Stitch-by-Stitch: An Unsettling Canada 150 TRC sewing circle and picnic

Wide shot of participants at table. Photo: Elizabeth Littlejohn

Though physically wet, rain failed to dampen the spirits of those who participated in Stitch-by-Stitch's Unsettling Canada Day Sewing Circle -- held in solidarity with Unsettling Canada 150 National Day of Action by Idle No More and Defenders of the Land. With umbrellas and soggy red thread in hand, a group of 20 to 30 intrepid stitchers spent three hours in Queen's Park embroidering the text from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's 94 Calls to Action onto Canadian flags.

I first began embroidering the Calls to Action onto Canadian flags on June 2, 2016 -- the one-year anniversary of their release. After about eight months of embroidering alone, I put out a call to friends and community groups in Winnipeg to see if anyone wanted to join me in embroidering or to host a TRC Sewing Circle and Reading Group that would combine the task of embroidering the Calls to Action onto flags with reading aloud from the TRC's 388-page Summary Report. The response has been enthusiastic. To date I've held sewing circles at the University of Winnipeg's greenhouse artlab, ArtsJunktion, the Tallest Poppy Restaurant, Artfest, New Directions, in private homes, and now, in a public park. With each circle I learn something new and am always touched by the sharing of skills, care and knowledge.

Though I originally titled the project, "Reconciliation: A Call to Action," over time I became concerned with the overuse -- or misuse -- of the term "reconciliation" as a feel-good concept detached from grounded acts of redress. With "Stitch-by-Stitch" I hope to emphasize the necessarily care-filled and time-demanding labours that both embroidery and critical reflection demand. The project is a work in progress. To date, the embroidery on 22 of the project's 58 (44 of the calls) flags is complete and the remaining flags are in various stages of process. Like its task-based labour aesthetic, Stitch-by-Stitch's unfinished status is a reminder that as a praxis of redress, reconciliation is an ongoing process that requires collective and sustained labour.

Big thanks to everyone who came to the Stitch-by-Stitch Unsettling Canada 150 Sewing Circle. I'm immensely impressed by all the dauntless stitchers who continued through several downpours! Embroidering with sopping wet threads and prune fingers is a new one for me.

For more details, visit the project's website and Facebook page.

Text by Helene Vosters. Photos by Elizabeth Littlejohn.

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