My interest in the concise word and inscription prompted me to create poems in material form. Economically, it made sense to take up needlework and start stitching words on cloth, remembering that some traditional needlework disciplines like the sampler, make ample use of lettering and proverbs.
During the 1980s, I visited Ian Hamilton Finlay and his wife, Sue (my cousin) at Little Sparta in the Pentland hills. I was particularly interested to know that Ian had come to the visual arts via concrete poetry. On my initial visit, I experienced a Damascene moment when I questioned my liberal beliefs, especially my interest in modern literature with its personal, individualistic and often confessional bias; at that point I saw value instead in a philosophy of order, calmness and intelligence. Having largely ignored the culture of the past, being interested only in C20th literature, I began to re-appreciate the classics and the poetry and prose of the 18th and 19thcenturies.
Ian Hamilton Finlay understood my need for a radical change in how I related to and used words. He suggested I learn embroidery, so I enrolled in an evening class with the City of Edinburgh Council and attended courses at The Embroidery Shop in William Street, Edinburgh where I learned a number of different stitches, in particular cross-stitch and crewel. In 2014, I joined the Stranraer branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild in Dumfries & Galloway and, in their classes, learned to sew a number of stitches, both traditional and modern.
I am now able to celebrate equally words stitched on cloth and printed on paper. I have discovered that I can successfully express the didactic with needle and thread. Just as the suffragettes employed female art forms like embroidery for their banners, I use needlework to drive home my polemic or to air a political view.
I do not especially wish to be subversive for its own sake although I have sewn pieces that have had a hard-hitting effect. Some years ago, I embroidered a hit list, naming the people who had offended me! I played around with each of their names in order to evince the greatest amount of irony that I could muster. For obvious reasons, this embroidery is absent from my website.
I use threads of silk, cotton and wool on Aida cotton, linen, hessian, canvas and bandage crepe. I have embroidered words and inscriptions on a tea cosy, a silk housecoat, an apron and an assortment of handkerchiefs.