Wetlands • Claire Barber

A stitch for every sound
cloth, thread

Artist's Statement

A stitch for every sound incorporates a solitary and creative endeavour developed at The London Wetland Centre. There I found a vibrant space for stitchery where stitches became the accumulated marks of my attentiveness to listening. The firmness and character of ground fabric reacts to the threads and plays an important role in the stability of the embroidery through the placement of a stitch – one that is crisp and clear on the surface or sinks into the grain of the fabric. The yarn used serves as a mediator in a meeting of sound and ground fabric. It created a new set of conditions depending on location, for example when I sat sewing cross-legged on the banks of a pond, on a bench beside a gravel path or protected in a bird hide. Gurgles, creaks, chirrups, sharp calls, distant hammering, squawks, occasional quacks, murmurs, a police car siren, a bark, rustling close by: sounds as a texture crisscross over and through the space where I was seated and merge outwards to the expanse of the sky that connects us to others far away. In this context, the metronymic- like frequency of aircraft is a persistent repetition of filling stitches – often obscuring the linear stitches made moments before. The sudden absence of this sound due to National Lockdown Rules compelled me to question the durability of what I hear and what to make of it when parts of an original rhythm of sound has shifted.  

The London Wetland Centre may also serve as a place to engage others to become active listeners, fully immersed in the moment during an improvised action of stitchery. Part of the role of the embroiderer in this context is to filter and identify sounds, to track them, mark their rhythms and let them exist as a texture on the cloth, and to attend, with increased sensibility, to the rumbles of life happening in front, behind, around and above us.


Audio Description Transcript


A Stitch for Every Sound by Claire Barber


Barber’s work is comprised of five installations situated around the London Wetland Centre and an exhibition in the reception of the H2O Building.  

The work displayed in the Wetlands was created on site between 2019 and 2020.  Each stitch represents a sound heard by the artist as she sat embroidering at the spot in which the work is now displayed.  Each colour and weight of thread represents a different type of sound heard.  The artist worked from a palette of 20 threads of varying quality and weight including wool, mohair, plastic and neon dyed synthetic threads.  The artist was drawn to wool and soft, muted threads to represent the people-made noises such as aircraft noise which create a dull hum in the background.  Plastic threads represent the calls of the birds and animals as the artist felt these sounded almost comical, like a squeaky toy.  Piercing sounds appear as bright pink.  More complex sounds such as the air moving through leaves, or the sound of water mixing are created by layering and use of multi-ply thread. Each of the embroideries is therefore unique to the place in which it is situated and the moment in time in which it was made.

Outside the Headley Discovery Hide

A grey A4 portrait frame is mounted on a stand outside the Headley Discover Hide.  The frame contains a piece of dark and light blue checked cotton fabric.  In the centre of the fabric is an oval abstract design of embroidered stitches. Three rows of dark grey/blue stitches create a horizontal horizon.  Running at an angle across these heavy wool stitches are two rows of a lighter black and white ply.  Toward the bottom are flecks of red and white candy striped thread and a single whisp of grass green thread that looks like the stem of a bouquet of flowers.  Pops of bright pinks and flame coloured threads leap from the top.

Next to the picnic bench, at the entrance to the Wildside Route

A grey A4 portrait frame is mounted on a stand to the left of the picnic bench.  The frame contains a piece of undyed linen.  This pretty design gives the impression of heather and corn strewn across the fabric.  The predominant colours are beige, light mauve and bright orange.  To the left a ply thread of white with black is stitched in a form that looks like leaf stems with a central vertical spine and horizontal veins.  In the centre is a section of light purple wool stitches in the form of corn heads.  To the right, sketchy flower heads of bright orange stitches.  Layered across are dark blue wool threads.

Along the Wildside Route, in front of a small lagoon

A grey A4 portrait frame is mounted on a stand to the right of a bench.  The frame contains a piece of undyed linen.  A dark blue running stitch forms a crab-like shape in the centre of the fabric.  An arrow-like form pierces the central ellipse running diagonally upward from left to right.  Dense blocks comprised of rows of running stitch in beige and white thread, swirl across the ellipse diagonally from bottom right to left.  Pops of bright orange created from 3 tiny stitches surround the ellipse.  A sprinkling of bronze brown and lime green stitches complete this work.

Wildside Route Pagoda

A grey A4 portrait frame is mounted on a stand behind the curved seating, under a tree and overlooking water.  The tree leaves create a dappled light that is reflected on the glass creating an additional layer of pattern to this piece.  The embroidery is on natural coloured fabric.  The design is anchored with three or four rows of dark grey running stitch.  Heavy diagonal blocks of white and natural thread appear as is if the artist has scribbled heavily with white pencil.  A swarm of bright yellow stitches rises from middle right up and over.  Red and white ply ‘butterflies’ flitter across the top left.  Specks of bright orange pepper the design.

Wildside Reedbed

A grey A4 portrait frame is mounted on a stand surrounded by reeds that reach to head height.  This is a dense, rectangular embroidery on dark and light blue checked cotton fabric.  To the left, vertical grey and turquoise stitches provide the canvas on which long strands of orange and spots of lime green are scattered.  To the right, dark, heavy blue/grey stitches are crosshatched with grey and brown wool and finer royal blue threads.  Diagonal stiches in red and white ply provide a highlight and draw the eye to the bottom centre of the work.