Stitching the map by walking the walk

I’ve been thinking about stitched maps for ages, but, as is always the way, there needs to be a prompt to get me going. This time it was a conversation with the inimitable Emma Bearman about the LovetoPlay 2021 festival, happening in Leeds and intergalactically (as she puts it) between 10 and 17 April 2021. 

The finished map: felt and cotton on cotton background, approximately 25cm square

I was wondering what a map I made might look like, and what maps can represent. I’ve found that I’ve been stuck in thinking about documents of boundaries, roads, infrastructure, rather than considering more imaginative, playful approaches to map-making, for instance as a record of a journey still taking place – as in the way in which, in cartoons, Wil E Coyote might be laying out train tracks or road before him as he chases after the Roadrunner. 

Emma’s call sparked an idea for me to ask people to create their own maps, using whatever tools and materials they had to hand. My invitation said: 

Make a map of your world! Where is important to you? It could be a map from your house to your favourite tree. It could be from your house to school to your favourite sweet shop to the place where you walk your dog. It could be from your gran’s house to the park to your best friend’s house to the seaside. It could be imaginary – if you had a secret underground cave system what would it be like? If it was a treasure map, what would it be like? It could be really detailed or not at all. You could make it with pens and paper, or twigs on the ground, or sew it like I’ve done with mine.

I’ve put together this blog post to show the stages of assembly. In the end, I didn’t have as much time as I’d hoped to put together my sample map; there is probably about ten hours’ worth of stitching in it. Assembling the map was a process of trial and error, with bits and bobs hastily grabbed from a pile of materials; this forced me to be creative as I began to assemble it, as I was away from home but the short time frame meant I had to persist with what was to hand. Fortunately the restrictive resources were counterbalanced by working at a very large table with plenty of room to spread out as I experimented with different fabric combinations. 

The inspiration for the map was drawn from the book From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association, by Kris Harzinski (website: www.handmaps.org), which encompasses all sorts of cartography, from scribbled diagrams used to offer directions through to more elaborate art maps. I have a collection of maps of my area, and had been thinking about local, and seemingly banal hyperlocal maps. What I created depicts my walk with my dog, a walk I’ve probably done a thousand times, whose familiarity means I could tell you about the cars parked in each driveway, the new gate recently installed in the lane, even the ankle-wrecking tree roots to step over in the woods.

I stripped out various details (I apologised to friends in the village for wiping out their roads) and the work is also not to any particular scale. The important thing I wanted it to communicate was a route from my home to the woods, which, despite stripping out this other information, is still clear. It is intended as an invitation to others to have a go at making a similarly ‘banal’ map. 

The big hindsight observation about making this was that it was a failure of sorts, in that it didn’t actually do what I set out to do. I got so excited by the making process that I didn’t think through the rest of what needed to happen. The intention was that people would make their own maps and email them to me so that I could share all of this lovely home-made-mapping; what happened was that the map and its instructions were put out into the world, with an invitation but no deadline, the post was shared widely and enthusiastically, but then… one single response. This response was great, and was received with much excitement, but it got me thinking about how putting things out into the world is one thing, but putting things out into the world in expectation of specific responses is quite a different thing. In other contexts I know how to put out an invitation and get responses, but it seems I’m still figuring this out when it applies to my own creative work. If you’ll pardon the extended cartographic metaphor, I’m choosing to remember that it’s all part of navigating unfamiliar space. I’m learning my way by feeling my way. Watch this space for revised mapping as I chart new territories…

One thought on “Stitching the map by walking the walk

  1. Hi Clare, I also love maps and have made a few myself over the years. One in particular that was a cultural survey of a river, which ended up as a booklet that folded out into the shape of the river. Please don’t think your call out to the world is in vain. You’ve set the seed in people’s minds, like a seed sometimes it might take a while for the right conditions to occur and then for it to flourish. I hope to share with you my current project, a parish map of my home area (Cairnie), myself and a storyteller are currently cycling and walking around the area gathering stories, colours, textures, patterns etc and I’m going to translate this into a textile map with collage, embroidery and input from local children on their local stories. I’ve found a vintage linen table cloth from the local charity shop onto which this exploration will be captured. Good luck with your next steps on your journey.

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