The Story Behind The Piece: Not Just Blue

Not Just Blue

Fragile cot sized quilts expressing experiences of postnatal depression

The inspiration for this series came from a creative art project that I delivered several years ago with Midlothian Sure Start working with groups of parents within their six family support centres in Midlothian. Titled ‘Hear Me Out’ the idea was that I would hold discussion sessions with groups of parents encouraging them to speak out about issues that were important to them. We would then go on to create some expressive artworks which would be displayed in an exhibition to which we would invite health care professionals, local MSPs, local councillors as well as the general public.

During the very first session with the very first group I asked if there was anything anyone would like to discuss. One woman said ‘I’d like to talk about postnatal depression’ …and she did. After she shared some of her experiences so then did several others in the group and one of the most emotional discussions that I have been involved in began. I told this story to each subsequent group that I worked with and one by one women opened up and told their stories.

Ali Ferguson Feeling such a failure

During the sessions we wrote down everything discussed. We then went on to create not only several individual personal collages but also a patchwork paper ‘quilt’ as a joint project across all the Sure Start centres. Each patch contained the words that had been spoken during the sessions and the patches were then joined with selotape, staples and safety pins. The finished rather haphazard and scrappy quilt was titled ‘Barely Holding It Together’ and it became one of the centrepieces of our exhibition.  As a result of this work we also went on to publish an accompanying booklet titled “So Why Do I Feel Like This’ which became a resource for new mothers used by health visitors in health centres across Midlothian. Some of the work travelled round the health centres to be exhibited in the waiting rooms and feedback from health visitors revealed that having it displayed in the baby clinics had helped to open meaningful conversations about some of the issues raised.

I’m incredibly proud of this piece of work and the words spoken by the women never left me. In 2016 when I was considering the title ‘Another View’ for an exhibition with Prism Textiles the thought that immediately came into my mind was to explore ‘another view of motherhood’.  I revisited the notes that I had made a few years previously and found them to be just as powerful and just as moving as I remembered. Inspired by our original quilt ‘Barely Holding It Together’ I went on to make my two fragile, scrappy quilts, the first of which was exhibited with Prism Textiles at the RBSA Birmingham and Hoxton Arches, London in 2017. You’ll find more about this series of work under Cloth Work

Experiences of postnatal depression

Now in 2018 I’m returning to this series to start work on Part two. This will comprise of seven vintage baby dresses each stitched with one mother’s (or father’s) story. On the front will be the words that are presented to the world such as – ‘I’m fine’, ‘I’m just tired’ etc.  We’ve all heard people say them. Hand stitched on the back of the dresses will be the real story, the one that tends to get hidden from view.

Vintage baby dress

It saddens me that these stories still go untold and that behind closed doors woman still feel isolated, ashamed and that they are the only ones to be feeling this way. I can’t help but feel that the pressure to be ‘happy’ and to be ‘coping’ must be even higher in these days of social media.

My aim is therefore to create an installation featuring my two original fragile, cot sized quilts (though I think there may be a third quilt added), the seven vintage ‘story dresses’ and three pairs of vintage baby shoes. I am hoping that I will find a venue to exhibit these – possibly during Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 or possibly during Pre and Postnatal Depression Awareness Week 2018. I will be looking for opportunities and venues between now and then so if anyone has any ideas or suggestions then please do get in touch – I’d love to hear them. My hope again is that reading these words will open up other conversations and maybe show other women that they are not alone and give them the courage to speak out and ask for help.

Stitched stories of postnatal depression

Collecting Stories

I’m therefore currently collecting personal stories to be stitched on each of my seven dresses. I already have one which I am about to begin work on but I’m looking for six more. If you have experienced postnatal depression (whether you are a mother or father) and feel that you would like to share your story then I would be so honoured and touched to hear from you. Please just drop me an email and we can have an informal chat and I can let you know what I am looking for.

Embroidered vintage baby shoes

And lastly if a member of your family or a friend has a baby – maybe just check out that they really are ‘fine’.

Postnatal Depression

Gorgeous photographs in this blog by: Michael Graham, The Studio Penicuik & Carole Fitzgerald, Lazy Sunday