Handkerchiefs of Hope Art Workshops

Mathilde Stevens makes Paper Lace Handkerchiefs of Hope During my time at Corrymeela I conducted art workshops with young and old. Workshops called 'Paper Lace Handkerchiefs of Hope'. I worked with different groups by telling them about the creation of The Linen Memorial, which led to discussions on flax farming and the historic linen industry in Northern Ireland. Then we created handkerchiefs made from folded and cut-out paper and made wishes for a better future together.  

The 'wishes' were made with coloured beads and feathers. For example, I worked with a group of mothers in a weekly group facilitated by Mathilde Stevens at a primary school in Belfast. Some of the wishes were straightforward, such as, 'I want to stop smoking, for the benefit of my children.'

The paper handkerchiefs are easier to handle than 'the chore' of learning how to sew or embroider in chain stitch during a short workshop! These days, sewing and ironing skills seem to be lost 'domestic arts'.

As well as directing parents' groups, Mathilde is very skilled with creative textile arts, so, she worked quickly, making intricate 'paper-lace' designs along the borders of the folded paper look effortless! She would also add colourful additions, such as placing a lovely sheet of crepe paper behind the final designs. Such craft processes are ones that delight everyone; the process is akin to making a 'Canadian' snowflake to cheerfully decorate a window pane.  

Also, during my time at Corrymeela, a great group of rambunctious teenagers from Girls Model School, revelled in creating their Lace Handkerchiefs. They attached their wishes to balloons which rose up and into the rafters of the main house, near the dining room.   

In 2007 Corrymeela hosted the Third European Ecumenical Assembly process (EEA3) Church and Peace conference, coordinated by a staff member of boundless energy, David Price. Conference attendees, including former Iraq hostage, Norman Kember of the Christian Peacemaker Delegation, put their signatures on a large 'paper-lace' handkerchief, in the name of "Peace" for Northern Ireland's future.   

Another C and P attendee, a psychiatrist from Germany, sat with me for quite some time in an small hallway area where I had displayed some of the linen, embroidered handkerchiefs. At one point, he got very still; he had been extremely moved by the linen handkerchiefs with the embroidered names. His comments to me, as I remember them, were: "What you have done here is very similar to my daily work with my clients, many of whom are recovering from trauma, such as incest. You have created a safe place.  

My name is 'Helmut'. In my profession, I have always hoped that, like my own name - as in 'the protective helmet' -   that, each day, I create a safe 'nest' where, little by little, slowly, my clients feel that they can move towards healing." I will never forget that conversation.  

Also touching, and yet not necessarily related to The Troubles or the memorial, was being invited to sit with a support group for those suffering from grief, a group that meets weekly at Corrymeela in the evenings. I felt that the most I could do was greet those who were part of that group with great respect, and listen carefully as a witness to their personal stories. Out of some of thes experiences, this past year, I was moved to obtain a qualification as a Funerary celebrant.

Paper Lace Handkerchiefs of Hope Artist Lycia Trouton
Lycia Trouton, DCA, MFA, BFA (Hons)  

The author is an artist/academic, a former public or community-based artist, as well as a site-specific earthworks sculptor. She is the child of a Belfast/Bangor couple who emigrated, when they were in their late 30s, to Vancouver, Canada with Lycia (aged 3) and her sister Konia (aged 5) in 1970.  

Lycia's background includes 3 years spent living, as a young adult, in the divided city of Detroit/suburban Detroit: Bloomfield Hills, which made her acutely aware of the inequities of racial segregation/prejudice and reminded her of the sectarianism of Belfast, and the fractured communities from violence.  

The Linen Memorial has been created over a period of eight years, was the subject of a doctorate thesis in creative art and has been shown at venues in the USA and Australia to date. The embroidery and sewing is still in progress.

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