mind and soul that will lead us once again to unexpected possibilities of community and friendship.”

“….an exploration of the creative tension between longing and belonging.”

One way of expressing belonging is through image, story and nostalgia, another is more philosophical and takes us on a personal journey of reflection. The word belonging is made up of two words, being and longing. Todays Postmodern culture tends to define identity in terms of ownership, possessions, status etc, but true belonging is not about ownership; it comes from within. Religion suggests that the exclusion from belonging is the most terrifying thing; for example hell is viewed by some as ultimately separation from God whereas though in all religions peace, beauty and fulfilment, are to be found in places of total belonging: heaven or nirvana etc.
I have been reflecting on my personal interests,areas that I am keen to study more and noticed that since this project started I have become particularly fascinated in traditions; practical and social skills passed on through rituals and narratives, especially things to do with the everyday. All these things are signifiers of a sense of belonging; they help to create collective identities, often identities that share universal qualities of expression that link us by our humanity.

My chosen artistic medium of textiles underlines this idea as cloth has a universal language; no words are needed to make a depth of meaning clear, but the skill, personal quality and ritual meanings behind cloth are common to all humanity. My past experience of working with women from various cultures has taught me that cloth is uniting; it sits in the liminal space between knowing and unknowing. It combines skill, tradition, story, cultural identity and personal expression, but is often made for a purpose, a utilitarian item and not just for display. Cloth has very feminine undertones to it and therefore means that I can identify with that; my connection in the making is with women from all cultures and all histories, the intimate touch is passed on through the use of fabrics; the sensory engagement and intimacy that we all feel.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


Textiles accompany us throughout life’s journey;
Wrapped as we enter the world and covered when we leave.

We all have a story of cloth to tell, a christening gown worn by three generations, a wedding dress still wrapped in tissue paper hidden in the attic, an embroidery or silk hankie made by a family friend, or a special piece of cloth wrapped carefully away to be used at your burial. is a culturally diverse community arts and heritage project that creates opportunity for reflection on personal memories associated with the ritual events of birth, marriage and death through the sensory medium of cloth. Creating opportunities for exchange between cultures and generations it aims to increase understanding of one another’s lost or changing heritage.

The project was initiated in 2006 by artist Lesley Sutton; supported by Trafford Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund Lesley worked with photographer Paula Keenan observing and documenting individual and collective stories told by small groups of women from six cultural backgrounds living in South Manchester. Despite their varied backgrounds the women held in common the celebration of life from birth to grave and the use of textiles during these festivities. The result was an exhibition of documentary photography, video and art work created collaboratively between the two artists.

The project aims to continue by collecting stories of cloth from all over the globe. Aferdita, a refugee from Kosovo tells us that textiles play a very important role for women from her country; she began to make her dowry at the age of twelve. Mildred remembers finding her dream wedding dress while out shopping with her mother in Oldham Street, Manchester; it cost fifteen guineas and was made of silk brocade.

Join us by sharing your stories of cloth. Explore some of the stories already in our collection or view some of the artefacts and art work in our ‘Online Exhibits’ page. Help us to make this project successful by asking friends and family from all over the world to share their stories.

Lesley Sutton; Project co-ordinator

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Creativity and spirituality

I am passionate about seeing creativity and creative living back at the heart of the community. To teach and encourage individuals and families, churches and communities to re-engage with creativity- to make things special, engage in celebration and festivals using different forms of collective creative activity. To reinvest in our Christian rituals and festivities based on our religious calendar, to encourage and nurture creative family living and an appreciation of beauty.
I believe that creativity should be intergenerational and cross cultural, as it crosses all boundaries of language by speaking directly to the soul.

It can be said that traditional evangelicalism has become institutionalized, triumphant and sin centered with a focus on fear and judgment. Contemporary theology suggests that this can be replaced with a more positive creation centered theology and spirituality in the belief of the unconditional love of a compassionate God. Creation theology is about restoration, relationship and renewal. To bring about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. It is important for us to understand the need to hold both redemptive and creationist theology hand in hand. I have come to a more holistic understanding of theology rather than the dualism that I was taught as a child that separates God from creation, body from soul, the individual from the community; and feel more at peace with a theology that embraces God in all created things whilst celebrating the divine image at work within us, and reverences the presence of God within one another. I also feel it is essential for us to regain a sense of mystery within our faith.

We can learn a lot from other non western cultures who have not lost this deeper understanding of whole life living. The western church adopted the enlightenment thinking of Descartes and we gave up on a lot of our Christian traditions and rituals. I believe that it is time to recover them as we move into a new day. We now need a visual message to engage with today’s culture, the modernist approach to heightening the importance of ‘The Word’ as the higher means of communication is passing and we need to engage with culture by using visual communication, developing new ways of learning, by sound, by sight and kinesthetic learning.
I am interested in redeveloping some of the traditional ways of oral story telling, dance with story, drama and the use of visuals to express our faith journey and worship.
As a church we are privileged to have such talented and gifted musicians leading us in our worship. We are beginning to use drama and story more and more, but I think there is much we can learn of using the visual and the tactile in our worship.
i.e.Using installation art in worship
Creative prayer rooms – open to public etc etc
Art speaks to us via the senses not just the cognitive mind, often having a deep effect on our subconscious and soul. We have begun exploring some of these ways using pebbles and ribbons as aids to prayer.

We must reclaim a sense of the sacred and mystery of God within our churches and communities.

To reconstruct our broken communities – restore, rediscover festivity, celebration ritual and local collective identity

To draw attention to the glimpses of God through the use of good art
To see with the eyes of the spirit and to reveal this to others
To recognize the power of art and creativity in all its forms, to make profound change in communities and individuals.