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Blanket Stitch at Uillinn for Skibbereen Arts Festival

Blanket Stitch will run at Uillinn in the Link Gallery from 24 July to 2 August.

Residents of Dunmanway Community Hospital, Castletownbere Community Hospital, and Bantry Day Care Centre, along with Arts for Health artist Bénédicte Coleman, have spent the last year working on pieces which have come together to form the beautiful Blanket Stitch project on view here. Blanket Stitch subverts the idea of sewing, darning and embroidery as a necessary household chore, or a way to gain much needed extra income, into a colourful act of unrestricted imagination.

Artist Bénédicte Coleman developed the idea for Blanket Stitch to be inclusive of people from a broad spectrum of physical and cognitive capacities. She says: “The project has been a huge creative leap for some participants as they are not presented with a pattern or template – inspiration for the work comes from their own imaginations. The idea stemmed from conversations which took place during the Arts for Health 2021 Ways & Means postal project, when the old Foxford blankets came up as strong memory trigger – those blankets with the pink, blue or green stripes that were a feature in most Irish homes. The subject of darning and mending came up a lot too, and so the Blanket Stitch project emerged, with a view to turning what was once a habitual chore for Irish women into a joyful celebration of creativity. A lovely aspect of the project is that men have been stitching too, a process from which they were largely excluded in the past.”

Blankets form the basis of the project: both physically as a canvas for the stitched patterns (the open weave of the blankets allows darning needles and wool to be used), and as a launching pad for conversation and memory sharing. In keeping with the principles held by older people in our community, pretty much all of the materials and wools used are repurposed blankets, sacking cloth (hessian or burlap), curtains, and left-over wool from other projects. The project is ongoing, with new ideas in the pipeline and a stockpile of fresh materials awaiting imaginative experimentation.

Kerry Burchill, Director of Nursing at Dunmanway Community Hospital, observed: “The project was an enormous success. It brought people together at all levels. The music and art are great levelers. There’s great learning and camaraderie in it. It really brought people together and started beautiful conversations. Enjoyed by all; residents, family, and staff.”