While Jane demonstrated in the morning, I had an hour or so to whiz around the museum and take a look at some of the demonstrations taking place. At every location small groups of people were clustered around the table bombarding the demonstrator with questions about the materials and techniques they were using, wanting to know where they could learn to do it or where to purchase supplies. The entire museum was buzzing with excitement and activity.
I took over demonstrating in gallery 35 so Jane could take a break before her guided tours of the exhibition began. It was difficult for Jane to break away as her crowd of observers fired question after question at her and even before I had a chance to set out my frame and equipment the wave of questions continued in my direction. I began stitching at approximately 12.30 and when I next paused for breath and glanced at my watch it was 3.30. I say I began stitching, in reality I did very little stitching, less than one inch of staggered diagonals, what I actually did was talk, talk, talk. Having demonstrated a few times before I was prepared for this but on this occasion the level of interest exceeded anything I have experienced before. It was exhilarating!
Although the crowds thinned a little after that we did not stop demonstrating until 5.00 pm, a full hour after the official end of the program and even as we packed away our equipment a trickle of visitors continued to come over to take a look.
I remembered then that I had passed by the World’s Longest Embroidery earlier in the day and had said that I would return later to make my mark but I had not had another opportunity.
Mr X Stitch and the World's Longest Embroidery
If I have any regrets about the day, it is that I did not have time to attend any of the talks or workshops. There were some that I was really interested in attending but I on reflection I think that little could have exceeded the fun I had talking to so many interested people about what I most enjoy doing ... except one moment. As I toured the museum in the morning I came across the area where younger visitors were given an opportunity to stitch for themselves. A dozen or so children were sitting on the floor with their parents stitching into paper plates. To see the fun they were having was the most uplifting moment of the day. If a spark of interest was ignited in only a few of the dozens of young people that learnt to stitch that day, that alone made The Big Stitch a huge success.
Young Embroiderers (sorry it is a bit blurred!)
As we carried our frames and stands towards the exit we came across Clare and Aimée from the Ashmolean. It was Clare, Assistant Keeper of Japanese Art who first contacted me about the exhibition and Aimée who told me about their plans for The Big Stitch and invited us to come along and demonstrate Japanese embroidery. I swear they were both floating 6 inches off the ground and the grins on their faces told me that they had enjoyed the day every bit as much as we had. Aimée told me that the number of visitors on the day had gone through the roof and a glance at the brim full donation boxes suggested that the day had been a good for the Ashmolean in more ways than one. I had also been told by a sales assistant in the gift shop that she had never before experienced such a busy day.
I have not heard yet how the talks and workshops were received but I can only imagine they were as well attended as all of the demonstrations. A good day for the museum, a good day for the Embroiderer’s Guild, a good day for the demonstrators and a good day for the visitors ... what greater success could you hope for than that?
So where do we go from here ... can we do it again? Rumour has it that the Ashmolean is already interested in repeating it. What about other museums? I would definitely be up for demonstrating at the Victoria and Albert. How about some of the National Trust properties? Perhaps there is an opportunity for both parties to raise some much needed funds and awareness. And if we could combine an event like The Big Stitch with a trader’s hall the likes of the Knitting and Stitching shows ... after all one question that I heard asked over and over again was “Were can I buy ...?”
I had a brilliant day and I can’t wait to do it all again!