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Hand-Stitched Stories 





CEO Kate Romano writes about the tactile world of textile artist Sabine Kaner 


Four years ago, I was a freelance producer and working with my good friend composer Matthew Kaner. We stayed at Matt’s parents’ house whilst we were filming in Bristol. Wandering around the house, I was immediately drawn to the vibrant, visceral textiles on the walls; hands, gloves, leaves, buttons, string…  There were scraps and fragments of old fabric,  lovingly and unexpectedly given centre stage, woven into a new colourful context by intricate hand-stitch. ‘Who made these?’ I asked Matt. ’My mum’ he said.


Matt’s parents were away and so I didn’t get to talk to Sabine Kaner about her work, but over the years, I met her a few times at concerts. Sabine is warm, astute, deeply honest, thoughtful and modest and I liked her immediately. Four years ago, her textiles were not so well known. ‘My mum isn't good at promoting her work’  Matt had confided in me (with a gentle sense of frustration) as we both admired the pieces on the walls, which were clearly very special indeed.


Sabine grew up in London during the 1960s. Both her parents were immigrants. Her mother was from Germany and her Jamaican father was one of thousands of Windrush migrants arriving in the UK. Mixed marriages were frowned upon at the time and there was racism and bullying. The family lived in poor housing, sharing just one room with inadequate facilities.


Whilst struggling to integrate on a personal and social level, she excelled at art at school and with the support of a good art teacher, she was accepted to study an art foundation course at Saint Martins in London. She was the first person in her family to go on to higher education.


A visit to an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1979 changed everything. Outsiders – an art without precedent or tradition was curated by pioneering poet and art dealer Victor Musgrave, the first gallerist to show Bridget Riley in Britain. There were over 400 works by 42 artists from France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, England and the USA. There were drawings, paintings, sculpted wood, stuffed sculpture, mobiles and large-scale architectural structures. Musgrave described the work as ‘lyrical, powerful, delicate’ and ‘violent’.


In an interview for, Sabine spoke of the immediate impact of the exhibition on her: ’It suggested to me the power that art could have in documenting an artist’s life. It was also a way to explore identity, emotions and experiences whilst avoiding traditional art materials, either by choice or necessity’


But it would be a few more years until Sabine rejected traditional art materials to find her own unique voice in non-traditional ones - charity-shop finds, locally sourced felt, strands of her mother's embroidery thread. She studied fine art print-making at Manchester but to her delight, realised that there was an option to specialise in embroidery. She fell in love with textiles and rekindled a childhood passion for sewing.


Like her parents, Sabine Kaner worked hard, quietly. The immigrant experience has left a deep fingerprint on all she creates, as have the experiences of her life. Looking at Sabine’s growing body of work now, I recall that strong feeling of ‘sensing a story’ in the art on the walls of her home four years ago. You can't take in Sabine’s work quickly. It’s easy to be initially beguiled by the warm, soft, colourful felt and wool. But her work consists of layers - visual, emotional, political, social, cultural – and there is meaning in everything. A grey glove (‘emotional distance’ says Kaner)… a deep red cut (‘blood & urgency’ she says). Sleeves are another recurring icon (‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’). Intermingling scattered swirls are flanked by two pieces of an old purple hand-knitted jumper… ‘My daughter and I both wore it until it fell apart’ says Sabine.


At Stapleford Granary, we’ll be exhibiting 15 artworks by Sabine Kaner plus 2 pieces of bespoke furniture made by her husband Professor Jake Kaner. Through film, conversation and selected items we’ll be exploring her fascinating creative process – from sketch-books and the reusing of fabric oddments to experimental stitches, print experiments and mark making, all intuitively bound together by a love of colour. We’ll also be learning about the music she listens to as she works - mostly jazz and the music of her composer son, Matthew.


Four years after I first saw it, it's wonderful to see Sabine’s work starting to attract more and more attention. I’m so proud that we are able to bring Hand-Stitched Stories to the Granary and delighted to see people enjoying her work so much. 



‘We are all made up of many parts and experiences.


Collage is a way of putting those connections together in one piece’


Sabine Kaner