Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Universal Language of Stitching Art - A tool in an experimental field at the crossroads of art, philosophy and care

In the course of a conversation with Gopika Nath about philosophy of stitching, I came to examine some words around philosophy of stitching.

English requires three words, “ folds”, “ pleats “ and “ creases “ to describe three different “ states of the matter”, where French use only one “pli”, to describe the same situations. Well, not exactly, “crease “is “faux pli”, and other subtle reasons of sentence construction that would be fastidious to mention here.

This question has been haunting for long in my textile art practice.  Not only regarding words, but real cloth. Words “unfold” into a mental space, where textile art practice evolves in the real 3D world.  And I’m not naively re-discovering here an elusive “neat simplicity of things as they are”, opposed to the space of “evil concepts”.

The world of stitching and fibre arts is of cultural representations, where teaching and learning, human transmissions, education, knowledge, come along with models and documentation. Yet how is it that stitching, for being culturally complex, speaks with equal universality to human hearts?

The holistic approach of fibre arts

We may have an answer. It’s because stitching, with other textile art techniques uses the body as a tool for mediating a self-analysis operated by the mind.

The repetitive way some tasks are performed creates a soft trance that connect to yourself, creating this “temporal bubble“where fibre artists, as most crafters, find themselves in.  The body is not used as in a sports activity but, by involving the eye, the hand, and sometimes the legs, in small scale coordination, together with brain in a highly complex mix.

It re-enacts the links you used to solicit when you were, as a child, constructing your representation of the world, and the ways to interact with it. Understanding a weaving pattern is a demanding task, partly done by the body. And this task of constructing an inner representation of the world is the same as building yourself up and together;

The ability to transport you into a world where you can walk again in the path of this building process makes stitching a precious tool for healing, using the mind in spiritual ways, to make, not intellectual virtual constructions, but concrete inner connections that are building or rebuilding yourself.

It also explains why it’s “above” tongues: because it’s functioning upon mechanisms that are put in place while learning of language during childhood.   

First mechanisms of language acquisition start very early and involve other “proto-representational” schemes that could be qualified as “artistic”, a convenient, but relevant way to describe how we feel when art speaks this language of harmony we all know, without using words.

This primary language is universal. It helps us to walk along the path between us and other people, and helps to find harmony inside our self and with others. 

A paradise you could reach with your hand
Of course, as with all practices that deal with human, things are not that easy. It’s not because you find a problem that this problem is solved. Seeing a problem is only a condition sine qua non to see a solution. And even once you think of a solution, a lot of work remains to be made, because of circumstances that slow the healing process.

It might takes years or be frustrating. Looking back over yesterday, you are happy discovering its better today, but no warranty to be any better tomorrow etc.

Stitching is not a magical recipe for happiness, you could use by itself, excluding other activities and other people. At the opposite, textile art connects you to other people, helps you find these you resonate better with, or to practice other activities. It might help realize how cooking, dyeing, dancing with others can be wonderful.

It takes a bunch of people to breed sheep, grow linen, dye, spin, weave, sew, stitch, patch. Textile art is wonderful at making you feel how important you are in a group of humans motivated to create beautiful things.

Could this energy, a useful resource for a life enlightened by jubilation, be used more and better than it is now?

We know we don’t have answers to every question. We are not in the making of a technical manual, but in human relationship. Each person is unique, a case at this moment, and other technicians of education, care, psychology, and very widely of philosophical, spiritual and mental life are welcome to examine the case.

Once these precautions taken, we may work out how the practice of textile art participates in the development of concrete experiences aimed at a better understanding for new contributions in education, relations with others of the human being, in the physical, intellectual, spiritual and social aspects.

Stitching, a rooted knowledge
We know see how the idea comes to mind that an artist could make other people benefit from this practice artists accompany other people on the path, turning into a practitioner who would help  the positive effects to happen during the walk, by walking along and teaching the technique.

We all know this is already widely working with a true success in every town every day around the world, but the links between teaching, care, technique, and self-awareness are not always clearly defined. In fact, all nuances of the pallet can be found through various kinds of “workshops” in general. 

As long as it works, everything is fine, and we would like to do some research in the field, avoid  transforming a charming wild garden into a boring park, but see if we could set up a small glass-house somewhere.

In the experimental field, the experimental tool requires experimental operators. Now if you look, an artist repeatedly travels not only between herself and the world, but also between innovation and mastered techniques, her crafting know-how.

A release (of problems, question) has to be operated from a base. And this base is made of traditional know-how that artists inherited, built and developed over centuries into a “personal style”. All this in one word: “culture”. While Gopika has been “described as a contemporary artist using traditional embroidery as a medium”, we see her, at the same time, searching for the roots and story of embroidery.

While there is nothing more contemporary than “care “, even in art, there is nothing more necessary to contemporary art than technical tradition.

It’s a move we share at our workshop, L’Atelier de Minuit. While Lydie deepens her knowledge of traditional embroidery, using cloth with a past, dyed with vegetal colours, and stitching following historical models, Guillaume explores the bridges between this practice and contemporary trends of art.

Art, care, culture, civilization

Folding and unfolding, to pleat or to crease, linking, joining, binding through a repository of terms that “ point to “ hand making, the art of stitching goes straight from the heart of matter to the soul, and connects us to ourselves and others like a universal language.

A saying: “Le travail des mains libère l’esprit”, could be translated into “the work of hands sets the mind free”, invites us to re-consider how traditional embroidery culture has become part of contemporary art.  The times we had to convince, that “despite using thread, yes, it’s art indeed“, are over. Shift happens.

Leaving the 20th century “star system” of art, a contemporary approach focuses on care, the one we take for each other, beginning with one self.

Rooted in centuries of tradition, stitching and other fibre arts are more vivid than ever, and able to enlighten how the brain, the mind, the heart and the soul collaborate into the one big thing that humanity is.

Practice of fibre arts is full of joy and peace. We would like to help young textile artists gain technique, know-how, as well as training and self confidence they need to extend this as a helpful tool, to fulfil mission of caring among and for others.

 Guillame Bur is a textile artist, which he says is mostly about spoiling silk and linen pieces. He is also a philosopher. Together with Lydie Arnould, he runs L’Atelier de Minuit, an organization dedicated to promote textile arts.             


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this point of vue.

    1. Thank. you for writing it Guillame. Will correct the website url

  2. Just scanned this post so I know i need a bigger cuppa and a piece of time to sink into it. Looks yummy and thought provoking.

    but... there's an error in their website address, one spare "r" :)

    1. Thanks for pointing out the error Bozena, will correct. Meanwhile get that cuppa and join in on this discourse on the universal language of stitch.

  3. As Roland Barthes expresses about fashion language in semiotics, stitching and clothing have a distinct language and speak volumes. Fathoming and searching oneself, and connecting to others through this art form is a great philosophy of life. The word stitch with different connotations connects body,mind and intellect harmoniously and elevates one to the level of consciousness. Nice article.

    1. Yes Gayatri, stitching and clothing, like almost everything in life really, have a distinct language and can speak volumes if we let them. I have found that chai marks have enabled an extensive dialogue and through it I have spoken reams of things that I would otherwise not know how to express. I totally agree with you that connecting with others and sharing is a great philosophy - quite simply when the external world is a manifestation of the inner - that one mind that we are yet to access, but are in the process of, then it is this constant connection with different facets of it, which provide the impetus as well as the crutches for that growth. Thanks for reading and for your insightful comments, as always.

  4. Routine of fiber expressions is loaded with happiness and peace. We might want to offer youthful material craftsmen some assistance with gaining method, know-how, and in addition preparing and self-assurance they have to augment this as an accommodating device, to satisfy mission of administering to this blog.