Stitching and Talking

Written by Ayako Takagi (MDes Interdisciplinary Stream) 2023

Climate change is a global issue discussed in multiple topics as part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals defined by United Nations. Everybody recognizes its importance to some degree, but how much do we connect the issue with our experiences and understand its real meaning?

The “Stitching and Talking” workshop series was an invitation to think about climate change by listening to our friends and colleagues’ voices. Special embroidery skills were not required. As part of the workshops, we used stitching as a communication tool and a way of sharing our stories.

This workshop was held 5 times in total with different groups of people. Before sharing the stories from the workshops, I would like to sincerely acknowledge the help and time shared for these workshops by my colleagues in the MDes studio class, DESIS lab members, 3rd/4th-year Industrial Design undergraduate students, scientists from the UBC BioProducts Institute, and Emily Carr’s librarians.

How the workshops work

The materials prepared for this workshop were embroidery threads, needles, a bedsheet cut in 1/4 and dyed red with natural dye (madder), and cards to record the participants’ stories. On this red fabric, a simplified global map was embroidered.
Participants could talk about where & what kind of climate change events they experienced in the past, and express their experiences through embroidery. While stitching, participants shared their stories and listened to each other. At the end of the workshops, they wrote the stories that they expressed on the fabric onto a card so that other participants or viewers of this artwork after the workshops could understand their stories in multiple dimensions.

The main focus of these workshops was the power of the live voice and understanding issues in a subjective way so that participants could imagine the issues grounded in reality.
While stitching, we were talking about not only climate change issues, but our lives as well. Since these workshops were related to places where participants spent a long time, our conversations often went to the story of our lives and hometowns. We all work/study in Vancouver now, but all of us love our hometowns and would like to come back to them at some point, whether it be permanently or temporarily. We talked about our families, careers, and memories at the places.
After talking about our memories, one of the participants said… “I love my hometown, but maybe I cannot go back to home in 10-20 years.”
His hometown is Jakarta, Indonesia. Indonesia has a lot of small islands which are shrinking due to rising sea levels. He was still smiling when he talked about his home country, but the other participants couldn’t find words to comment.

Communication through the art

Through holding the series of workshops, another type of communication was established that wasn’t intended at the beginning, namely, the conversation through the artwork. Since the same fabric was used throughout the workshops, other participants in the second and subsequent workshops could see the embroidery from previous workshop participants. One of the participants from the third workshop pointed out one of the embroidery and asked me (the workshop organizer), “what does this purple star mean?” The star represented the air pollution that my colleague experienced in her home town. I then shared the story she had told me, and handed the questioner the story card she had written.. The questioner didn’t know the participant from the other rounds, but she was reading the card carefully, touching the embroidery, and imagining what was happening at the place where she hadn’t been.

Findings from the workshops

As accurate as the scientific data and government reports could be, we can not easily feel the impacts of climate change on the people who live around the world. When they are expressed as a story by people close to you, the impacts are emphasized. These workshops reminded us how strong individual stories are.

In addition, the method of “stitching” helped to create an environment for participants to share serious stories in casual ways. We needed to spend 15-30 minutes embroidering, so it gave us enough time to share our stories with each participant. Since we didn’t necessarily have to maintain eye contact all the time as we needed to watch our needles, there was less pressure to actively develop discussions which instead allowed us to listen to each other. The patterns participants created drew other participants’ attention and helped to further develop the conversations.

Climate change exhibition

After the workshops, this artwork was exhibited as a part of the climate change exhibition for a month at the Emily Carr Library, along with the story cards. I hope that the viewers were able to feel the impact of the stories behind the colorful embroidery.