First published in Knit Wit magazine, November 2015.
Clara Vuletich believes that the line between the practical and the spiritual is only the width of a needle. The textile designer and yoga instructor behind Sutra Stitching, a workshop that explores the surprising connections between sewing and mindfulness, thinks that the ability to stitch isn’t just a corrective to a world hooked on fast fashion – it’s a practice whose restorative powers are good for your soul.
“In the 2000s, I was living in London and became interested in slow fashion,” says Vuletich, who enrolled in a textile design course at London’s Chelsea College of Art after working with fashion consultant Yasmin Sewell at cult boutique Yasmin Cho.“A few years later, I retrained as a Kundalini yoga instructor and started bringing that influence to my research. I then discovered that the word “Sutra” means thread in Sanskrit. There are so many parallels between prayer and stitching and so many interesting artists – such as Louise Bourgeois – who talk about stitching as a metaphor for repairing things.”
We’re chatting over flat whites and avocado toast in a sun-splashed Sydney cafe on a winter morning that feels dangerously like the start of spring. In a few weeks, Vuletich, who recently returned to Australia, will submit a PhD thesis on social textiles, a project that’s commanded her energy over the past five years but today she’s more concerned about the delicate algebra of meeting friends who share her passions and finding the perfect venue for her workshops. At one point, she hands me a tissue-soft swatch of fabric featuring a constellation of patterned squares and her eyes sparkle with the thrill of someone already living their new beginning. The effect is contagious.
Vuletich, whose practice revolves around patchwork and quilting, has always had faith in the revolutionary magic of textiles and the ways in which stitching can fill holes in the supply chain and knit together communities around the world. “At art school one of my tutors was very interested in fashion sustainability issues and I started working at her research hub MISTRA Future Fashion after I graduated,” she says, adding that this research was funded by the Swedish government, who saw that its vision could transform the likes of H&M. In September 2013, she was asked by a collaborator Katherine May, to teach meditation and hand-stitching at The Arthaus, a mixed-use East London factory space. “We used all this naturally dyed indigo fabric and were making all these connections together,” she grins, lighting up at the memory. “I knew that there was a disconnect between producers and consumers but after that workshop I realised that this relates to a disconnection between the mind and body.”
Since then, Vuletich, who sources naturally dyed fabrics in India and has given workshops to garment workers in China, has made it her mission to bridge this divide. During classes, she leads students in a meditation while sitting on a sheepskin (the Kundalini yogi’s answer to a yoga mat), lays out the fabric and sewing kits in the middle of the circle and invites them to put their thread through the needle using Kantha running stitch, a quilting technique from West Bengal. “I tell my students to treat the fabric as they would a messy paper collage because the outcome isn’t important, it’s the process,” explains Vuletich, who held a workshop at a garden studio in Bondi earlier this year. “Something happens when you combine meditation, repetitive hand movements and fabric. They often have lightbulb moments as they make the link in their heads.”
Vuletich hopes to invite artists, scientists and makers to participate in future workshops and prove that her belief in the relationship between sewing and wellness is more than a hunch. “We’ve lost the sewing skills that our grandmothers had and at the same time we need mindfulness as the world becomes faster than it was before,” she smiles. “I’ve always been interested in what happens to the brain when you meditate. I’d love to do the same thing for stitching one day.”