I began to create a stitch journal as a way of reflecting on my PhD experience, prompted by Pat Thomson’s description of a ‘red thread’ running through a thesis to guide the reader from section to section. My research uses autoethnographic methods to explore how amateur craft makers learn together in open access community making spaces, so researcher reflexivity is an important aspect of this.
I’ve been sewing for years, and I tend to always have a project on the go (my desk is a precarious jumble of books, papers, bits of fabric, knitting, and reels of thread, with a keyboard and mouse occupying a small area at the front). Starting the stitch journal was a way of me justifying to myself the opportunity to do some making every day – in the same way that a committed runner might have a desire to run every day, so I have an urge to make, and it’s a way of expressing myself visually and physically, without having to think about constructing arguments or synthesis or any of the complexities of PhD thinking. The making theorist David Gauntlett talks about “actually doing the thing” , referring to the act of putting into practice things that one might be researching theoretically, and Tim Ingold (2013) argues that whilst the theorist makes through thinking, the maker thinks through making – I find the stitching to be helpful as a tool for thinking through things.
A stitch journal can take many forms – for many aficionados, it’s about simple repetitive stitches in a piece of cloth as a route to mindfulness, as with work by the textile artist Claire Wellesley-Smith, whilst others, such as Lynne Harrigan, embroider a picture in a small square every day; this is the pattern my stitch journal follows, with a 5cm square filled every day, in a sheet of Belfast Linen that is approximately 2m x 1.5m. It began in mid-April 2018, and I started my PhD in September 2017, so it’s not a complete document – in theory, if I finish within the three years for which I’m funded, there should be enough fabric here.
An important aspect to this project is that there’s no right and wrong – the dreaded impostor syndrome has bitten quite hard in the first year of study, bringing with it a great deal of self-doubt around my ability to string sentences together, and constructing something where there are no rules consequently feels very liberating. There’s also no obligation for the day’s entry to be particularly complex, or for the stitching to be of ‘high quality’ (define that however you like!) There’s a square for every day, but it’s not important that I actually fill in the square on that given day; rather, I make a note of what’s going in there and fill it in later if I’m too busy at that point.
I don’t post every day’s entry, as some are particularly mundane, but in general what I’m doing can either be found on my Twitter or my Instagram. Each square get a bit of contextual narrative when I share it; this can all be found on each month’s page under this ‘stitch journal’ tab.