On Containment

Containment is the title of a series of small textile works that I have stitched over the past weeks. The name came to me as I was walking our dog and enjoying the new (curtailed) freedom of being allowed to exercise within a 5 km radius of home in the early morning.

The eight works in the Containment series, in A4 format (30 x 21 cm and 21 x 30 cm)

As usual, I double checked the meaning of the word in the The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and was gratified to find that it is a perfect description of the situation that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought upon all our lives:

containment n. the action or fact of containing or holding; restraint; esp. the action of preventing a hostile force etc. from expanding into other areas: M17

The M17 indicates that the word that came into use during the period 1630-1699 and I wonder whether it was first used to describe the measures taken against the “hostile force” of warfare or plague. Perhaps both? The root word, contain, has a lovely family of meanings, including to enclose, to restrain or control, to restrict, limit or confine, and to keep within certain boundaries. Before leaving this wordplay, here is an uncanny quotation from Edmund Spencer (1552-1599), cited in the OED: “To contayne the unruly people from a thousand evill occassions”.

The first piece in the series was made in response to a prompt from Anne Kelley on the TextileArtist.org community stitch challenge (which I keep mentioning in this blog). Because I had enjoyed stitching a tree of flowers, and because there was more of the overdyed fabric used for the background and more of the braid I had cut up to use in the piece originally titled FlowerTree, I decided to try another one, and then another, until it became a series.

Containment #1 (30 x 21 cm) and Containment #2 (21 x 30 cm)

In making the second piece I did not have to think too hard about the size, fabric, shadow stitching, or the decorative machine stitch used for the edging, as I simply repeated the techniques used in the previous piece.

By this time I was on a roll and remembered a box of shiney bits and pieces that I had collected previously. It contained fat quarters of Indian fabrics, sequins, beads, ribbons, etc. and I opened the box and started to play. The vase of flowers in Containment #3 was modelled on a previous piece I had made after watching Cas Holmes give her tutorial on the TextileArtist.org stitch challenge. Next, a piece of salvage from an African wax print fabric that was in the box became a tree trunk and the paisley shapes from the edging of some Indian fabric made interesting leaves. To add to the theme of Containment, I used the scraps to patch together a large garden pot to hold the tree. To mute the vibrant reds a little, I over-stitched the whole cloth with plum coloured thread, using the wavy zigzag stitch on my Bernina. As I stitched I sent off thoughts of thanks to Anne Kelly, who had introduced us to this method of over-stitching.

It seems like a sideways (landscape format) phase then took hold. The last full moon was in my birth sign and so I paid extra attention when I saw a remarkable photograph of it on Gerry Gericke’s Facebook page (all her photographs are astounding). I asked her permission to use it for inspiration, and Containment #5 was the result, even though there is a nebulous connection with the theme. A friend, who saw my request for permission, asked me to tell her how I would create this close up of the full moon in cloth and so I took a series of photographs as I was making the piece.

Containment #6 was also made from Indian paisley shapes, cut up and reconstructed. This seemed like an appropriate place to use some of those sequins.

I used the last of the flowers from that bit of Indian braid, bought in Southall, to immortalise (ha) the arrangement of nasturtium flowers blooming in our autumnal garden. The vase is made from two layers of fine bridal netting and the leaves and stalks from a scrap of roughly spun wool. And the last piece in the series is for you, Chela, and your delightful post Morning Meditations, about the seven coffee mugs that parade through your week. In comparison, I boringly have one favourite mug, and this is a wonky representation of it.

Did I mention coffee? Until next week, may you feel contained and not constrained.

22 thoughts on “On Containment

  1. Interesting study on containment. I hadn’t thought to do something like that; it will commemorate this weird time in history well. I have a host of mugs in my cupboard, but I always use the same one. Mine is dark and brooding, yet comforting for that first cup of the morning!


    1. Yes, I suppose this series will become a reminder of these strange times of being “consigned to barracks”. Glad to know I am not the only one who has a favourite mug. Thanks for reading and commenting

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an interesting exploration of the word contained, and useful to juxtapose it with “constrained”.
    Your fabric moon is stunning, and I love the use of the paisley to construct leaves – as far as I know, it was leaves or at least plants that inspired the paisley motif in the first place.
    Contained has a lot of positive connotations of fullness, even of being replete – such as by what is contained in one’s coffee mug!


  3. What great response to the word ‘containment’, I particularly like your last thought about being contained not constrained. And full of admiration that you can actually work in such a spontaneous way. I am just stitching to commission at present – one foot in front of the other…my mind has gone blank with this lockdown

    But I do think your extended definitions and research into this is fascinating and may have given me a way forward for developing some new work…..
    Thank you.


  4. What a wonderful collection. The pieces are already great on their own but when you look at them in the picture where you show them all together I think they enhance eachother. Such a diversity of techniques that you used to create these, I find it very inspirational.


  5. I think I fainted but I gathered myself together enough to be able to comment on this post ha ha! First of all that is a brilliant title for the series and yes I agree that the definition is absolutely perfect! The pieces are wonderful and powerful 😀 I guess you’ve been keeping busy during your containment!!!


  6. Covid sure is inspiring deep thoughts. Glad that it is stimulating such amazing pieces, all the more beautiful and meaningful given the context and circumstances in which they have been created. A legacy for the future for sure!


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