Oriel Myrddin Gallery created a very special sewing project in collaboration with the Men’s Sheds in Ferryside, Carmarthenshire in the autumn of 2017.
Participants made work aprons with brilliant local seamstress and sewing teacher Camille Jacquemart of Thimble. “I enjoyed every minute” participant Ken Day said “and I am really pleased with the apron I came away with.”
Sewing is often seen as a women’s domain but there is in fact a long history of men sewing. As well as the big names in fashion like Paul Smith and Alexander McQueen there is a longer history of men and sewing that stretches beyond Saville Row and tailoring. For instance 19th Century sailors were handy with a needle and thread and to pass the time on long voyages would embroider ‘woolies’, beautiful designs depicting life at sea and the ships that they served on. And during WWI, men who were severely injured were given embroidery projects as a form of rehabilitation – an early example of art therapy, which the British Army still uses today.
Men sewing is also a big new trend that is now beginning to spread out of urban areas. Mr X Stitch is the self-styled kingpin of contemporary embroidery or manbroidery as it is sometimes known. Across Britain an army of men and women are joining sewing and knitting groups, enjoying the rewards of traditional needle skills. And social media platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube have created vast virtual communities of crafters sharing tutorials, ideas and inspiration.
This could be a sign of the times as Polly Leonard, founder of Selvedge magazine, talked about in a recent Guardian article:
“At times of economic stress and social upheaval, we often turn to craft, as creating something with our hands makes us feel good. The rhythmic, repetitive moments necessary to knit, sew or crochet are proven to have therapeutic benefits and improve mental health and emotional wellbeing, increasing serotonin production and inducing a natural state of mindfuness.”
The Mens Sheds movement has similar ideas around how coming together to make things is good for you. As it says on their website “Reclamation, reuse and restoration will feature strongly – and some say that is true of the men too!” The Mens Shed members at Ferryside talk openly about how important the Shed has been to them and other members in terms of health and wellbeing – getting them out of the house, meeting new people and being in a social environment where there is a shared purpose. Most of the work done in Ferryside is with wood so the sewing project has been a new experience for most of the members.
The project tied in with Oriel Myrddin Gallery’s textile exhibition A Darker Thread which included work by Wales’ very own star manbroiderer Spike Dennis.