Linked to the Bradford Innchurches winter shelter which provides accommodation and help for those without homes, The Sleeping Bag Project reclaims sleeping bags left behind at Leeds Music Festival, launders them, invests them with hand crafted care and then gifts them to those in need of warmth and shelter.
The Sleeping Bag Project grew from the particular circumstances of my family home-life that familiarised me with the washing and drying of sleeping bags and the creation of small embroideries onto wash-care labels. I recognised that my laundering and needlework should not necessarily be recorded in a photograph, as it is debatable whether a photograph could capture an intimate involvement with the project that only I could experience. I did however take a few photographs, as then I was not sure of the destination of the work that I was creating, and I thought I could find an answer in still images. I included the photographs within a PowerPoint presentation in order to investigate the project as it was presented to homeless shelters, galleries and university premises. The PowerPoint presentation formed part of an exhibition I co-curated with June Hill and Charlotte Cullen called Hidden Voices: The Sleeping Bag Project presented at the Knitting and Stitching Show at the Harrogate International Centre, West Yorkshire (2012). Camping chairs, salvaged from Leeds Music Festival, placed in front of the computer screen determined what the viewer would be sitting on, while the smell of washing powder infiltrated the space as an influential element involved in the understanding of the work.
Hidden Voices: The Sleeping Bag Project was set up in an expansive concrete space illuminated by fluorescent lights. On entering the space, the sound and smell of cloth being machine-washed confronted the audience. During the course of the exhibition, sleeping bags that originally reeked of the traces of sweat, urine, foodstuffs and the smoke at Leeds music festival site started to smell freshly of washing powder. Visitors became aware of piles of textiles on tables at craft zones dotted around the space where hands-on textile craft-making was taking place. The post-music festival debris sprawled across one side of the gallery, waves of sleeping bags drying on the other and sleeping bags rolled up and stored on wooden shelves after washing: all could imbue the audience with contrasting emotions including repulsion or attraction. It is difficult to assess fully the effectiveness of this exhibition. Visitors were inclined to view the installations with a lingering eye, listen to buskers, sit on camping seats to view the PowerPoints or join in crafting interventions involving sleeping bags. Some stayed to discuss the circumstances of the project and wanted to find out how they could develop it in their own communities. Others returned later before transporting the cleaned and crafted sleeping bags through the streets of Harrogate to the local homeless shelter.