Sew To Speak, by Melissa Vandenberg was a series of performative sewing experiments in which she used Elsewhere’s collection of sewing machines to explore human/machine collaboration and competition.
Vandenberg took Elsewhere’s collection of broken sewing machines and gave them care and repair. She then created long looped bands of fabric and used her feet, thighs, and head to operate sewing machines that turned and stitched the fabric bands. In early experiments, Vandenberg used single machines, treating them as a kind of gear that transmitted and echoed the rotational motion of the fabric. In later experiments, pairs of sewing machines were stacked so that a loop of fabric appeared to climb and then cascade over the machines. Two machines separated across the length of a room running simultaneously evoked the belt drive mechanics associated with industrial production.
The resulting fabric scrolls with their jagged, scrawling stitches speak to the trials and trials of production, to the text of textiles. For purposes of display, they have been rolled around wooden armatures—a railing, a fragment of rocking chair – that link sewing to woodworking and to the domestic spaces associated with craft.
The Sew to Speak project was part of Elsewhere’s 2013 Southern Constellations Residency fellowship program.