A Fen-Edge community and its Churches Together were last week seen trudging into the Grade II* Listed Parish Church of St John the Evangelist with ironing-boards and volumes of recyclable materials.
In a one-day, pop-up exhibition regional interest was drawn to Waterbeach, almost a small town rather than a large village, to see how Creativity in groups and individuals is matched by Concern for Sustainability amongst community, and local churches membership. Responsibility in Textile use included aspects of Celebration and Service: lacemakers and cross-stitchers drew attention to the intricacies of Creation; Wedding and Christening robes by Salvation Army’s Miriam, and a Youth Leader’s auntie’s vintage dance-dresses affirmed family and fun. Dorcas-like nurture for hospitality and attention to need was exemplified in a Welsh double-weave blanket; by MU’s Twiddlemuffs and Prayer Shawls; by the Craft&Chat group’s delicate knitting for the Rosie Maternity Unit’s premature babies and ‘Angel Wings’ for babies whose progress into the world had been halted.
A curated display of T-shirts exemplified how some of those garments, like one for the London Marathon, are functional and communicative; others may end up in landfill, unworn, as with the branded garment displayed, unworn, and retrieved from a sack of rags at a recycling centre. Trevor Thorn, founder of the Waterbeach discussion and awareness group Living With Integrity, based on Franciscan principles, created a poem as a challenge to T-shirt slogans:
If I won’t be worn/Let me stay on the shelf/and not landfill adorn.
The Textile event had the title ‘Thread[ed]’ to reflect a wish to weave new relationships between old and new, and to find routes through areas of isolation which exist. Waterbeach, like many villages in the region, is faced with rapid development to accommodate the needs of housing for the Technologies, Hospitals and Public Services of nearby Cambridge. Day-Centre Rene’s recount and examples of how, from her remote, rural childhood onwards, she re-used any old fabric to make new shopping bags her Fenland thriftiness linked smartly to the parts of the exhibition about our current profligacy with plastics and the need to recycle – or restrain our consumerism. Alongside a local start-up’s revival of the art of wrapping foodstuffs in bees-waxed calico the exhibition served up information about how ponchos may be made to assist with the dignity and survival of Calais Refugees. While a local recycling centre’s comment ‘Public putting Textiles in our Green Waste is our nightmare’ did not make it onto one of the ‘floating quotes’ dangling from candelabra, ‘St Paul was a Tent-maker’ did.
The quirky ‘[ed]’ punctuation in the exhibition title was to hint that everything would need to be edited in order to accommodate a wide cross-section of village life which embraces nursery children, international workforces to Fen and University alike, and the prestigious Ede & Ravenscroft – who could have unrolled trains of Aristocratic Ceremonial full regalia but kindly accommodated to the church Steward’s Corner and robes to show locally-exercised Academic and Legal robes as well as a full-bottomed Judge’s Wig for which the firm was originally famous.
It was incredibly successful – and burgeoned to something far more that the ‘[ed]’ for ‘edited’ in the title would have indicated. But it was Inclusive and a bit Subversive as well as being reverent where needed… It ended up as Big Fun on the day….
Ironing-boards exerted their own space-editing for exhibitors: standard versions usually fit precisely into the Victorian pews and provided the pop-up display-surface in a way which echoes St John’s elegant Norman nave arcade, praised by Pevsner. Slots for pre-electric lantern-poles became prop-holes from which lines of woolly hats and gloves for Romanian and Nepalese children could be displayed. Such portability, plus the lightning-rapid equipment-shifting skills of the local SCA Flintheath mediaeval re-enactors meant that the church was cleared and ready for Sunday services an hour after a short final ceremony of silence, focus and prayer.
Pulsing underneath the fun and wonderment had been a concern for those on Cancer journeys; the £600 raised will head to Macmillan Cancer Care because one of the event-supporters wishes to ‘pay forward’ for help received from them in 2012. The ‘threading’ intention of this project drew in a Quilt from post-grad Textile Practitioner Diane Ashley Smith whose ‘Kansas Trouble’ quilt embodied a pun about ‘Cancer’s Trouble’ and modified a traditional American sequence to indicate what cell disruption may do. The triangles of design units featured textile printed with text about scientific detail as well as messages of goodwill received during Diane’s own treatment for breast-cancer.
St John’s resplendent Arts&Crafts-meets-Byzantine Chancel shimmered more than usual where the Choir Stalls were used for discreet trading by the Sreepur project (recycling textiles into artefacts provides skill-building and dignity for Bangladesh women facing difficult circumstances) and Emmaus Cambridge, where Amanda and Steve had selected Vintage gems for the style-hungry. Associate Priest Paul Butler cheerfully commented ‘This wouldn’t have been so unusual in Mediaeval times,’ knowing that his congregation are well attuned to The Beatitudes. Angela Brown, Heritage Education Practitioner, member of the Churches Visitor and Tourism Association, and one of the congregation at St John’s, panicked as the bunting proliferated in the Nave – but a few quick tweaks and local GirlGuiding’s problem-solving talents restored the beautiful building’s perspectives so that they were reflected, not cluttered.
The threads are holding. New friendships have been formed. New generations and communities feel included. New talents have been nurtured. On the boundaries of Silicon Fen a quiet, vibrant respect for Creativity and The Creator allows for not just expression – but mission.
The fine photos were taken by Frazer Macmillan