Patching Tuam textile residency with Galway artist Kathy Ross

Patching Tuam: Let's stitch this town together, is the result of a nine month residency from Creative Places Tuam in which textile Artist Kathy Ross worked with a group of 17 young people aged between 13 and 17 to create an exhibition of tapestries and protest banners centred around their social and political viewpoints of their interactions with the town of Tuam.

"Being involved in Patching Tuam meant being part of a group of people who felt how I felt, who saw the change that I saw needed to be done too. It meant meeting people both younger and older than me who helped me to understand that there’s so many ways to express how you feel about different issues and topics. Patching Tuam has been such a great experience for me and I’m so glad that I took part for so many reasons!" Juliet Darricau, High Cross College

Inspired by punk fashion, music iconography and stitched protest art, the residency began with an open call to young people in Tuam last summer to participate in a week-long textile workshop. Kathy says: "During the workshop, I worked with an initial group of eight teens and encouraged them to express their inner voices through the visual language of needle stitch. The group really relaxed into the process and felt free to express their views about what it is like to be a teen in Tuam at this time They focused their patches on global issues and really embraced the notion of how to express their voice through punk culture. We ended up with a collection of patches expressing feminism, views on climate change, anxiety and the impact that social media has on youth today, all embroidered onto the back of jackets."

Following on from the summer week long workshop, the young participants showed an appetite for the project to keep going, so Creative Places asked Kathy to extend and expand her residency. The core group met in Tuam town hall every second Wednesday evening between October and April. Over the course of this time, Kathy's little group of eight original stitchers grew and she ended up with 17 young people between the ages of 13 and 17 who worked on the project. She also did a series of taster workshops with TY Students in the Mercy Secondary school, in which they created their own collection of protest banners based on social issues including burnout, sexism, climate change and economic struggles.

Kathy says: "A lot of these issues the young group were expressing are issues that teens have been dealing with since I was young. The one thing we all agreed on was that teens need a safe space in which they can connect and freely express themselves without judgement or fear. There is a real lack of social spaces for teens in the town and this came up in their pieces again and again.

After Christmas, the real magic began to happen when I asked the teenagers to work collaboratively on a collection of four large embroidered banners. The group planned out their pieces over brainstorming sessions with me, and created some beautiful large drawings which we have displayed in the windows of Tuam Library." The feedback Kathy received from the young participants was incredible. They really didn't want the project to end because they found a sense of empowerment in expressing their viewpoints creatively. "I decided to join Patching Tuam after doing a workshop with Kathy in school as part of TY. I really enjoyed the experience because I got to express myself and my opinions through art. One thing I've always noticed about Tuam is how judgemental it is. I think If more people express their beliefs like we got the opportunity to in Patching Tuam, then maybe people wouldn't care less about what everyone else was doing. I hope more projects like Patching Tuam will change the town for the better." Ava Dunne, High Cross College


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