Hands to me always signify collaboration and friendship as well as the kinds of embodied knowledge that are too often marginalised.  My original idea was to cut hand shapes from various colours of translucent material and arrange them into a sort of sunburst shape. This design was abandoned quite quickly when it looked more like an octopus than a sunburst, and anyway I couldn’t find the material I had thought was in my fabric store. This is a big old trunk inherited from my Belgian great aunt, with old handmade lace and ribbons as well as materal left over from previous projects. Using stuff made in Brussels over a hundred years ago felt like a recommitment to my European identity.

So I started again by choosing a selection of fabrics and ribbons in purples creams and greys (was originally thinking suffragette colours but in the end I couldn’t find a green that worked) and trying out variations on hand imagery. I had also remembered Sharon Owens poem “Dangerous Coats” about the seditious potential of pockets in women’s coats, so wanted to incorporate some real pockets somehow.  Via Twitter, I got Sharon’s permission to quote her poem in full.

The final design shows a pair of parted hands, an approximation of the sign language sign for “Open”. Between them is a purple raised hand, based on a political poster by the German artist John Heartfield, with a related quote from him about the power of fingers working together – appropriately both digital *and* seditious.  Below is a pair of clasped hands – a bit of a cliche but fitted the theme of care and collaboration.

All the hands were cut from sheer crinkled fabric – I rather liked the potential for suggesting aging skin, though by the time they’d been ironed on to the backing material this had been smoothed away. I had been going to arrange everything directly on the plain cream cotton but the contrast didn’t work with the negative shapes so I ended up using coloured ribbons underneath the hands, which also gave the square a more geometric underpinning. Finally I found some silky material from a vintage top to make the pockets – had to have several goes at these to get the size and shape to fit with the hands, and to incorporate the Owens poem.

The bit I’m least happy with is the writing. I know there are ways to print on to fabric, but they all involve stuff I didn’t have in the house, and I knew I’d be unable to embroider the poem on a tiny scale in the time available. Most pens bled into the fabric, so I ended up writing as neatly as possible using a biro, but its wonkier than I’d like especially now I’ve seen some beautiful embroidered text on one of the other squares. [Update: I was about to post it off to Frances when I realised I’d made it 1/2″ too small, so added some colour either side and a band of extra fabric at the bottom. I also took the opportunity to straighten up the writing slightly. ]

But it’s done now, and at least it has real pockets – all ready for some seditious literature if anyone wants to add some! ”

Title from Michael Rosen poem https://www.theguardian.com/society/2008/dec/04/nhs-health

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