LACEY DECKER HAWTHORNE // a labour of stitches

Textile Sculpture // Ongoing // Queen Square

Installation Info

a labour of stitches connects the traditionally public masculinized labour of work at sea and the historically private feminized labour of sewing and domestic making. Two 15-foot sails hang back to back from a tree, one white sail quilted in red thread, the other sail red stitched in white. These sails make an enclosure between them where a visitor can stand inside and feel the wind billowing around them. This sensation recalls both the sense of being at sea on a sailboat and that of being inside sheets and quilts at night. a labour of stitches uses the common material of cloth to join the ideas of travel by sea and travel by night in sleep, and to equate the value of these two uses and their making.


Lacey Decker Hawthorne (she/her) is an interdisciplinary artist working in installation, textiles, writing, and research. She earned her BA from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and her MA at Oxford Brookes University, UK and studied letterpress printing at the Bodleian Library, copper-plate etching at East London Printmakers, the Crown Point Press, and Ground Zero Printmakers. She has participated in residencies in North Wales and Canada, and published creative research on narrative medicine. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, the UK, Japan, and France. She currently lives and works in Sackville, NB, on the unceded lands of the Mi’kmaq peoples.


Q: What would you like viewers to consider while they stand in between the sails? 

A: On a purely sensory level, I’d love it if the viewer feels more like a participant. I make work that is invitational, and often something you can get inside of. Standing between the sails and having the wind billow them around hopefully creates a feeling of joy or delight or surprise. Making a 15-foot sail that is also a quilt creates a distorted sense of domestic scale, and can make a person feel child-like in comparison.  

Otherwise, what’s at work conceptually in the sails are layered ideas of labour and visibility: both sails and quilts are made of cloth, but their functions lean towards extremes in public and private use. Labour at sea has traditionally been masculine labour, and associated with navigation, exploration, or industry. Domestic labour like quilting is historically feminized labour, meant to be small in scale and associated with homemaking or caregiving. This is usually private or invisible labour and I was interested in taking that kind of unseen work and amplifying it in scale while foregrounding it in public space.  

There’s also a bit of tongue-in-cheek wordplay going on here too: the white sail is stitched together with red thread in the form of tailor’s tacks. This technique of tacking is used to hold the three layers of a quilt together before the final, more refined stitching. It’s the most transient, private form of stitching that nobody else usually sees. Tacking is also the word for changing course on a sailboat by turning a boat’s head into and through the wind, or also the rope that secures the corner of a sail. The word ‘tack’ derives from the Old French tache, meaning ‘clasp.’ I think of all the hands that have clasped sails and quilts and like the resonance of continuing that action through making a labour of stitches.    

Q: What is something you’ve learned in developing this installation that you would like to share? 

A: Much of my work hinges on labour and repetition, and every time I’m in the middle of a project, I’m always learning how long things can take to carefully come together. In addition to textiles, I’ve built several houses for installation, and in both methods of working it’s always one nail, one stitch at a time. In making this kind of work, I learn in an embodied way what incremental accumulation can generate.  

For a labour of stitches in particular, I was thinking about what a collective noun would be for a vast number of stitches – how many hundreds or thousands are in a quilt? A ‘labour’ seemed a good word to capture that act of repetition and accumulation. I was also thinking of my Newfoundland grandmothers who each raised seven children while my grandfathers were mostly away on the water or working in the woods. How many labours of stitches did they create during their lives? The sails also reference that labour at sea and the daily work of making a livelihood.  

In making these sail-quilts, I learned to connect it to many ways of making – making a family, making a livelihood, making a way to keep warm. The writer John Berger speaks of a sense of “vertical continuity” through time, and in making this kind of work, I learned that I’m maintaining some continuity with family labours of the past.

Queen Square is wheelchair accessible throughout. Its terrain is paved pathways, although it may be slightly hilly. It does not have public bathrooms.

Read or listen to Lacey’s artist talk here:

Download PDF here: a labour of stitches_LDH_THIRD SHIFT 2021

Listen to audio here: