Research, Stress and Stitches

Beverly Ayling-Smith

Beverly is a textile artist living in Finchampstead, Berkshire, United Kingdom. Beverly originally studied sciences and holds a BSc (Hons) in Microbiology from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK and worked in antibiotic research and Public Health before developing her interest in textiles and obtaining a BA (Hons) in Embroidered Textiles and PhD from UCA Farnham.

She has written about her personal and professional experiences with textiles and stitching.

‘I have recently completed a practice-based PhD research project ‘The space between mourning and melancholia: the use of cloth in contemporary art practice to materialise the work of mourning’. Naturally, for PhD research, the deadlines for written work were demanding. But on completion of a written piece of work, chapter or draft I was able to return to the studio to continue with my practice. For me, stitching has had a very calming effect.

During my PhD studies, my studio was an old farm building, situated in 11 acres of unused farmland, 10 minutes walk from my home. It wasn’t very glamorous – it had no heating, but it was my space with no intrusion from the internet, and no passers-by.  It was very peaceful and quiet, with the occasional visit from a fox or rabbit and so provided time away from the intrusion of emails and phone calls.

This meant that when I was working, concentrating and creating, in the silence of the surroundings, it became an almost meditative act – particularly when stitching. Towards the end of my PhD when I was doing the final edit of my thesis (a very anxious time!) my supervisors suggested that there was no more time for making until the thesis was submitted. I manage to ‘negotiate’ that I could make something that required a small amount of time every day during this process.

I collected the death notices printed in the newspaper and printed them onto fabric. I then stitched them onto a sheet, every day from October 2015 to September 2016. This simple act of stitching removed any anxiety I was feeling about the written work, and served as a calming and therapeutic activity which made me feel so much better in myself. Just being with the fabric and threads in peace and quiet helped me to immerse myself in the work, and focus just on the movement of the needle and thread.  Sometimes I would allow myself a whole weekend of stitching to get away from the writing, editing and the associated stress.

For me, the stitching doesn’t have to be complicated or ornate in order to be effective, just a simple rhythm of moving the needle in and out of the fabric is enough to calm and soothe.

This eventually became the work ‘one day at a time’ and was shown as part of my PhD exhibition ‘The language of grief: cloth as a metaphor for loss’.


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