Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines

Amy Twigger Holroyd and Emma Shercliff, Associate Professor of Fashion and Sustainability and Senior Lecturer in Textiles
Stitching Together network (individual institutions: Nottingham Trent University and Arts University Bournemouth)

Twitter handle/s: @stitchingtgthr

About the project

  • Project title: Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines
  • Project overview: The Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines provide advice for facilitators of participatory textile making workshops and projects, including professional textile practitioners, artists, academic researchers, people working within museums and galleries, community activists and amateur enthusiasts. The guidelines were written by the coordinators of the international Stitching Together network, with valued input from over 30 network members and critical friends.
  • Project dates: April 2019 – November 2020
  • Website address: https://stitchingtogether.net/good-practice-guidelines/
  • Partner organisation(s): Nottingham Trent University / Arts University Bournemouth
  • Funder(s): Arts & Humanities Research Council (grant ref: AH/R007497/1)

Project summary

Image 1, title: Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines cover. Alt text: Cover of the Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines, with close-up image of a heavily mended textile. Text reads: ‘Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines, advice for facilitators of participatory textile making workshops and projects.

The Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines initiative aims to support people who are facilitating participatory textile making workshops and projects, such as communal sewing and knitting activities. Due to their familiarity, accessibility and cross-cultural relevance, participatory textile crafts are used in a great variety of contexts such as in galleries and museums, libraries and community centres, and for academic research.

We wanted to highlight all the aspects of a participatory textile making project that need to be considered in order for it to work well from the point of view of the participants, the facilitator and any partner organisation or funder.

We created the guidelines in our roles as coordinators of the Stitching Together network. The network, which was funded from 2019 to 2021 by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, brings together researchers, professional textile practitioners, project commissioners and enthusiast textile maker groups to foster critical dialogue around participatory textile making methods in research and practice.

We are academics who use participatory textile making activities in our research, and have prior professional experience of facilitating textile craft workshops and projects outside the academic context. We have encountered practical, ethical and conceptual challenges in undertaking this work and, from conversations with our peers, know that these challenges are common. We felt there was a need for much greater sharing of best practice in order to avoid pitfalls and support critical reflection.

The initial steps in developing the guidelines were taken at two network events in 2019. The first event, a two-day workshop, invited 12 academic researchers who use diverse forms of participatory textile making to share their methods. On the final afternoon we asked the participants to suggest what advice they might give to future facilitators. Given the diversity of textile workshops and projects in terms of context, format and intention – from a drop-in craft activity through to an open-ended creative textiles project deeply embedded in a particular community – this was quite a challenge, but we nonetheless generated valuable starting points for the guidelines.

Image 2, title: Participants sharing experiences at the first Stitching Together event, April 2019. Alt text: Four women seated at a table, talking. Fabrics, threads, paper, pens and post-it notes are spread out on the table.

The second event, a one-day workshop, involved participants from the first event along with professional textile facilitators, project commissioners and critical friends. We gathered ideas from participants for the guidelines using a ‘world café’ structure, which invites people to contribute to shared notes in response to specific questions or prompts. This format enables participants to see what comments others have contributed and add further detail or alternative perspectives. We asked our participants to add to a rough structure that we had developed from the suggestions generated at the first event, organised into four areas: ‘planning – the big picture’, ‘planning – the nitty gritty’, ‘before/during the workshops’ and ‘afterwards’. We also asked for open responses to a few other questions, relating to quality of experience from the participant perspective and how to address ethical concerns in participatory activities. This approach was highly successful, allowing us to capture many useful comments.

Image 3, title: Documenting ideas at the second Stitching Together event, June 2019. Alt text: A close-up of a table covered in many post-it notes with handwritten comments. A person is writing a comment.

A parallel strand of activity, which ran throughout but intensified after the second event, investigated existing sources of best practice advice for participatory textile making activities. Our search threw up some great resources from a variety of organisations including Engage, ArtWorks Alliance, Voluntary Arts and the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement. Each resource offered guidance with relevance to our intended audience, although none dealt with the specificities of textiles and no single source covered the broad variety of settings in which participatory textile activities take place, and for which our guidelines therefore need to cater.

Armed with our extensive notes from the two events and a number of key resources, we then went through an iterative process of coding to pull out key concepts and dimensions of practical guidance. After several rounds of refinement and reflection, we had a full draft document, with eight sections of guidance underpinned by four key principles: Informed Participation; Maximal Benefit with Minimal Risk; Inclusivity based on Mutual Respect; and Appropriate Planning and Resourcing. Suggestions for further reading, based on the external resources we had identified, were included in each section.

Although we had, by this point, benefitted from the input of more than twenty experts, we were very conscious of the need to gather feedback on the draft from our peers and potential users of the guidelines. We put a call out to network members to participate in two rounds of peer review. The document was shared online, allowing reviewers to add written comments or to give feedback verbally at a group meeting. This proved to be productive: we gathered many more valuable suggestions, rooted in first-hand experiences of participatory textile making activities in very diverse settings, that identified blind spots, gaps and areas in need of more sensitive guidance. A notable gap that was picked up at this point was remote access participation: we were able to add advice for making projects facilitated via digital platforms, a dimension of practice that had rapidly expanded since our 2019 workshops.

The input of the peer reviewers greatly enhanced the quality of the guidelines in terms of inclusivity. As practitioners and researchers, we were of course conscious that textile making carries deep cultural and political associations, including stereotypical ideas of who should, and who should not, engage in textile crafts, and that such stereotypes, whether expressed as microaggressions or outright hostility to those deemed to be unlikely textile practitioners – because of their race, disability, gender, sexuality or other factor – would negatively impact participants’ experiences. Yet at the draft stage we were missing some of the subtleties of these issues and the more that we opened up to different voices – and followed up valuable suggestions for further reading – the richer the advice became.

After incorporating changes to the text based on the feedback received, we invited network members to submit images of their participatory textile making workshops and projects, as a way of bringing the guidelines to life and highlighting how the various dimensions could be addressed on the ground. We were fortunate to have the support of a skilled graphic designer, Laura Walker, who then transformed the manuscript and images into a visually engaging and easy-to-navigate digital and print publication, ready for launch.

Image 4, title: ‘Getting Started’ page from the Good Practice Guidelines. Alt text: A page from the Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines, with four columns of text and the title ‘Getting Started’. An image shows three people attaching textiles to a lamppost.

Outcomes

The final Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines document, which was the outcome of this process, fulfils our original aims. It provides advice for facilitators of participatory textile making workshops and projects, including professional textile practitioners, artists, academic researchers, people working within museums and galleries, community activists and amateur enthusiasts.

Overall, we had valued input from over 30 network members and critical friends and the photographs showcase a variety of participatory textile projects from the UK, Germany, Scandinavia, USA, Madagascar and Australia.

The guidelines are structured in eight sections: Getting Started; Making Activities; Resources; Working Together; Reflection, Evaluation and Analysis; Minimising Risk of Harm; Sharing and Dissemination; and Aftercare. Each section is split into three sub-sections, with detailed guidance provided for each. A summary page captures the essence of each section, along with key things to remember and the four underpinning principles, providing an accessible overview or aide memoire.

Image 5, title: Summary page from the Good Practice Guidelines. Alt text: A page from the Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines, with the title ‘Summary’ and two main columns of text. A circular diagram shows four principles and eight colour-coded sections.

The final Stitching Together Good Practice Guidelines document, which was the outcome of this process, fulfils our original aims. It provides advice for facilitators of participatory textile making workshops and projects, including professional textile practitioners, artists, academic researchers, people working within museums and galleries, community activists and amateur enthusiasts.

Overall, we had valued input from over 30 network members and critical friends and the photographs showcase a variety of participatory textile projects from the UK, Germany, Scandinavia, USA, Madagascar and Australia.

The guidelines are structured in eight sections: Getting Started; Making Activities; Resources; Working Together; Reflection, Evaluation and Analysis; Minimising Risk of Harm; Sharing and Dissemination; and Aftercare. Each section is split into three sub-sections, with detailed guidance provided for each. A summary page captures the essence of each section, along with key things to remember and the four underpinning principles, providing an accessible overview or aide memoire.

Good Practice Guidelines launch event

Introduction to the Stitching Together Network