"The Psalms in Stitches" introduced.

The Psalms in Stitches” by Vivienne Rowett.

"Daisies are our silver", by Viv, with my favourite skirt.
You may know the nursery rhyme 'Lucy Locket lost her pocket...' To us, pockets are things sewn onto garments; but the rhyme refers to a kind of pocket much like an early 'bum bag' but often worn hidden beneath a skirt. I have used an 18thC English example of a pocket, kept in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston USA (see: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/pocket-116888 ) as the basis of my textile work on the psalms. I chose to use the design lines from a pattern already existing, because this points to the probability that many of the the biblical psalms take their starting-points from earlier existing patterns, re-cast to suit new purposes and contexts. A pocket, like a psalm, can be made of well-loved old materials, new ones too, cut up and re-arranged, jostling side by side, both carrying memories and being a repository for new things, new meanings, some just passing through, others which stay and are handed on. We sometimes say we 'use' the Bible, a word not often used of other books we read; like the psalms, these pockets are 'useful' items too.

English, 18th C, by unknown seamstress
My process is to meditate on the psalm, to read various translations and commentaries, and consult the Hebrew from which our translations have been made. Colours and textures start to float before my eyes, and the idea is a magnet for memories and thoughts about personal and world events that unfold as I sit at my sewing listening to the radio. Many of the fabrics used are ones hoarded from past sewing projects, so these bring their memories with them, and I use and make make new fabrics and embellish them in a variety of ways; but always I have traced some of the lines of the 18th C example here by a long-dead seamstress with an eye for a balanced and pleasing design. I try often to 'say something' about the psalm, and wonder how much I should let you, the viewer, know my thoughts, and how much I should just leave it to you to see whether any of it resonates with your reading of the psalm. But I like to give a few pointers, and some can be found on my blog: www.clothq.blogspot.com My made objects have never been meant to stand alone, but have always been designed as the props I use to accompany a talk on the texts in question. (That's partly why nothing is for sale).

Some of the psalms make uncomfortable reading in places; psalm 137 is such an example. I was very conscious of producing an item with a very domestic feel to it, and wondered how the psalm's partly horrific content would 'sit' in my chosen format. As the work progressed, I found myself choosing soft fabrics for this one, as though I were trying to soothe the babies wished to be murdered, and the adult perpetrators of all sides in crimes of war, who (it seems to me) are often suffering from ancient inherited hurts as well as more recently-minted anger. I felt to be trying to contain the issue of violence in some manageable form, perhaps comparable with singing a psalm in an ordered Anglican evensong. I do not do this to try to minimise the enormity of such atrocities, knowing that people the world over live with daily violence; somehow people have to find strength to carry on, and sometimes strength can be drawn from ordinary things like being handed a cup of tea, which embodies the well of human caring that is ever-available. Cloths that delight for whatever reason can (like words and tea) call to mind and re-activate the care of friends and relatives long-dead. How many prayers have been and are still contained in knitted blankets, hats for soldiers, baby clothes, patchwork quilts etc down the centuries!

One of the pockets is not about a biblical psalm, but about a hymn which was often sung by children in the 1960s, 'Daisies are our silver, buttercups our gold'. I see this as my first psalm, something that articulated the idea of joy that is both simple and free, available to all as a gift from God. If any of my work leads you to want to read any of the Bible again, as part of your search for such joy, for the first time, or with new and inquiring eyes, then I will feel my work is successful.

I am not an artist, but a professional student of the Bible, of the Old Testament in particular, who likes making things; so I think of myself as an exegetical seamstress or textile exegete. This year's work has been a revelling in my comfort zone! You can contact me at: vivrowett@aol.com

Please try not to touch the exhibits; I know how tempting they are, as I love the feel of cloth too, and I'm pleased with the many textures I have been able to produce here, which are me saying something about the psalmic, verbal equivalent; but even clean hands exude invisible acids, so please handle very sparingly with newly-washed hands if you really can't resist. I hope to provide some accompanying samples with the intention that you will handle them.

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