Backstage Pass


The brave new world of expressive stitching in bunting can be liberating, writes TARA BRADY

ITS BEEN MONTHS of toil, seams and sequins but finally the denizens of Clonmel are almost ready for hoisting. As the big day approaches, volunteers make their way to the Common Thread Cafe, a free arts and community space on Parnell Street. This is bunting base camp, where 30 or so volunteers have contributed small, decorated flags over many months.

“Basically over the last 10 years I’ve been devising projects for the community in Clonmel all around the idea of participation,” explains Theresia Guschlbauer, the participation director of the project.

“Over the years it’s been suggested we do a bunting project or something with flags. So this bunting is for hanging over one of the main pedestrian areas in Clonmel and is based on the colours of the rainbow. There are around 250 flags, all different shades of yellow, red, blue and the rest.”

Since March, the cross-community textile art project has brought women together for twice-weekly sewing meetings. Some are old hands and embroidery aces hailing from the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA). Others were needlework novices when the project kicked off. Their common goal was to make this year’s Clonmel Junction Festival – a jamboree of street theatre, arts and music – into the most kaleidoscopic event of its kind.

“The volunteers are pretty much from all walks of life,” says Guschlbauer. “Some of the volunteers are professional people, others are homemakers and older people and the younger women who are working in the town, and also a few teenagers and quite a few foreign women who have settled here or married here.”

The fruits of their labours, though perhaps too avant-garde for semaphore, certainly do brighten up a room. Many of the medallions are elaborately, painstakingly decorated. Can these really be the work of amateurs?

“Well, everyone came in at different levels,” says Guschlbauer. “Some people did a couple of medallions but others have done 10 or 20, depending on their proficiency and commitment. So they are very intricately decorated and personal.”

It helps that Clonmel-based artist Aisling Egan is on hand to oversee, design and facilitate. A graduate of the National College of Art and Design, her work and techniques introduced the volunteers to a brave new world of expressive stitching.

“I think Aisling has a very contemporary approach to embroidery and stitching,” says Guschlbauer. “I think it was quite liberating for all of us. Even the ladies from the ICA who would have experience with sewing and embroidery, I think they really enjoyed working with the mixed media and collage and wool textures all mixed together. It is a very free way of sewing.”

It’s virtually impossible to estimate the hours involved. Many of the women ferried pieces to and from the Common Thread Cafe. Many admit they had too much fun chattering to get much done at the meetings and instead completed their masterpieces beside the fireplace at home. But those first medallions, say all, took the longest.

And now the end is near. What will they do once the sewing circle is broken up? “Well, the bunting was a great project for us because it was made of many small pieces,” says Guschlbauer. “So now it’s up to me to think of something else that can get everybody involved.”

Clonmel Junction Festival runs from July 1st to 10th.