Book review: Stitch Stories by Cas Holmes
Inspiration can be found anywhere and everywhere. It’s all around us if we can just find the skill to look and to see. This book will certainly help you do that. Stitch Stories 2015 is the third book for Batsford by Cas Holmes. Her previous books are Connected Cloth 2013 co-authored with Anne Kelly and the very popular The Found Object in Textile Art 2010 which has been reprinted three times.
Cas Holmes is one of the UK’s best known textile artists. Using mostly low-tech techniques and found materials, Cas works in layers of collaged, often cast-off textiles. Her work captures fleeting moments in time and creates narratives which often respond to the human state, her travels, her environment, or her experiences. As well as being an acclaimed textile artist Cas is renowned as an inspirational teacher. For over thirty years she has travelled, taught and exhibited around the world.
In this book Cas shows you how to record your own experiences using sketchbooks, journals and photography to arrive at a starting point for stitched textile pieces. The ‘Stitch Stories’ book itself is very tactile, having a printed fabric cover so it feels lovely to hold as you browse through it. It’s full of beautiful photographs of work by artists from the USA, Australia, Japan and Europe; some I was familiar with but there are plenty of names I had not heard of before, which is refreshing. I was very pleased to see lots of ‘close up’ details of the work, to see exactly how the pieces are made is always a treat. There’s plenty of attention to detail and the techniques are clearly explained.
What’s in the book – chapter by chapter
- The first chapter ‘Places, spaces and traces’ Cas starts by telling us about her process of ‘stitch sketching’ and explains the difference between a mark made by a pencil and a mark made on fabric. I was fascinated to read about the minimal kit she takes on her travels as I am not a person who seems to be able to travel light; Cas, on the other hand has got this sorted. There are some great examples of artist’s journals and ideas on how to make your own journal, how and what to record and suggestions about methods of working.
- The second chapter is ‘Seizing inspiration’ which looks at the different approaches for development of your ideas, using objects that you have collected, using the shadows of objects, making collages, or working in collaboration with others. There are helpful tips on how to transfer your drawing to cloth and even how to clear your headspace.
- The next chapter on ‘The natural world’ looks at diverse ways of recording landscape by various artists and the natural resources provided by plants and gathered materials. This is interspersed with clear instruction on processes such as transfer printing and eco-dyeing.
- The chapter ‘All in the detail’ has an interesting description of creating an exhibition of work with limited resources, giving a fascinating insight into how Cas herself works, but most of all, it shows that you don’t need expensive materials or equipment to make a beautiful body of work.
- ‘Off the beaten track’ informs us of the long tradition of textiles as a device for telling stories and conveys ideas for using vintage fabrics within your own work, highlighting techniques which can be used for this.
- The last chapter ‘Telling Stories in Stitch’ continues on the theme of stitch and social narrative with an emphasis on the quality of hand stitching and has a selection of work from some of my own favourite hand stitchers.
Finally to quote Cas Holmes herself:
“Textiles and the use of stitch are powerful tools for developing narrative. Stitch brings its own ‘story’ with it, enabling us to articulate a complex process of ideas, images, material and emotion.”
Who is it for?
Combining humanity, emotion, intelligence, inspiration and instruction in equal measures, this book is suitable for both the enthusiastic beginner and those with more experience. A wonderful reference book which will inspire you to create your own unique work. I’m sure it will be dipped into and re-read over and over again.
Product details Stitch Stories 2015 by Cas Holmes
Published by Batsford – 128 page full colour illustrated hardback book.
Product Dimensions: 27.9 x 22.4 x 1.5 cm
Book review by Sue Stone
Which other textile books inspire you? Leave a comment below to let us know.