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This chapter explores the power of creative making and film as an affectual means of sensory interaction that might be employed in learning and teaching. It focuses on a mother diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s and her daughter (the co-author Mah Rana) and draws on theories of material crafting/making and narrative theory, in particular the conceptualisation of oral history interviews as ‘co-constructed’ performative acts (Portelli 1991), to explore how affective making can serve as means to bridge the interpersonal gap that opens up in relationships when someone has this condition.
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Rana, Mah and Hackney, Fiona (in press), Making and Material Affect: From Learning and Teaching
to Sharing and Listening, in R. Prior (ed.), Using Art as Research in Learning and Teaching, Bristol:
Chapter 10:
Making & Material Affect. From Learning & Teaching to Sharing & Listening.
Introduction: Craft-based Knowing
This chapter explores the power of creative making and film as an affectual framework and means of
understanding the knowledge that emerges from arts research. Working with textiles and stitch, it
builds on Katie Collins’ observations about the inclusiveness of such needlecraft metaphors as
knitting, weaving, tapestry, embroidery and quilting to convey notions of kinship, identity, complexity,
time, structure and style to argue for research as a ‘decentred’ activity: an inclusive ‘piecing together’
of fragments that can integrate all sorts of sources, is part of life ‘both every day and exceptional,’ and
has depth and intensity rather than individuality and competition as its goal (Collins 2016). Such
concerns locate the project within theories of material craft and experiential learning, and the
particular forms of knowledge these generate. In particular, we draw on the notion of ‘craft-based
ways of knowing’ or experiential knowledge in practice developed by Ross Prior (2013) in his work
with actors and the ethnographic methodology employed by Sarah Desmarais (2016) to examine the
value of crafts for health. Additionally, the project builds on the outcomes from a number of Arts and
Humanities Research Council UK-funded projects that have interrogated creative making as: 1) a
means of community co-production; 2) promoting and evidencing wellbeing; and 3) a mode of being
through connecting (Hackney 2014a; Hackney 2014b; Rana 2011) (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Stitch: Embroidered Ethnography. Hannah Maughan for Co-Producing CARE:
Community Asset-based Research & Enterprise. Photography © Bryony Stokes (2014).
Prior cites ‘reflective sketchbooks’ as a method for capturing ‘those moment-by-moment
thoughts and reflections that unconsciously spring from the improvisation of working in process’
(2013: 165). This project develops and expands that method through an integrated process of making
and filming that captures the material, sensory and temporal engagements, as well as the
conversations, that took place in a series of sewing workshops, or ‘stitch encounters’ as we came to
call them, undertaken by co-author Mah Rana and her mother who is diagnosed with moderate
Alzheimer’s. Our aim was to examine how making together might help them learn from each other by
communicating through the practice and process of stitch; to explore, that is, how creative making
might serve as a distinctive means of sharing and listening rather than learning and teaching. As a
research process the activity of making and film-making operated in two ways. Firstly, it served as an
auto-ethnographic tool to promote embodied knowledge production through reflection, a process that
we termed the doing. And secondly, the raw research footage was edited into a final film, One Day
When We Were Young (Rana 2016), which served as a creative output in its own right and a piece of
arts research that evidences and disseminates the methodology (McNiff 2008).
Through its staging of a shared, immersive, iterative process of making and filming, the
project proposes an expanded, performative version of the reflexive sketchbook, which reveals small
moments of change through interchange, and involves forms of embodied knowing that are at once
collective and highly personal. It is generally accepted that arts can play a social role in health and
well-being, albeit one that is hard to evidence (Chatterjee and Noble 2013). Here we propose that the
learning that takes place in a social arts context, the day-to-day learning of everyday life, can serve as
a model for arts research inside the academy through the process of being and doing that making
together involves.
Being and Doing: Reflexive Making as Methodology
Shaun McNiff defines art-based research as a ‘systematic use of the artistic process [the making of
art work] as a primary way of understanding and examining experience by both researcher and the
people that they involve in their studies’ (2007: 29). Ross Prior proposes the term ‘craft-based ways of
knowingto describe knowledge originated in the particular meanings inherent in practice (2013: 161).
This tacit or praxis-based knowledge, according to Prior, is deeply personal knowledge that is
founded on ‘particular meanings inherent in practice (the act of doing and the act of being), which are
often difficult to communicate’ (2013: 167). As such it serves as experiential knowledge beyond
language, what Michael Polanyi describes as knowing more than one can tell ([1966] 1985: 4). The
sociologist Richard Sennett (2012), arguing for the radical social benefits of collective making, drew
on a similar understanding of the creative process when he described how, when playing together,
musicians are acutely attuned and attentive to one another, responding instinctively in a felt form of
embodied collaboration. John Dewey (1916), meanwhile, foregrounded the importance of habit when
he theorised a process of experiential knowledge accumulation through iterative modification that
made one particular experience available in subsequent experiences, forming a predisposition to
easier and more effective action in the future. While for Dewey meaning was associated with the
practical act of doing and derived from one’s capacity-to-do, the cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner
(1986: 12) went further, arguing that above all learning is about uncovering meaning, rather than
abstract notions of seeking the truth. He proposed that the central question we need to ask is ‘how we
come to endow experience with meaning?a question that underpins this project and continues to be
central to our work.
Concerned with craft practice, with its long history of skill, hand-work and the tacit knowledge
held by ‘communities of practice,’ we are particularly interested in exploring the distinctive qualities of
craft-based ways of knowing as a means to realise and communicate meaning (Frayling 2011;
Greenhalgh 1997; Lave and Wenger 1991). Working with Rana’s mother, who engaged with craft
processes of stitch from a young age, enabled us to explore how the act of sewing might serve as a
trigger to uncover the meaning materialised in Dewey’s notion of habitual practice. Prior suggests a
further conceptual framework when he differentiated the states of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ involved in
creative practice. While ‘being’ is manifest in a condition of total absorption in the moment, a process
of ‘stepping back’ to engage in ‘reflexively articulating knowledge’ produces an ‘optimum mode of
doing and the consciousness of doing’ (2013: 164). ‘Being,’ during our workshops, could principally be
ascribed to the act of sewing while ‘doing,’ with all the consciousness it implied, was aligned with the
filming which provided opportunities to step back and reflect. As an art work the final film itself,
moreover, perhaps best captures the reflexive articulation of knowledge and our understanding of
how we endowed this experience with meaning. This two-stage process of meaning-making by way
of: 1) an unconscious process of ‘being’ through the experience of stitching and; 2) conscious ‘doing’
through the reflective process of film and editing, provide a framework for better understanding how
meaning/knowledge might emerge through a series of stitch workshops, or ‘stitch encounters’. In this
case the work took place between Rana and her mother in the latter’s home, but the framework might
be adapted to any set of participants and a wide range of learning contexts.
Before exploring the research/learning process in more detail, we want to briefly consider the
knotty question how such art-based research methods function as evidence. Along with Prior, McNiff
and others we call for a broader definition of ‘evidence,’ and one that draws on understandings of
affect (2013: 168). Unlike those focused on professional arts practice our work is located in amateur
creativity and the sensory world of the everyday. As such the theoretical work of Kathleen Stewart is
extremely useful. Writing about affect, Stewart proposed the twin concepts of ‘worlding’ and ‘bloom
spaces’ as evidence of how we can operate affectually in the world (2010: 340). Worlding refers to the
condition of being in the world: a condition that is understood and lived through the senses and is
particularly sharp at times of individual and communal tension and transition. It involves the
emergence of bloom spaces: spaces where the senses come to the surface, new lessons are learnt,
different priorities emerge, connections and adjustments are made: where we understand ourselves
and others differently with new depth, clarity and calm, despite the circumstances. Seeing the world
through the lens of worlding helps us pay attention to what it is to be in the world, our embodied
reactions, how we live (physically, emotionally, neurologically, socially, psychologically) in the orbit of
people, things, animals, processes and habits. Our lives become a series of daily, lived minute
adjustments as we draw on our resources, learn new skills, address challenges, survive and even
thrive, despite the stuff life throws at us.
As Rana and her mother engaged in the sewing sessions we came to understand how the
action of slowing down, watching, listening and paying attention to the nuances and small interactions
that occurred when they made together operated as a form of worlding in which the sewing circle, or
stitch encounter, operated as a bloom space. The workshops took place at a time of tension and
transition, when Rana’s mother’s illness meant that the power relations embedded in their established
roles of guiding mother and obedient (for want of a better word) daughter were being reversed, with
Rana as the carer and her mother as the person being cared for. As a mode of worlding, sewing
offered a way of being in the world through the senses and brought new knowledge to the surface. It
helped both accommodate and re-orientate the mother and daughter to their new circumstances by
drawing on such resources as Rana’s mother’s habitual stitch knowledge, resulting in new knowledge
about how to be with one another. The quality of immersion and absorption, which both experienced
during the sewing encounters, signalled a felt condition of affectual being in the world, with all the
subjective knowledge that involves. The filmmaking process and the film itself, meanwhile, helped
endow experience with meaning by shaping the intuitions, feelings and observations experienced
during the stitch encounters into an art object that both functions as an artefact in its own right, and
evidences the being and doing aspects of the making engagement. As a process that acknowledges
the tensions and power relations involved in knowledge exchange and foregrounds the importance of
participant assets, this model of sharing and listening through ‘being and doing’ has much to offer
learning and teaching.
Stitch Encounters: Meaningful Making as Shared Experience
Together the twin processes of making and filming constitute an immersive research process that
explores experiential ‘being,’ reflexive ‘doing’ and the acquired knowledge that emerges from both.
This section will examine Rana’s experience of undertaking the stitch workshops, or stitch
encounters, with her mother and the next section considers how filming was integral to the research.
Both draw on Rana’s ‘stitch diaries’ which she kept to record her feelings, intuitions and observations.
Although written in the first person to communicate the experiential nature of the practice, the sections
were written jointly with Hackney who became a third person in the process: a sounding board and
analytical interlocutor assisting with interpretation. We have organised the material into subsections to
convey as sense of the research as process and chart the ‘meaningful moments’ as and when they
Planning: The project schedule was to film four consecutive weekly one-hour stitch encounters in
which my mother and I sat down together in her home to make and talk. We chose embroidery as the
process we would use. My mother had excelled in embroidery at school and had taught me when I
was young, and I was interested to see to what extent she had retained her skills. It was a material
practice freighted with meaning for us and, therefore, an ideal means to explore the process of
learning and teaching. My mother additionally has a piece of embroidery work that she made in her
twenties and my intention was to use this as what Lev Vygotsky described as a ‘tool,’ a designated
object to focus our attention, aiding reminiscence and sparking conversation (Vygotsky 1978: 55). I
was confident that the process of sewing together would trigger memories and support
communication. Sewing, I hoped, would provide a safe space for us to be together. Advance project
planning included sourcing project materials that I hoped would be familiar to my mother such as
vintage embroidery iron-on transfers, something that was commonly used by amateur needle-smiths
in the early and mid-twentieth century. The process of planning gave me a sense of order and feeling
in control something that had become increasingly important since my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis
in 2014. As her carer I have become hyper-vigilant and attentive to the work of problem-identifying
and solution-finding and my identity as daughter has often felt diminished as a result. This is an
aspect of parentification, the role reversal that takes place when a child takes on the responsibilities
that normally belong to a parent, which is often experienced by the adult-child caregiver of a parent
(Johnson 2013). I am acutely aware of the shift this has created in the relational dynamic between my
mother and me.
Stitch Encounter 1: Despite my careful planning, halfway through the first stitch encounter my
mother surprised me by introducing a new element drawn from her habitual craft-based knowledge
and long-held experience. It was a disruption that temporarily undid the difficult feelings associated
with parentification, as I unexpectedly found myself re-experiencing being with her in ways that I
recalled from my childhood in the 1970s. This process began when I suggested that we work on a
sewing project together to make and embroider pillowcases. When I showed my mother the fabric I
had pre-cut and hemmed she dismissed my efforts as ‘ordinary hemming’ rather than ‘hemstitching,’
which was preferable being ‘a bit fancy-like,’ as she put it. She had taught me to sew, knit and
embroider but not to hemstitch, a technique she had not used since her girlhood in the 1940s. My
plan had been to select a floral pattern for stitching, instead my mother took charge and taught me to
hemstitch! This reversal felt comforting and reassuring; the act of teaching and the agency that went
with it was now in her hands, literally. In my diary I noted down a felt sense of pleasure as I listened
carefully to her instructions and watched her demonstrate. I learnt by example just as I had as a child,
in the same living room, as my mother showed me a new needlework technique. I also noted how the
family stories that she told during this first session were more fluid than they had been over the past
three years: more focused and with less repetition. It seemed that the act of sewing together took us
into a space, equivalent to Stewart’s ‘bloom space,’ in which my mother was more alert and confident,
as her habitual craft-based knowledge came back into play and she began to feel grounded and find
herself again.
Stitch Encounter 2: The second stitch encounter had a relaxed pace and sense of familiarity for both
of us. My mother picked up the piece that she had started in the first session and continued to work
purposefully. As I sat next to her and continued with my own needlework project another extraordinary
thing happened as she began to sing ‘One day when we were young that wonderful morning in May
…,’ words from a Viennese waltz played in three by four time, a rhythm that complimented the rhythm
of her stitching. This improvisational element was something that I had witnessed before when
running ‘It’s Nice to Make,’ the project I facilitated at Headway East London, when participants
spontaneously broke into song, underscoring the rhythm of the process and establishing a felt sense
of community. I made a playlist of similar songs and used them to provide a musical context to
enhance the mood of future ‘stitch encounters’. The lyrics and gentle melody evoked a nostalgia for
the past and a powerful sense of the past in the present. This became a defining feature both of future
stitch encounters and the short film.
Figure 2: Four Threads Only: film still from One Day When We Were Young (Rana 2016).
Photo © Mah Rana
Figure 3: Embroidery stitch work: film still from One Day When We Were Young (Rana 2016).
Photo © Mah Rana
In this session I became increasingly aware of my mother’s patient, meticulous handling of
needle and thread: how carefully she stitched every four threads, not three threads nor five threads,
but always four threads. If she made a mistake she would unpick and redo it (Figure 2). Occasionally,
I heard small sounds of frustration, but these quickly passed. Sarah Desmarais, in her research on
crafting and mental health, noted a similar response when working with amateur groups who would
become frustrated by their failures, but achieved an enormous sense of confirmation and confidence
when they overcame them, qualities that she concluded could be transferred to everyday life (2016). I
also noticed how my mother’s stitching skills were much sharper and more precise than mine, even
though she has not embroidered for over sixty years. Unconsciously drawing on an embodied muscle
memory and making fine adjustments as she went, she seemed to be following a sewing protocol that
helped her attain a degree of certainty and clarity that I had not seen for some time. The purposeful
quality of her making, however, did not always translate into verbal communication, particularly when
it came to expressing her feelings. When I asked her about how making made her feel, or if she
enjoyed sewing, she tentatively responded with, umm … it’s okay’. I sensed that this hesitancy was
more about her reticence than her illness, a question of culturally constructed femininity perhaps
rather than cognitive impairment. Her fluency in stitch, however, was beyond question. Making, it
seemed, did indeed serve as a safe space, or bloom space, for us to communicate (Figure 3).
Stitch Encounters 3 and 4: In between the second and third stitch encounters I worked on my
hemstitch sampler feeling a sense of achievement each time I completed a new variation, an
experience that could be read as a process of skills-learning first through social interactions
(interpsychological) before absorbing the knowledge within oneself (intrapsychological) (Vygotsky
1978: 57). The repetitive nature of the stitch work was calming. I kept the sampler near to me and in
sight. It became a reassurance object, a tool to reduce anxiety (Winnicott [1971] 2005). During this
‘stitch encounterI showed my mother my hemstitch sampler. She praised me saying simply, ‘That’s
good Mah!’ This was a very emotional moment for me as I re-experienced what it felt like to be my
mother’s daughter again. It became a key moment in the narrative arc of the film and will be
considered in the following section. The fourth and final session felt like a culmination of the process
as we both settled into a rhythm of working that was purposeful and mindful, a shared state of being
akin to what Mihaly Csikszentmihályi (1999: 10) described as ‘flow,’ when an activity is both
‘challenging and enjoyable’.
Stepping Back: Reflexive Filming and Making
Reflective sketchbooks capture the unplanned spontaneity that occurs through creative play and
improvisation where, in Prior’s words, the ‘process of “hap” happens’ (2013: 167). For us, the
combined process of filming and making provided a similar improvisational ‘haptic’ space as parallels
and connections between sewing, filming, making and looking emerged and the action, rhythm and
pace of each process responded to, reciprocated and shaped the other. This was the first time that
Rana had used her DSLR camera on its film setting and she was tentative, sensing her way as she
learnt a new technical process in addition to working out how to employ it as a research tool. The
following section examines how filming served as a lens through which to consider the process of
‘doing’ through ‘reflection in action’ (Schön 1988) in the stitch encounters as knowledge from each
creative discipline was applied to a learning situation to construct new knowledge in praxis.
Stitch Encounter 1: In the first stitch encounter I felt that I was guessing a lot, out of control and
confused. What right did I have thinking that I could pick up a camera and make a film without any
experience! I had watched many films before, paying attention to the frame angles and lighting, and
had read some books, but this was the first time that I had put my ideas into practice. As a result, I
relied on what felt right, but to begin with not a lot felt right. I made mistakes such as setting the
exposure too high, which was frustrating, but noted down such technical improvements as how to
focus manually while handholding the camera in an attempt to address these issues. I was learning
through doing and the fact that I came away with film footage was a thrill in itself. I gradually became
aware of how my process of learning through making (and making mistakes) reproduced my
engagement with my mother through stitch. Like her, I drew on my habitual craft-based knowledge,
albeit in other mediums to make the film. I didn’t know much about film technique, but I had watched
filmmakers: how they moved their bodies with the camera, how they would be in the moment of
embodied filmmaking. A quote from the director Danny Boyle (2007) where he talked about filming as
a slow process resonates with me. I became increasingly aware of filming and stitching as equally
slow processes that demand focus, precision, careful attention to the small details and interactions
involved in being in a particular moment; I began, in other words, to view film as the means to create
a mindful mise-en-scène.
Stitch Encounter 2: The sewing activity had its own sense of concentrated flow and although on one
level filming was an intervention I was keen for it to be integral to the process rather than disruptive. I
hadn’t been sure how my mother would react to being filmed, but she took it in her stride as if it was
the most natural thing in the world. While we talked and she sewed I regularly checked the camera on
the tripod because it automatically stopped filming every twelve minutes. We established a repetitive
rhythm of sewing, talking, filming and checking. After reviewing footage from the first stitch encounter
I decided to handhold the camera so that I could get closer to my mother’s hands, closer to the
making. This reinforced the tacit qualities and craft of hand-making. Close-up shots of my mother’s
hands threading a needle or clasping and re-clasping as she spoke, the detail of stitches, the vibrant
colour of cotton reels, and the textures of cloth, convey the haptic qualities of making and the intimacy
of our relationship. The act of filming paralleled that of making in the relationship between hand and
tool, whereby the tool (camera or needle) is an extension of the self that embodies, enacts and
manifests knowing and intention. The close and slow aesthetic that emerged, enhanced by natural
lighting and the play of lacy shadows across the screen, became a defining feature of the film,
suggesting my mother’s emergent sense of self and the renewed relationship between us that was
developing inside and outside the camera frame.
Stitch Encounter 3: In stitch encounters one and two, my presence was signalled solely by my voice.
For stitch encounter three I put the camera back on the tripod and stepped into the liminal space of
the workshop and into the frame. I had been working on a sampler using the new stitch my mother
had taught me and wanted to show her my progress. I set the camera to frame a shot of the two of us
together, lower body only signalling our embodied engagement as we examine the embroidery. She
praises my progress murmuring that I should be a teacher, a moment that is doubly poignant because
it both takes me back to a time in the past when she was my advisor and guide, and reminds me of
the present in which she no longer recognises (knows) me as a teacher, something that is an
important part of my career (Figure 5).
Figure 4: Hemstitch Sampler: film still from One Day When We Were Young (Rana 2016).
Photo © Mah Rana
Figure 5: Making Together: film still from One Day When We Were Young (Rana 2016).
Photo © Mah Rana
Stitch Encounter 4: As the workshops developed I realised that having the camera in my hand gave
me the control that I had been missing in the same way that my mother’s meticulous stitching brought
her a sense of calm, order and purpose. I began to choose moments to stand back, take stock, and
look around the room. I captured these small but useful reflexive pauses by filming cut-away shots of
interior details such as light reflecting on a chair arm (Figure 4), or a clock face with the time and date
in oversized numbers, a visual aid that helps my mother locate herself in the present, reminding us
that time and memory operate according to a new logic for her. Finding a way to stand back and
reflect helps one examine the essence of an experience, notice things that might have been missed
and generate meaning. The film footage enabled this to happen in a rich three-dimensional way that
included time, space, sound, voice, colour, texture and movement. Together with the workshop
activities, film served as a liminal space in which transition and change (my mother’s condition and
our relationship) could be observed, understood and managed in new and reassuring ways.
Figure 6: Reminiscing with Photograph: film still from One Day When We Were Young (Rana 2016).
Photo © Mah Rana
When my mother examines a black and white photograph of her sewing that was taken by my father
(Figure 6) it serves as a form of photo-elicitation and stimulates memories (Harper 2002). She
comments on a Singer sewing machine in the background, recalling that she brought it with her from
Barbados to London in 1954, how her mother had been a very good dressmaker and how she had
wanted to be a dressmaker like her. I reflect on how my mother’s memories about skills, desires,
people and identities from the past are contained in and materialised through sewing, and realised
how this helped her reconnect with a sense of self that was forged long before the Alzheimer’s
diagnosis. Later, while editing the film footage and making the film, I saw how the dual acts of sewing
and filmmaking helped me experientially connect with my mother through stories of herself in the past
– her sewing memories - and her presence in a present that was materialised in and through the act
of making.
Figure 7: Shadows and Light: film still from One Day When We Were Young (Rana, 2016).
Photo © Mah Rana
Finally, it’s important to mention the editing process and how it contributed to the production
of reflexive knowledge embodied in the film. We wanted to tell a story, or at least to suggest one: the
story of Rana’s mother, her condition, Rana’s experience as carer, and how their skills and inherent
abilities as creative makers could produce new knowledge about themselves and how they
communicate. Each stage of the editing was shaped by and responded to the stitch encounters. The
soundtrack, for instance, was inspired by the song Rana’s mother sang when stitching. With its
orchestral sweeping strings it references Douglas Sirk melodramas of the 1950s; films that she would
have watched as a young woman. True to her lived experience, the sweet, nostalgic melody also
serves as an emotional trigger for the audience. The first three frames showing: a shadow embroidery
effect on the wall (Figure 7), a reminder note on the front door, Rana’s mother’s feet dressed in
knitted slippers, serve as establishing shots, while the pace of the film mirrors the pace of the stitching
and conversation. Close-up shots of hands, needles, fabric and stitch convey a sense of intimacy,
while cut-away shots provide space for reflection. The decision not to include faces was made early
on partly for ethical reasons and anonymity. The film ends with Rana’s mother alone, absorbed in her
stitching and quietly singing under her breath as she concentrates on the task in hand: a woman at
peace with herself living in a present made meaningful by the past.
We wanted to show how the act of creative filmmaking can serve as a model for learning and
teaching through sharing and listening that foregrounds participant assets and the power relations
involved in knowledge exchange. Although a personal history of stitch was important on this occasion,
the model of knowledge generation through tacit knowledge could be applied to a wide range of
activities in educational, professional and amateur contexts (Hackney 2013). A central factor is the
creation of a safe space in which to improvise and a shared interest in and/or knowledge of a set of
skills or creative propensities. Examples of how similar workshop models have been employed within
the academy include Tandemize, a project part funded by the British Council and directed by Rana
that worked with a small group of undergraduates from the UK and Sri Lanka through a series of
international residencies and Live Archive, which was developed by Hannah Maughan in collaboration
with Textile Design students at Falmouth University. Film as a reflexive intervention was additionally
central to the Co-Producing CARE project that informed many of these initiatives (Hackney 2014a).
Live Archive used sewing workshops to creatively engage with textile heritage through sewn
responses to a personal archive!(Hackney et al 2016), while!Tandemize worked with students and
local craftswomen in the UK and Sri Lanka to create multiple material conversational spaces to flatten
the tutor-student hierarchy and realise social and cultural capital within the group.
Learning, Bruner (1986) argued, is about uncovering meaning in experience rather than truth seeking.
Dewey (1968) foregrounded the importance of habitualised, experiential knowledge through doing.
While Stewart emphasised the affective value of worlding, as we pay attention to our embodied
reactions, draw on our resources, learn new skills and address challenges, as life becomes a series
of minute daily adjustments to help us survive, and even thrive. These concerns and insights provide
a useful frame to examine Rana and her mother’s experiences as they sewed, filmed and sang
together, living in the past but generating knowledge about new ways to be in the present through the
act of doing embodied in reflexive creative making. Rana spoke about the tasks of problem-identifying
and solution-finding that she is forced to face on a daily basis when caring for her mother, life tasks
that parallel our work in learning and teaching. After the project she felt that she had found a way for
this work to become, at least to some degree, more of a shared process, and that her relational
dynamic with her mother had changed through the experience of making, sharing, listening and
reflecting. The combined process of filmmaking through stitch encounters moves us beyond the
reflective sketchbook to not only to engage directly with sensory and temporal experience but also to
foreground research as a lived condition located in personal relationships and histories. As such, and
in the best traditions of action research, it foregrounds the potential of learning and teaching
methodologies that promote social participation and meaningful change. For Rana and her mother,
the stitch encounters constructed a liminal, bloom space in which the latter’s identity as a person with
Alzheimer’s became less dominant and multiple identities as a maker, a teacher and a mother re-
emerged. One Day When We Were Young was selected for screening in the Crafts Council’s Real to
Reel Film Festival at Picturehouse Central Cinema in London (3 May 2017). A piece of art in its own
right, the film also functions as a resource for others who wish to uncover meaning in experience
through a process of making, sharing, listening and reflecting that is embedded in and responds to
everyday life.
Acknowledgements: This work was developed from a series of projects funded by the Arts and
Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under [grant number AH/K006789/1]: Co-Producing CARE:
Community Asset-based Research & Enterprise. Film editing for One Day When We Were Young was
funded by the University of Wolverhampton. We would like to thank all those who participated in this
and related projects and particularly Mah Rana’s mother.
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This article advocates an enlarged understanding of the benefits of manual creativity for critical thinking and affective making, which blurs the boundaries, or at least works in the spaces between or beyond differential definitions of amateur and professional craft practices and identities. It presents findings from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project: Co-Producing CARE: Community Asset-based Research & Enterprise ( CARE worked with community groups (composed of amateur and professional textile makers) in a variety of amateur contexts: the kitchen table, the community cafe, the library, for instance, to explore how critical creative making might serve as a means to co-produce community agency, assets and abilities. The research proposes that through “acts of small citizenship” creative making can be powerfully, if quietly, activist. Unlike more familiar crafts activism, such “acts” are not limited to overtly political and public manifestations of social action, but rather concern the micro-politics of the individual, the grass roots community and the social everyday. The culturally marginal, yet accessible nature of amateur crafts becomes a source of strength and potential as we explore its active, dissenting and paradoxically discontented aspects alongside more frequently articulated dimensions of acceptance, consensus and satisfaction. Informed by work on cooperation, DIY citizenship, critical making, and theories of embodied and enacted knowledge, the authors interpret findings from selected CARE-related case studies to explicate various ways in which “making” can make a difference by: providing a safe space for disagreement, reflection, resolution, collaboration, active listening, questioning and critical thinking, and offer quiet, tenacious and life-enhancing forms of resistance and revision to hegemonic versions of culture and subjectivity.
Full-text available
This article contributes to debates about the expanded, and expanding, nature of crafts by exploring the activist potential of amateur, domestic crafts and the quiet activism of everyday making. In contrast to much recent work on the resurgence of interest in DIY craft culture, it takes a historical perspective and argues for the emergence of a new, historically conscious, socially engaged amateur practice. The recently exhibited cross-stitch embroideries of Major Alexis Casdagli and my own memories of my grandmother provide a starting point for exploring the lived experience of home crafts in the first half of the twentieth century. Close analysis of home-craft features from 1930s women's magazines offer a framework for understanding how such marginalized spaces promote agency through new feminine imaginaries. Michel De Certeau's notion of la perruque suggests how such devalued activities as crochet and knitting can be envisaged as strategies or tactics that afford agency and shape distinctive social relations, while interviews with two contemporary practitioners provide insight into historical continuities and current responses.
Much of the work of artists relies on tacit or inert understanding of their craft and consequently communicating this knowledge is not necessarily easy or straightforward. This presents many challenges for art-based researchers. It also presents teaching and learning challenges involved in developing appropriate education and training to prepare artists. Arts practitioners have ways of knowing about themselves as ‘artists’ and it is argued in this commentary that these have grown out of their own deep and personally significant experiences. The ways in which this knowledge is rendered also appears to be based in practical experience – that is, in particular communities of practice. Artists may typically express values and concepts that are practice based, are difficult to express in theoretical terms and reflect what is deemed by them as desirable or preferable conditions for the execution of their art form. Socially and artistically constructed ways of knowing are formed in practice and through practice as craft-based meanings. Craft-based ways of knowing are founded on particular meanings inherent in practice that are often difficult to communicate. By drawing upon the author’s own research into practical actor training, this exposition attempts to capture the particular types of knowledge artists possess and why these may present challenges for researchers in using more open-ended methodologies whilst ensuring they provide validity. In doing so, this exposition also examines the fundamental question of what represents ‘evidence’ in art-based research – knowing what is known
This paper is a definition of photo elicitation and a history of its development in anthropology and sociology. The view of photo elicitation in these disciplines, where the greatest number of photo elicitation studies have taken place, organizes photo elicitation studies by topic and by form. The paper also presents practical considerations from a frequent photo elicitation researcher and concludes that photo elicitation enlarges the possibilities of conventional empirical research. In addition, the paper argues that photo elicitation also produces a different kind of information. Photo elicitation evokes information, feelings, and memories that are due to the photograph's particular form of representation.
“I shall reconsider human knowledge by starting from the fact that we can know more than we can tell,” writes Michael Polanyi, whose work paved the way for the likes of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper. The Tacit Dimension argues that tacit knowledge—tradition, inherited practices, implied values, and prejudgments—is a crucial part of scientific knowledge. Back in print for a new generation of students and scholars, this volume challenges the assumption that skepticism, rather than established belief, lies at the heart of scientific discovery. “Polanyi’s work deserves serious attention. . . . [This is a] compact presentation of some of the essentials of his thought.”—Review of Metaphysics “Polanyi’s work is still relevant today and a closer examination of this theory that all knowledge has personal and tacit elements . . . can be used to support and refute a variety of widely held approaches to knowledge management.”—Electronic Journal of Knowledge "The reissuing of this remarkable book give us a new opportunity to see how far-reaching—and foundational—Michael Polanyi's ideas are, on some of the age-old questions in philosophy."—Amartya Sen, from the new Foreword
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Desmarais, Sarah (2016), Affective Materials: A Processual, Relational, and Material Ethnography of Amateur Group Crafts Practice in Two Arts-for-Health Settings, unpublished PhD, Falmouth University and University of the Arts London.