Project News

Thread Bearing Witness - Stitched Textiles and Refugee Voices

Posted 25 August 2020

Alice Kettle, Professor of Textile Arts at Manchester School of Art, introduces the Thread Bearing Witness project, an art project which uses stitch and textile art to learn from, and express solidarity with, displaced people:

Textiles offers a powerful medium through which to explore themes of cultural heritage, journeys and displacement. Embroidery is often regarded as a domestic, familial practice of home-making, steeped in the history of trade routes with its global connections to production and pattern. It is both a common language in process and imagery but equally distinct in its production and iconography. It is ubiquitous and familiar, we all own and wear textiles. The migration of textiles and its patterns are bound into our global and local histories. Indeed textile migrates where people cannot.

Installation of 'Stitch A Tree' - approx 6m x 11m - made of approx 6000 contributions of stitched trees.  Photograph by Michael Pollard.

The Thread Bearing Witness project uses stitched textiles as a powerful medium to bring together refugee voices and give them expression. The project was conceived with the Dunkirk Legal Support Team through Tamsin Koumis, my daughter. It drew upon the lived experience to work with those who were in the Dunkirk camp as refugees, those volunteering in the team, and with those given asylum in the UK through the Dunkirk Legal Support team. The project extended to work with multiple refugee groups in the UK and oversea and in other refugee camps including Pikpa, Lesvos Solidarity Greece and the Jungle, Calais, France. 

'Sky' panel - 3 x 8m - stitch on printed cloth. Photograph by Michael Pollard.

We used stitch to learn about refugees and asylum seekers, in recognition of their individuality, their immense value to our community and in celebration of each individual’s unique strengths. The project evolves as we connect with others. We are running online sewing groups, run by refugees and working collaboratively to make textile works together. Stitch allows us to have a one world view, one that is richly embroidered, interconnected and rooted in home making and belonging.

'Sea' panel - 3 x 8m - stitch on printed cloth. Photograph by Michael Pollard.

Find out more about the project by visiting

'Ground' panel - 3 x 8m - stitch on printed cloth. Photograph by Michael Pollard.

Within the Making Home Away archive, you can read about two Syrian refugee women - Amira and Tuba - who used textiles and soft furnishings as part of their efforts to make their living spaces in refugee camps in Jordan more homely.


Alice Kettle is a textile artist, and Professor in Textile Arts at Manchester School of Art, as well as Visiting Professor at the Centre for Real World Learning, University of Winchester.