Threads of Change - Alice Kettle talk and Exhibition

Oh my we are almost at the end of January and a week has passed since my trip to The Said business school in Oxford to listen to a discussion / interview with Alice Kettle.  It took some organisation to get myself there in time but I managed to park and get the the Said Business school in time and had a great seat in the main lecture theatre. 

 For those of you who don’t know Alice Kettle is a renowned textile artist who I have admired for some time and is also the current president of the embroiderers guild.  In fact it was my embroiderers guild contacts who let me know about the event and exhibition. 

 The talk was fascinating, Alice talked about how she works (machine embroidery on an epic scale!) and about the history of telling stories in thread.  She has stitched some pieces around greek mythology and brought this theme right up to date by telling stories across cultures by working with refugees in Europe. 

 alice kettle

She went on to discuss the authorship and authenticity of working on collaborative pieces, some of which were stitched by another and herself, others she interpreted the drawings of refugees in digital machine embroidery. 

 Alice talked about the huge textile pieces made for an installation known as ‘Threads bearing witness’ of Sea, Ground and Air.   All three works measured 3 by 8 meters in size, the task of machine stitching these is a mammoth one and somehow this slight lady stitched them in a 2 year timeframe while also juggling her work as Professor at Manchester school of art and travel to work with refugees. 

 Ground Detail

You can see the piece ‘Ground’ which is hung at this exhibition, it is quite wonderful and incorporates pictures and drawings from those resident in refugee camps in Calais and Greece.  She asked the refugees to draw based on the subject of Ground and there are many imaged incorporated which indicate houses, flowers, all the things which make us feel rooted and grounded - sadly these individuals are far Grounded in that respect.  The work is quite amazingly heavily machine stitched, Alice often works from the reverse as she uses a heavy thread in the bobbin and works on a domestic sewing machine. 


Other pieces with form part of the ‘Threads of Change’ Exhibition are from associations she has with women refugees from Karachi, Syria and Uganda.  These collaborative textiles are a window onto the hand stitch skills from these different regions of the world.  Alice agreed with the artists what they would stitch and then she received the half complete works to add her machine embroidery to.  In some pieces a gap was left for Alice to stitch a portrait into - others she superimposed a face over the traditional hand stitch.

 Alice spent some time speaking about the work of Susan Kamara.  Susan is a Ugandan refugee who has a real artistic flair, I was drawn to her works, the use of colour and striking hand stitch to create such movement in her pieces; singing lady and dancing lady - they really captured by attention. 

 Dancing Lady II

The two Pakistan portraits where created in woollen hand embroidery with such colour and descriptive representations of the landscape with space left for the machine embroidery of the portrait. 


I took a photo of this ‘Pink Flowers’ piece, the simple running stitch created by Assma from Syria show the tradition of Syrian stitch using a heavy thread on a delicate open weave linen.  Alice’s machine embroidery portrait is delicate in pale pink on top of the hand stitch.  I loved this piece, it moved me, Im not sure why but the tradition, love, stories conveyed together with the collaboration, just highlighted the mood of the evening. 

Pink Flowers

I would recommend a visit to this exhibition if you get the time to pop into Oxford one Friday for a Curator led tour, you can book via Event Bright

Keep in touch via our newsletter


* indicates required