The Mindful Hands by Susan Harris

December 19, 2016

What do an embroiderer and a surgeon have in common?

The embodied knowledge and hands-on skills in using a needle and thread; even though they are from very different disciplines and for very different outcomes.

On the 15-16 December 2016, a workshop ‘Encounters on the Shop Floor: Embodiment and the Knowledge of Maker’ run by V&A Research Institute (VARI) brought together a group of experts from a range of disciplinary fields to investigate the knowledge of embodied practices. The group ranged from the humanities, scientists, engineer, artists, designers, craft practitioners, performers, students, museum professionals,
to entrepreneurs and policy makers.

some of our experts
Some of the group of experts investigating the knowledge of embodied practices. Photograph by Eileen Budd


The workshop was arranged with several break-out sessions, where group discussions raised concerns of the lack of embodied knowledge and why hands-on skills are being undervalued in society and the educational system. These were highlighted by the hand-on sessions, where the where the group learned a variety of tactile skills; be it new or the familiar. These sessions were held either in the V&A, Imperial College or the Royal College of Music.

One of the hands-on sessions was ‘Making and Thinking’, led by Bethan Lloyd Worthington, the V&A Ceramics Resident. First the group were asked to think about and draw a floor plan of a place in their past or childhood. Then they were taught to make a pinch pot out of clay and decorate it with a vision of a place to visit.

pinch pot being made
A pinch pot being made from clay. Photograph by Eileen Budd

This highlighted the idea of learning by doing, as the group got really involved with working with the clay, which led to some making more than one pinch pot. This also got the group to open lines of communication by exchanging memories and ideas.


lots of pinch pots
Selection of pinch pots made by the Encounters Workshop participants. Photograph by Eileen Budd


Another session was held by Will Houstoun, a magician. First, the group were shown a card trick to explain how there are two stories going on while preforming a magic trick. One story is being told to the audience and the other is for the magician. When the two stories meet that is when magic happens.


The old elastic band trick...
The old elastic band trick… Photograph by Eileen Budd


The trick revealed!
Important part of the trick revealed – sorry, the Magic Circle wont let us show you the rest!  Photograph by Eileen Budd

Then the group were shown how to do a simple magic trick with a rubber band. Being let in on the secret of the trick, highlighted that the smallest movement can be vital to the outcome and practice makes perfect.

These are the two sessions, that stood out for me in the workshop and emphasise the important of thinking, doing and sharing.

Susan Harris is a student of the V&A / RCA History of Design Course and is one of our brilliant VARI Volunteers

About the author

December 19, 2016

Eileen is responsible for the smooth running of VARI and its activities. She is also an illustrator and has had a varied career, including being a rescue scuba diver in...

More from Eileen Budd
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