Sophie Handy writes about Community Craft Worskshops at the Old Printworks in Balsall Heath:
“We are two weeks into the programme and have started to learn batik and felt making. The first week we had twelve women. The women who came were from a mixture of existing groups including the Friends of Clifton (a parents group who meet once a term for fundraising activities at Clifton Primary School), members of the congregation from the Wesleyan Holiness Church, members of the Saheli women’s project, associates through St Paul’s Church and Community Development Trust and a couple of women who have attended independently due to their own personal interests in crafts. The second session in felt making- we had sixteen participants with five new members joining us (two through Clifton Primary School, two with a particular interest in felt and one who had just heard about the project through a friend- all of these new members are keen to join the whole programme).
Batik Workshop- 6th February
This was the first workshop- led by Layla Tutt. Layla is an exceptionally enthusiastic young lady who has seven years experience of teaching and developing her love for batik. We chose Layla as to start as we know her passion is infectious and she is exceptionally skilled in making people feel welcome and relaxed. We had an introductory welcome which allowed everyone to share their personal interests and start to get to know each other.
Batik is a beautiful art form which as you will see from the photos everyone was able to create and complete a fantastically colourful piece. Apart from one lady who remembered doing batik many years ago at school, no one else had tried batik before. Layla explained the history of batik and gave the group a great insight into the many countries and cultures which use this technique to create textiles for clothing, home furnishings and tourist memorabilia. Layla explained how she has developed her skills in this area, creating her first pieces to sell at local crafts markets and now how she has developed a career from her craft- alongside her passions for playing the guitar- of which she also gave us all a rendition during the lunch break! Layla then led a demonstration explaining the materials, tools and techniques of batik and the different methods of application.
The women who have joined this group are from a variety of different places and although they are all from the local area, most had not met before. During the workshop there was a gentle hum of conversation and supporting banter towards one another commenting on each other’s work, inquiring how they had created that effect, their colour selections as well as some general more personal questions of interest, including HRT advice!
Due to the shared interest and interactions with the batik, everyone had a common ground and mutual reason for being there. This is why I love arts and crafts for community projects. There is no right or wrong way of doing things, everyone’s interpretation is different and everyone can learn and share something.
The lunch break was lovely and encouraged the women to move around and talk to people other than those they had been working by. I made sweet potato and carrot soup and we had fresh home-made bread from our in-house baker, who following its success has now struck us a deal for the whole programme. Some of the women from the group took a loaf home with them that day and have placed their orders for more.
At the end of the session everyone left saying how much they had enjoyed the batik session, how great Layla is and that they were looking forward to the next session. We talked about having an exhibition at the end of the project which everyone was really enthusiastic about. The group left their batik creations behind to start the first display of the groups work.
Felt Making- 13th February
This workshop was led by Ildiko Nagy. Ildi was at the group last week so she had already started to get to know some of the group. Ildi gave an introduction to the materials and her personal interests and developments in the craft- including passing round some wool from her grandfathers sheep back home in Hungary. She then gave a demonstration into needle felting techniques. As with the batik workshop, the group were given the choice to either create a template as a guide for their designs or start directly with an idea, pattern or image from their imagination. This worked really well, as some people are more confident than others with their own creativity and enjoy this direct experimental approach, while others are much more comfortable with the method of explicitly visualising their idea and planning prior to embarking on their final design.
There were a few new members to the group this week and it was really nice to hear people welcoming each other and saying how much they had enjoyed the session last week. Some of the women were discussing forthcoming workshops and which ones they were most looking forward to. We also discussed as a group the possibility of starting a craft business utilising everyone’s skills base and making things to sell- a few of the women were very keen on this idea as a way of sustainably carrying on doing the things they love.
Everyone has their own agenda for joining the workshops, while some are keen to learn or develop a particular craft technique, what is becoming apparent is that everyone seems to have an inherent creativity that they are enjoying being able to explore and share. Being in this setting is encouraging everyone to try new things, express themselves and realise how like minded we all are!