NewsRoyal School of Needlework

Using hand embroidery to explore epilepsy

The University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Royal School of Needlework is proud to have collaborated with visual artist Susan Aldworth on her new project called Out of the Blue. Out of the Blue explores the experiences of people living with epilepsy through art and will form a thought-provoking art installation at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle from 18 January – 9 May 2020.

Aldworth has collaborated with over one-hundred specialist embroiderers, including students from the Royal School of Needlework (RSN), to exhibit one-hundred items of embroidered clothing. Students studying the BA (Hons) Hand Embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework have hand-embroidered testimonies from people living with epilepsy onto the clothing.  Using UV threads to represent the hidden nature of epilepsy, these statements are laid bare to highlight and explore this condition.  The significance of the 100 embroiderers and 100 items of clothing was part of Aldworth’s dynamic messaging, as epilepsy affects 1 in 100 people. 

'Out of the Blue' installation © Susan Aldworth. Photographs by Peter Abrahams

Out of the Blue installation © Susan Aldworth. Photograph ©Peter Abrahams

The garments will be suspended from the gallery ceiling by wires and programmed to move in the manner of an epileptic seizure. The movement will become increasingly synchronised. Once fully aligned, they will collapse onto the floor. Slowly, the clothes will start to move again, and restore themselves into their original configuration.   Whilst the movement of the garments highlights the physical aspect of epilepsy, the embroidered threads fluoresce under the UV light, representing both the emotional and personal implications for those affected, their families and friends. 

Susan Aldworth said: "Degree students at the Royal School of Needlework were asked to bring alive the testimonies of people living with epilepsy onto Victorian undergarments. Like epilepsy, these garments were worn concealed beneath the surface and as they are vintage, their very fabric also contains hidden histories. Embroidery is a slow, contemplative process and many of the students spoke of the impact the testimonies had on them and their design. The students’ skills, craft and imagination transformed each of the original garments into a uniquely responsive embodiment of the words. In short, the students at the Royal School of Needlework brought intelligence, empathy and skill to this project. I was very impressed and thrilled with the quality and imagination of their work.”

Angie Wyman, Course Leader of the Degree in Hand Embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework said: “Out of the Blue is the second art project by Susan Aldworth that our Degree students have worked on. These poignant art installations showcase the diversity of hand embroidery and how craftsmanship can translate and convey such hard-hitting, emotive messages through fabric and thread. Industry collaborations give our students such valuable insights into the real world.  The exciting installation by Susan enabled our students to apply their hand embroidery skills to new contexts and materials as well as gain experience – all of which are a key part of their learning and preparation for their career path within hand embroidery.”

Learn more about the School of Needlework by visiting the course pages.