The Swimmers (2023.1)

Catalogue Record



Alice Kettle


The Swimmers



Materials and techniques

The technique is embroidery, freely done on the sewing machine, where the fabric is pulled one way and another in order to create a line. The expressive line is distinctive of her work and used to describe figures and evoke their own sense of place in the world. In effect there are two lines, one from the bottom and one from the top which are stitched and linked through the cloth. The tension between these threads is constantly changed so that one thread is seen in relation to the other, with colour, type and scale of threads played off against each other, using shifts in direction of stitching, repeated marks to capture light and shadow. The repeated mark creates swathes of movement which are the physical rendition the movements of making.
The work is stitched often primarily for the back, so that the thicker threads are on the surface. This means the drawing is done to a large extent unseen. Mistakes and mishaps occur, which are restitched over and over, layer upon layer and sometimes are cut, patched and collaged. Digital embroidery is incorporated in the work, often used as repeated motifs or translations of drawings and again often done in reverse, to encourage a mix of threads. The work is also sometimes stitched on printed backgrounds from paintings, leaving areas of cloth unstitched where the print can be seen.
The works evolve, they are unpredictable. Many are discarded and reused. The desire to use threads and fabric that is sustainably sourced and to use up the store cupboard threads, has become a key concern. This dictates new approaches to the work that test how to stitch and the backgrounds they are on. But these limitations are useful and become part of the subject in the work.


height:  49cm
length:  59cm

Object number




Brookfield Properties Crafts Council Collection Award winner, 2023. Purchased with support from Brookfield Properties.

Maker's statement

This work can be seen within a self-reflective period, post pandemic and post lockdown. I moved to Somerset from a place I had lived all my life, just before lockdown. I now live in the country and next to an open water swimming quarry. Swimming has been a way to deal with the physical and mental stresses of life. It has a rhythm like sewing and I have done it every day for many years.
I also recognise how SEA in the Thread Bearing Witness Project was simultaneously enabling and destructive. These fundamental forces are defining.
Living in the country in an eco house I am keenly aware of the recalibration we must make in our lives and work. The rivers, sea and oceans are a life force.
It is from the oceans that we are sustained.
We are carried in the rhythm and rise of the ocean currents.
From the seas and oceans, we find oxygen to breathe.
It is from the ocean that the weather meets the land.
It is from the ocean that we were born and are borne.
This collection of works are swimmers and bathers in the sea.
I swim everyday. In another life maybe I was born to be in the sea or deep in the vast oceans.
We are increasingly aware of the criticality of climate change and the regulating force of the oceans. The expanse of the oceans is powerfully universal and reminds us what life is about.