Work in progress

For the last six months women across the UK have been contributing to our collaborative embroidery, some physically at workshops, events or via the Remote Stitching Collective and some by donating their voices across multiple online platforms including this blog. What started as a plain 2 meter length of milky cloth is now awash with colour. Covered in thousands of stitches, documenting the voices of nearly 100 women the cloth is evolving daily as I continue to add your contributions. Sadly with the current situation I’m not able to share this with you physically in person, although I hope once finished it will go on some sort of journey around the UK to inspire more conversation, in the meantime I wanted to share the progress we have made so far. It’s too big to photograph here a home, so here is a short video to give you a sneak peak! As always I’d love to hear your thoughts… can you recognise your contribution? How does it make you feel? What is missing? What would you add?

Stitching continues so if you can’t see your contribution just yet, keep an eye on the Veiled Voices 2020 Instagram page to keep up to date with progress.


Awash with colour – imbued with meaning

I am ashamed to write that it has been over a month since I last penned a blog post. My fingers however, have been busy with needle and thread, adding the voices of contributors including powerful and beautiful submissions by the Remote Stitching Collective. What was once a plain two-meter length of cloth is now awash with colour. Imbued with meaning, the embroidery documents different, sometimes competing, perceptions and interpretations of hijab wearing in the UK and the incredible, often powerful, conversations that have happened as a result.

The embroidery has provided a safe and welcoming space for women to tell their different truths, explore them with, and in relation to others, and develop new, different or broader world views. It has given women permission to use their voice. These voices have become interwoven with the fabric, creating a material object far more than a mere social commentary or snapshot in time.

Throughout the stitching process the embroidery has acquired an agency all of its own, directing, challenging and interrupting thought, encouraging engagement and becoming an active participant in the conversation. As we near the end of this stitching phase of Veiled Voices 2020, I wonder how we can capitalise upon the inherent agency of this collaborative work, to further encourage conversations which drive the underlying goals of this project of creating understanding and friendship across faiths?

For now, my focus moves to writing my MA thesis about perceptions and attitudes toward Muslim veiling in the UK, and the use of use of embroidery as a vehicle to subversively challenge society, explore emotions and change perceptions. In some ways I fear I will have gained more from this project than anyone, it has personally been transformative. It has changed my world view about the power of women collaborating and the potential of participatory craft projects to solve problems, heal communities and aid social transformation. Every woman who has participated in this project has been a part of this transformation and I thank you all.

I still have a little (ok quite a lot!) more stitching to do, so please do keep following the Veiled Voices 2020 Instagram page to see its development. Once finished I hope to engage yet more women in photographing and documenting the piece and seeking venues to share it with a wider audience to keep the conversation going. As always please do get in touch to get involved.

Thank you all for being a part of Veiled Voices 2020, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Laura x

Making sense of the noise

As we enter our ninth week of lockdown, I find I am still surrounded and overwhelmed by the noise created by the uncertainty of our time. This is not the noise of having two children at home and a husband on endless calls and video conferences, but the information overload from organisations, tv, radio and social media, and the resulting internal processing and endless questioning of what does this all mean for me and those I love. My thinking is scrambled, I grapple with an incoherent jumble of words and ideas, critiquing and questioning in an ongoing conversation with myself.

Last night, I sat down to add another woman’s voice to the veil and felt much the same. How am I going to make sense out of this incoherent tangle of words? How do I ensure each voice is given the respect, space and platform it deserves? How on earth do I write a thesis about this and answer the question this research project was developed to answer?

As I settled to the slow and rhythmic process of stitching my mind wandered around those voices already documented. They reminded me that this collection of narrative in thread, is not a knot to be unpicked, it is a conversation, a record of dialogue. Some of this dialogue took place in person between women in the same room, some from afar as women contribute in response to the evolving work. The act of contribution provides participants with an opportunity to think, to consider and question their own views in relation to others. For those who physically embroider their responses the slow practice of stitching encourages further contemplation, internal dialogue and examination of their contribution.  Stitching narrative provides space to consider the multiple meanings of words and opportunity to question one’s individual interpretation. For some this process has changed their way of thinking, for others it has broadened their world view to include the perceptions of others, creating a new way of seeing. In this way we can view embroidery as having a social character. As explored in the previous blog post ‘Confidence in cloth – challenging stereotypes’, the evolving embroidered veil has actively drawn women in, acquiring agency through its evolution and becoming a provocative and active part in the conversation.

Much of the dominant discourse surrounding hijab wearing in the UK is binary. It doesn’t allow for multiple realities, for the multiple ways we as individuals see the world based on our lived experience and beliefs. Much like the developing embroidery, perceptions of hijab wearing in the UK are not static, they are fluid, changing and responsive to an ever-changing environment, reactive to local and world events. The embroidery documents the conflict and tension of bringing together multiple ways of knowing. It is an invited collaborative space which illustrates that there is no single truth, whilst celebrating the potential of women to connect despite difference.

At the beginning of this project I worried about whether enough women would engage with the project to fill the veil with voices. The vast blank length of cloth seemed immense. Now as the expanse of milky cloth disappears under thousands of stitches my thoughts have moved to how do we leave space for the voices that are missing? How do we recognise those voices that have been silenced? I think I shall pick up my needle and thread and settle to another evening of slow stitching to contemplate some more.

Solitary Stitching

As lockdown continues so does stitching on the Veiled Voices 2020 collaborative embroidery. Excitingly contributions of beautiful little colourful squares containing the voices of Remote Stitching Collective members have begun to trickle in. At a time of such minimal social contact, the arrival of these little packages has created moments of huge household excitement, as we all strain to see the latest contribution.

Veiled Voices 2020 was always meant to be a collaborative, community created embroidery. My intention was that most of the embroidery would be completed by participants themselves, together in groups as part of discussions at workshops and events. My role as researcher was to facilitate, observe and analyse without intentionally influencing or directing contributions or the embroidery’s development. However, coronavirus had other ideas and as it became necessary to cancel workshops and we entered lockdown I have found myself taking on more of the stitching.

Initially I was concerned that this would negatively affect the research, somehow making it less valid, less representative and less of an embodiment of all the women who have and continue to take part and contribute. It is true to say that the project has diverted a little from the planned route, but rather than negatively affecting the project and research the outcome personally has been enlightening. Stitching other women’s contributions has provided dedicated time to focus; to think, process, consider and really digest what women are saying. It has enabled me to recognise some of the larger and underlying themes, some of the contradictions, frictions and areas of surprising consensus and shared experience. The embroidery has become as much a record of the research process, my findings and thought process, as the voices it documents. Stitching has also proved to personally be a form of escape and therapy, providing moments of calm and tranquillity in a time of fear, increased pressure and media overwhelm.

When developing this project, I became aware that participatory arts-based research generated varied and mixed reactions. For some it was utterly baffling, horrifying in its messy and potentially chaotic and uncertain accumulation of information, or frankly not what they considered to be a legitimate form of research; to others it was utterly fascinating and a clear route to find answers to a potentially difficult and controversial question. Although I would have loved to have continued along my planned research route, the coronavirus diversion has highlighted one of the beauties of this form of research, it is adaptable, able to evolve along with the embroidery and adjust to participant and situational needs and restrictions.

The creation of the Remote Stitching Collective has been an important part of the project’s adaptation to circumstances, continuing research and the collection and documentation of women’s voices. It is also providing women with a focus and creative outlet in a time of unrest and uncertainty, connecting with the thousands of women throughout history who have used embroidery as a form of voice when they had little power over their circumstances. Reflective of my personal experience members are reporting that the act of embroidering is positive, providing them with moments of peace and contemplation.

And so, I stitch alone, but together with participants past and present we work towards a collaborative effort together, continuing the conversation and creating a visual record in solidarity, celebrating difference.

Stitching Community and Voice

Wow it sure has been a turbulent few weeks! Amid all the media noise, anxiety and overwhelm, the daily activity of stitching women’s voices onto the evolving collaborative embroidery, has been a form of pure escape and joy. I am slowly working my way through all the contributions from workshops, events and the ‘donate a word’ from the blog. (Please keep these coming in and keep me busy!)

AMAZINGLY many of you have been joining me in this process too!! The ‘Remote Stiching Collective’ is well and truly up and running, with women signed up from all over the UK. I have received some exciting sneak peaks of some beautiful and thought provoking works-in-progress and finished pieces, all soon to be heading my way in order to be attached to the collaborative work, forming our conversation in cloth.

Little packages for ‘Remote Stitching Collective’ members who need supplies.

If you would like to join us, PLEASE DO! The more women involved and the more voices recorded the better. You can find out how here ‘Remote Stitching Collective’. Veiled Voices 2020 now also has an Instagram page so that you can see what everyone is up to and how the project is developing, follow us on veiled_voices_2020.

Beautiful participant contribution from ‘Remote Stitching Collective’

Huge thanks to everyone who has, is, or has plans to join the project, add their voice and be a part of this growing community in the coming weeks. Embroidery is proving to be an invaluable tool to me in this strange and difficult time, I hope it is for you too.

Laura x

Embroidering community – creating community and conversation from afar

In response to the most recent advice from the government the upcoming #VeiledVoices2020 ahead ‘Stitch-In’ at the University of Derby on Monday 23rd March and embroidery workshop at the Multi-Faith Centre on Tuesday 24th March have been cancelled. BUT, #VeiledVoices2020 will continue WITH YOUR HELP!

Veiled Voices 2020 was built upon a desire to start a conversation, to bring women together across the UK to explore perceptions of Hijab wearing in Britain with the aim of creating understanding and friendship. I see the collaborative embroidery as a visual representation of the developing community of women who take part, despite their differences, or maybe because of them, to educate, learn, support and be a force for good. Over the coming months this notion of building a community is going to be challenged, physically meeting with women to embroider together has become temporarily impossible. However, I believe we can still meet our goals of encouraging understanding and friendship and create a beautiful collaborative embroidery which gives every woman a voice in the UK.  

There are three ways to get involved…

Donate a word – if you only have 5 minutes to give please ‘donate a word’ to the project to be embroidered onto the veil. Think about what the hijab means to you. If you wear the headscarf what does it symbolise and how does it make you feel? If you don’t wear the scarf, what do you think when you see women wearing the hijab? Any range of submissions is welcome, from a single word, a question or sentence, to a graphic symbol or design. Be creative! For a little inspiration see some of the amazing contributions already made on the ‘donate a word’ page here…

Add your voice – If you have more than 5 minutes and want to share a more in-depth perspective, you can add your voice to conversation online, commenting on any of the blog posts or pages here…

Join the remote embroidery collective – For those who are needing to self-isolate the #VeiledVoices2020 community is reaching out to you. If you fancy trying a little embroidery yourself (you really don’t need to have expertise a straight stitch can create the most beautiful effects) join my team of remote stitchers who are embroidering their own or others word donations. I can send you instructions, needle, fabric and thread if needed, then you can craft at your leisure and send the completed contribution back to me to be attached to the collaborative work. I would love for you to get involved so please me an email at for more information.

I hope to hear from you, see you or speak to you soon, in the meantime take care of yourselves and each other.

Laura x

Embroidering community – responding to Coronavirus

In recent years the UK has experienced some difficult times and events including horrific terrorist attacks and that dreaded word ‘Brexit’. Both have been used by some as devices to divide, resulting in increases in racially and religiously fuelled hate incidents and crimes across the country and within the communities in which we live. Along with the arrival of Coronavirus came a new excuse for some to abuse others. As covid-19 spreads so does a wave of xenophobic, racist attacks challenging our communities just at a time when we need them most.

Veiled Voices 2020 was built upon a desire to start a conversation, to bring women together across the UK to explore perceptions of Hijab wearing in Britain with the aim of creating understanding and friendship. I see the collaborative embroidery as a visual representation of the developing community of women who take part, despite their differences, or maybe because of them, to educate, learn, support and be a force for good.

It is likely over the coming months that this notion of building a community is going to be challenged, that physically meeting with women to collectively embroider together will become increasingly difficult or not possible. In the meantime, until advised by host locations the planned events will go ahead including the ‘Stitch-In’ at the University of Derby on Monday 23rd March and the workshop at the Multi-Faith Centre on Tuesday 24th March. Due to the close nature of working at the workshop, I will be reducing the maximum attendance to 8 people. Spaces are still available, I ask that spaces are booked by emailing me just in case we have last minute cancellation, enabling me to let you know of any event changes due to the nature of the unfolding situation. I hope some of you will choose to join us for what I expect to be another fascinating session.

If you are unable to join a workshop but still want to get involved, please add your voice to the conversation by commenting on the blog or donate a word to be embroidered onto the veil.

For those who are needing to self-isolate I want to further extend the community to you, if you’d like to embroider a message for the veil, I’d really love it if you did, drop me an email and I will send you instructions, posting supplies if you need them, so that every woman can add her voice to the conversation, and embroider her place within this growing community making change.

I hope to hear from you, see you or speak to you soon, in the meantime take care of yourselves and each other.

Laura x

Confidence in cloth – challenging stereotypes

Over the past week I have been out and about sharing #VeiledVoices2020. From quietly stitching in cafes, and even lectures, to exhibiting at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association International Women’s Day symposium, I’ve spoken with lots of women and the keywords for the week are loud and clear; powerful, confidence! Perhaps it’s all the International Women’s Day rhetoric, the swell of women collectively celebrating each other and their achievements, or maybe there really is power in a length of cloth and a woman with a needle.

In cafes, women seeing me stitching have stopped to talk, asking me what I am doing and telling me how ‘powerful’ they feel the embroidered veil is. I wonder, is it the visual nature of embroidery speaks to them, the performative show of someone stitching big bold (often challenging) words in silence, or if there is a learned feminine affinity with the artform? Either way the embroidered cloth gives people the confidence to strike up conversations in places where they would usually pass you by. Interestingly it hasn’t yet had the same effect of men.

At the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association International Women’s Day symposium, the theme of confidence continued, as women expressed what the veil meant to them. The big and bold ‘oppression’ appliqued onto the veil caused much conversation, as Muslim women revealed how they were frustrated that ‘everyone thinks if we wear the veil we are oppressed’. The responses voiced, illustrated that for these women the meaning and symbolism of the veil unaffected by others, it is resilient, grounded in faith and bestows a sense of confidence, security, safety and empowerment.

One of the most interesting things about the slowly evolving embroidery is the way it draws people; they want to look, touch and respond. It not only records women’s voices, it is becoming an active part of the conversation. Reflecting on women’s comments regarding the way wearing the hijab gave them confidence, made them feel secure, safe and empowered, it occurs to me that perhaps a little of this has, and is, being stitched into the very fabric of the #VeiledVoices2020 veil. Perhaps as the embroidery passes from one woman’s hands to another it is gaining its own agency and power?

Happy International Women’s Day to all the amazing women reading this blog. Thank you for joining the conversation. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the project, its progress and what veiling means to you, reply box below.

Laura x

First marks – documenting the experience, memories and hopes of women.

Stitching has begun! Last week saw the first Veiled Voices 2020 embroidery workshop and wow, what an inspiring start to this collaborative embroidery project! Thanks to the lovely women who attended, we shared a wonderful morning full of conversation, learning and stitching.

I am hugely grateful to these first women, for their honesty, openness and willingness to challenge and ask questions. Hearing women relate their personal experiences of verbal abuse for their choice to wear the veil (and other items of religious clothing) was distressing, but to witness the empathy, compassion and solidarity offered by fellow participants, highlights why projects such as these are needed, and the potential value they can bring to individuals and communities.

In this first workshop participants began to shed light on the complexity of symbolism attached to the hijab. It is clear, that headscarf wearing Muslim women in the UK are subject to negative stereotyping, alongside well-meaning but at times misplaced concern.

Lively and engaged conversation led to enthusiastic embroidery design and practice. Participants came up with beautiful, provocative and incredibly personal text-based designs which they then transferred on to the veil or worked on brightly coloured fabric with plans to attach these to the veil at a later date, perhaps by another participant. For many the lure of the ambitious design was too enticing. Ambition exceeded the time available for stitching, leaving some motifs partially completed. We viewed this as a positive outcome for the session, imagining the veil passing through numerous women’s hands on its way to completion; documenting diverse voices, experiences, memories, hopes and dreams – bringing women together in a collaborative effort to record and document.

Central to this research project is the practical evaluation of creative practice as a tool to support explorations of difficult topics within communities.  Can craft based activity really help aid and inspire conversation around sensitive subjects, or does it distract? Can it be used as an agent for change? This first session provided evidence that the task of embroidery provided both opportunity and focus – for conversation, contemplation, curiosity, reflection and community building. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in further workshops and how the participants affect atmosphere, direction and outcomes.

My main takeaway from this first session, is the power of curiosity. Through the curiosity, questioning and openness of participants we all left that workshop having learned something new, reshaping our perceptions about those around us and the community we live in.

So, I’m curious to know, if you could embroider just one word on to this collaborative work, what would it be? What does the hijab symbolise to you? What mark would you make? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this on anything to do with the project. Join the conversation and add your voice.

Initial observations – ‘But you’re white!’

Just weeks into this research project and some generalised themes are beginning to appear in women’s responses to Veiled Voices 2020. Many of the thoughts, opinions, beliefs, concerns and questions voiced, in conversations or via the blog, I had anticipated. The enormous spectrum of symbolism applied to the veil ranges from concerns of female oppression, to the celebration of women liberating themselves from expected beauty norms, to appreciation of the freedom of religious expression we all enjoy in the UK. All of which I am looking forward to exploring in the context of changing perceptions since 9/11. But, one statement-like question has arisen far more than I expected and has made me really think and question myself, my motives and the value and appropriateness of the project… ‘But you’re white!’ Often closely followed by ‘Muslim Women won’t talk to you.’

Although not entirely unexpected, I have been surprised that in a conversation about a religious item of clothing, skin colour or race is repeatedly raised as somehow relevant to my suitability of involvement in initiating discussions. Correctly or not, the first half of this statement, ‘But you’re white’, I have understood as a veiled enquiry. One which questions why I care what perceptions of veiling are in the UK, what it has to do with me and my motives for carrying out such research. On reflection, I think in many ways, these very statements are the reason behind the project. 

I have always felt that there is some sort of women’s club, a thread that joins us together in solidarity, no matter our race, religion or background. The hundreds and thousands of women I have met across the world have taught me that women will always find things to talk about, ways to communicate and areas to find common ground and support each other.  Crafting or creating of some sort has often been at the centre of these conversations, allowing for connections to be made alongside discoveries and intimacies. The more I delve into this project, the more I begin to understand that this invisible thread, alongside my belief in the importance of freedom of choice and expression, makes me a feminist. At the centre of true feminist values are the relationships women have with each other. For women to effectively support, connect and work together for the benefit of us all, we need to understand each other. But the opportunities to come together and learn about each other are often minimal or superficial. I am hopeful that Veiled Voices 2020 will offer opportunities for such connection and questioning.

So yes, I am White; and no, I don’t think it matters! Because, the aim of this project is to learn by working collaboratively. Encouraging conversation, contribution and understanding by bringing all women in our society together to fight against prejudice, whilst celebrating freedom of choice and expression.

With regards to the statement that ‘Muslim women won’t talk to you’, this feels like whole new blog post, one which explores the homogenisation of Muslim women, the blurring or religion, culture and identity alongside the perceived cultural and religious barriers in our society (I’d love to know your thoughts on this!). In the meantime, I am pleased to report that I have already met with many wonderful Muslim women who are interested in contributing to this project. Are there barriers to bringing women together from multiple groups? Yes, of course, but I hope that the thread of friendship will extend, and develop along with the collective embroidery as it makes its journey from one set of hands to another bringing women together.

I’d love to know your thoughts; share them below and join the conversation.