This week one of our favourite Croydon-based creatives – free embroidery artist Tina Crawford – joins us as guest writer to talk about her rather extraordinary art piece she created during lockdown.
‘Connected by a Thread’ embodies the four months of pandemic isolation, the digital connections we made and the reconnecting of ourselves. Created in Tina’s Croydon home between 23 March and 4 July 2020, over 100 stories, quotes and even a poem have been included. Engagement came from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Celebrities who have contributed are Mel Giedroyc, Sophie Ellis- Bextor and comedian Rachel Parris.
The fabrics used are off-cuts from NHS scrubs. It measures 2 metres x 2 metres, and it was one continuous stitch going from picture to picture (except for a black square that has the thread cut not only for BLM but to symbolise those who are isolated and have no connections).
Without being able to work in my studio, banished to my home with only my sewing machine, no stack of fabrics to choose from, I was still itching to work. Right at the start of lockdown I knew I wanted to create work as a reaction to it; I wasn’t sure what. The idea of isolation conjured up images of embroidery hoops (which I don’t actually use to work with) connected with threads. I genuinely found social media a lifesaver, Twitter in particular – it can be an awful, judgmental place but in the first couple of months of isolation it was a community – I tapped into this. I put out tweets asking for photos of your #lockdownmoments and they came in; gardening, bird-watching, baking, everything was actually quite joyful and I didn’t expect it – I thought I’d get loneliness and rationing of loo rolls. I started embroidering what came in and ‘framing’ them in embroidery hoops with the idea of connecting them but quite soon in, this time on Instagram, Stag and Bow (a lovely haberdashery emporium in Forest Hill) had on offer for collection off-cuts and scraps from a group that had been stitching NHS scrubs – I leapt on it! (well, my husband cycled to Sydenham for them). Once I got the scraps I knew how my piece would look. The off-cuts were different shades of blue and I wanted to just stitch in white.
I started embroidering each photo but once finished I dragged the thread so it was still connected to the next with a gap between the next scrap and so on…. Each piece was connected by a thread exactly how I felt social media was; we all seemed to come from the same place. More stories and photos came in and I accidentally changed the hashtag to #lockdownhighlights because of the positivity; babies were born, birthdays celebrated, and lots of love for pets all the time. I kept the continuous thread going on to the next story…
I knew from the start how big the piece should be, that was easy: two metres by two metres, the distance we should have kept from each other. When I started laying out the piece, I realised just how big two metres is and the problem of laying out the whole work arose – I didn’t have the space at home. The continuous stitching on the scraps was almost like a very long length of bunting so I cut it in pieces that were two metres long and layered them. I originally wanted to free embroidery haphazard in red over the whole piece to secure it together and to have a visual of the virus, but after seeing the small pictures I’d created I didn’t want to interfere with it; the idea of having a backing fabric was originally something I’d resisted but I began to love the idea – a tactile material that you’d instantly want to touch, because what can’t we do during the pandemic? Touch.
I chose a rich red velvet; red meant so much: danger of the virus, blood, a warning, plus all along I wanted it to be a piece of work that was red, white and blue, the colours of the union flag. Lockdown started to loosen, things were going back to normal and the piece needed to be finished. I set the completion date as 4 July, the day the pubs were opening – it seemed significant. This piece is completely time sensitive – if I tried to start it now it wouldn’t work; people are restless and fed up, community is broken, but for a very brief time we came together, we clapped for keyworkers, we baked, we spent time with our families, we gardened, and we stopped.
My favourite story? There’s an easy winner for this, the picture was of a necklace that was made from part of a spoon – the story is, Susan’s first boyfriend from when she was 16 had been back in touch over lockdown, they chatted, they Zoomed, then he had made and sent her the necklace. The pair of them, over 30 years later are now lockdown seeing each other as a couple. It was almost too perfect a story, so beautiful.
And my #lockdownhighlight? Obviously making this piece but also, every Sunday on Facebook Live, Sky had “Portrait Artist of the Week” a four hour sitting with a celebrity and a previous winner painting along. It doesn’t sound like it would work but it really did, I shed a tear when it ended.
Posted by guest writer Tina Crawford. All images courtesy of the artist.
See more of Tina’s work in person (yes in actual real life) this week, as she has a small installation of What a Waste in the window of Lush Croydon as part of plastic free July. On until sunday 19 July. If you’re ready to venture further afield Tina is exhibiting two of her lockdown pieces in The Art of Isolation exhibition at Surrey Quays which opens on 18 July.
Croydon resident Tina Crawford is a free embroidery artist – she uses the sewing machine as her tool of choice, “the needle feels like an extension of my hands”. With no drawing or marks down when the needle goes into the material, the line is made instantly.