Aroundtown MEETS

past year I could not have done it without her help and now we are very good friends.”

While sharing her knowledge with the volunteers, Gemma has also taken advantage of the chance to upskill and learn from others along the way, picking up tips and tricks from the self-taught sewers. She is also working with art degree students at University Campus Barnsley and their artist in residence, Sharon Middleton, on a skill exchange venture.

The high ceilings give great expanse from which to showcase her textile displays and current projects, with shelving housing her own antique charms and crockery.

The grand staircase is heaving with vintage Singer sewing machines, the walls lined with her Tour de Yorkshire banners shouting quips like ‘Gi ore wi thissen’. A rainbow of tassels fall in a riot from the banister, while a washing line of aprons and vintage garments stretch across the landing. Although a self-confessed

hoarder, Gemma says she’s fortunate that a lot of the items she has collected over the years have been kindly donated by local people.

highlight the incredible her-story of these worthy women.

In the first two weeks since launching, Gemma welcomed over 200 people to her workshops, aged 4 to 92.

“The interest I’ve already seen shows just how important arts and heritage are. People want to take ownership of their own history and most come to learn skills or more about the villages where they are from.

“I have been given a huge responsibility and a loud voice to get people involved and to build relationships within the community which I am already starting to see.” Taking inspiration from what

‘There’s Miss Agnes Bertram, Wentworth’s former piano tutor, whose handwriting will be hand-embroidered onto sheets of music. Or Nurse Walker, a midwife from Elsecar, who delivered 3,000 babies with just a bicycle and suitcase in her kit’

“I can never have too much of anything and the donations have been endless. Somehow, the thing I most need magically finds its way to the studio, be it thread or even a new set of drawers.”

Since moving into her new studio in August last year, Gemma finally found the time to have an official launch in March to coincide with her new project, Common Threads. On the day, the event saw around 100 jovial faces come through the door every hour to marvel at the cosy corner of Gemma’s world and reminisce about the good old days. The project, in partnership with the Great Place scheme, has been devised to celebrate the inspirational women from Elsecar and Wentworth in a matter of different mediums. Using mainly embroidery, the finished pieces will be showcased around the two villages in a bid to


would have been a means of relaxation in the post-war era for some women, Gemma’s workshops focus on embroidery and patchwork using original materials that she’s collected over the years. Young children bring in photos of the women inspirational to them, with many smiling faces of mums, nans and beloved teachers. Friends old and new gather around to share memories of the characters of yesteryear. Everyone connected by a common thread of happiness. “It’s been great to see all ages getting involved. There’s a six-year- old who comes to the children’s class who won’t come down for her tea and shouts ‘Leave me alone mum, I’m sewing.’ Then we have a teenager who’s set up a sewing group to teach her friends what she learns at the workshops. Even my 73-year-old neighbour, Beryl, says

she’s finally found somewhere she belongs after spending a lot of time on her own.”

Since opening up her studio, Gemma has been inundated with fascinating stories about remarkable women and hopes to include as many snippets as possible into the installation.

There’s Miss Agnes Bertram,

Wentworth’s former piano tutor, whose handwriting will be hand- embroidered onto sheets of music. Or Nurse Walker, a midwife from Elsecar, who delivered 3,000 babies with just a bicycle and suitcase in her kit. Excerpts from her log and medical research books will be printed on to vintage christening gowns.

One volunteer, Barbara Arnold, was a student at Lady Mabel College, Wentworth Woodhouse. As part of the uniform, the students wore cloaks, which Gemma is hoping to recreate as part of the project with the help of Lady Mabel archivist, Sue Gravil.

“When you look at how these ladies were taught the Laban Theory and science of movement you realise the concept was way ahead of its time. I wanted to include a legacy to this and so we’re using Barbara’s old cloak to recreate a pattern from which we’ll make our own from 100-year-old linen and silks.”

“Different narratives such as a school song will be embroidered and women mid movement will be screen printed on to the cloaks and we’ll then showcase them in the Pillared Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse.”

Getting through the extremely large work load has been very difficult without any fellow team members but Gemma has been fortunate to have the help of many volunteers including one kind, selfless and generous Elsecar lady called Chris Arnold.

“Chris has stayed many a late night helping me create work and prepare for workshops. Over the

“One thing I wish I’d had the chance to do while studying is go to a working studio and speak to an artist about how they ‘made it.’ I’ve also been so busy that I’ve never had a proper chance to develop my own practice.

“I’ve offered to give

masterclasses on how to run an art- based business – the good and bad bits – and the students are going to refresh my rusty screen printing skills in return so I can use the technique in the Common Threads project.” Although work takes up a large slot of her time, family is very important to Gemma and little Frida spends a lot of her time in the studio making things – and unfortunately snipping them.

Cut from the same cloth as her mum, she too loves to play with the fabric scraps and buttons and is a very lucky little three-year-old constantly surrounded by a world of love, colour and excitement. “Before she was born I made her an apron that she wears when we bake together, and I’ve also customised her clothes with ric racs and trims.

“Her bedroom is like one big textile installation with ribbons and fabrics hanging from the walls and she even has her own textile tipi that she loves to chill in while I sew.” And who knows, she may just add a new generation of memories, stories and buttons into the family sewing box in years to come.

For more details on how to get involved with the Common Threads Project or to arrange a visit to The Way Station Studio at Elsecar Heritage Centre, please contact Gemma at gemma. Or find her on Facebook as ‘Gemma Nemer Artist In Residence Wentworth & Elsecar’ and ‘The Button Tin’. You can also watch The

Button Tin film, a beautiful stop motion animation about The Imperial Buildings residency, on Vimeo by searching ‘The Button Tin Gemma Nemer’.

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