10 Jun 2016

Stitching Botanicals: creating textile artwork in the Garden

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

Little did we know that when we arranged for the Patchwork Meadow textile exhibition to be shown in our Gallery, visitors would come in their hundreds to see it; and that many of them would come together to form a unique group of volunteers here at the Garden.

Called Stitching Botanicals, this group is on an exciting and evolving journey to create a permanent collection of textile works for the Garden. In the past two years, over 80 volunteers meeting twice a month have created five special collections of stunning and evocative embroidery. These feature Welsh county flowers, rare Welsh plants, medicinal plants, meadow plants, and many beautiful fungi.

The most recent project, commissioned by Simon Goodenough, is a large panel called South Africa in Bloom created to celebrate the outstanding South African plant collection in the Great Glasshouse. For our next project, Dr Natasha de Vere, our Head of Science, has challenged us to develop a travelling textile presentation featuring the Garden’s pollinator research. We are also currently creating a street art exhibition for the Swansea Festival of Stitch, inspired by The Secret Garden.

There is no structured teaching at the Stitching Botanicals sessions, but guidance and materials are available to all our members. It is the buzz of ideas, energy and enthusiasm that is infectious, stimulating and productive. We are tapping into a long tradition of textile work in Wales, and believe this group may be the first of its kind to be working in a botanic garden on commissioned projects. Please tell us if you know of any others!

We use many different techniques including appliqué, fine hand embroidery, machine embroidery, fabric colouring and manipulation, wet and dry felting, and raised embroidery.

Our first exhibit entitled Plant Pharmacy Patchwork 2014, shown in the Apothecary’s Hall during Medicines in May, is to be rehung in July 2016, and includes pieces of embroidery loaned to the Land Life National Wild Flower Centre, Liverpool. This, the first external display of a Garden of Wales collection, featured nearly 100 stitched plants used to treat ailments, both historically and in modern times.

Our second display was shown on Wales Wildflower Day, and featured many of the plants, grasses, sedges and reeds that you can see in Waun Las Nature reserve. These we hope will be shown again in a display in the Gate House cafe when it has been refurbished.

The third collection, Fungi in Fibre, includes many colourful three dimensional pieces. It can be seen as part of the acclaimed mycology exhibition, From Another Kingdom, in the Great Glasshouse. The members of Stitching Botanical really enjoyed this challenge given to us by Bruce Langridge, Head of Interpretation.

The volunteers use the excellent collections in the Garden’s library as technical and reference support, which provides them with black and white drawings, botanical art, stories about the plants, and details of their uses and habitats. Many members of the Garden have donated books, and the group’s fine textile creations are one direct result of this continuing support for the Garden’s library.

A collection of greeting cards featuring many of the stitched pieces are available in the shop at the Garden. Thanks to other keen Garden volunteers with skills in photography and social media, you can follow the group’s progress on the Stitching Botanicals Facebook page, which shows all the work created, as well as photos of the monthly sessions.

New members are always welcome and anyone wishing to join the group should contact volunteer coordinator Jane Down at jane.down@gardenofwales.org.uk or call 01558 667118 for details.