Textile Society of America



Alice Kettle

Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Alice Kettle.


This paper explores my work and the connection between stories and stitching. It seeks to find meaningfulness and purpose in these narratives and activities and see how they are a reflection of everyday encounters. It asks if there are mnemonic properties to stitching and stories that can offer ways to understand and transform actual experience and to represent the past by making it physical and continuous. Tim Ingold uses this textile vocabulary to present its close connection with story telling; “To tell a story then, is to relate, in narrative the occurrences of the past, retracing a path through the world that others, recursively picking up the threads of past lives, can follow in the process of spinning their own. But rather as a looping or knitting, the thread being spun now and the thread being picked up from the past are both of the same yarn. There is no point at which the story ends.”1 I shall start with stories and with a poem by Carol Ann Duffy titled ‘Little Red Cap’. The poem is based on the familiar traditional tale of Little Red Riding Hood. The many original versions recount similar events where she visits her grandmother in the woods. Grandmother has been eaten by the Wolf, who in disguise as Grandmother then proceeds to eat her. Duffy’s version retains the brutality and menace of the previous accounts but concerns sexual awakening, loss of innocence, misconception and power that is taken away and then re-appropriated back by Red Cap. Its pulsing, rhythmic pentameter and rhyme give a noisiness to this transition into womanhood. It is sensual, colourful, autobiographical and violent. Moving through love to venom it finishes;

...Words, words were truly alive on the tongue, in the head,

warm, beating, frantic, winged; music and blood.

I took an axe

To a willow to see how it wept. I took an axe to a salmon

To see how it leapt. I took an axe to a wolf

As he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat and saw

The glistening white of grandmother’s bones

I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up

Out of the forest I come with my flowers singing all alone

Red Cap crosses from puzzlement of her power, to realization of her powerlessness, to stitching up the wolf’s stomach full of stones. The wolf will never get up. This framing of mythology and folk history as hybrid autobiographical retellings, has an equivalency in my own work, where stories and stitch piece together new tellings. Using the sewing machine, stitching offers a way to gain power from puzzlement much like Red Cap. The stitched stories are less noisy than Duffy’s, they are muted and oblique narrations, but share a desire to untangle hierarchies and explore ways in which women are within stories. My language is also rhythmic, patterned and alliterative, but words have become stitches. Embroidery presents a site to generate transformative counter narratives, in the way Marina Warner describes, adopting stories as an alternative “picture-language … fluid and shapeshifting”.3 These stories with stitch are a way of being an active participant in reconfiguring a narrative line.