Alexandra Drenth | Books in practice


Alexandra Drenth | Books in practice

hand-embroidered texts from Hadewijch the 7th and 8th vision by Alexandra Drenth 2021. Image: Alexandra Drenth



written by:
Alexandra Drenth

translated and edited by:
Yael Keijzer

this text was published
by SEA Foundation
as part of the research
fold #04 on No hurry

‘How do artist practices relate to
No hurry, as perspectives on sustainability?’


Books in practice by Alexandra Drenth

How are embroidery and old mystical texts connected? Artist Alexandra Drenth gives perspective on a sustainable future through her favourite books. 

For fold #04 on No hurry, we invited Alexandra Drenth to highlight the cornerstone publications for her practice. Drenth calls herself a contemporary embroiderer. She combines old and new textiles into lively and mystical textile collages, and ‘made with medieval patience’.

Writings and the past

With this, I am sending you a sample of the bookcase that relates to my work and life. Besides books that can be a source of inspiration, I’m also working with patches of texts, among which are song lyrics, but I also draw from my own poetry and make use of the diaries of my mother – she has written a lot and I regularly find myself reading through it. It gives me back sensitive moments that I can reflect on and integrate into my work. Furthermore, I inherited a memorial book from my Indonesian mother-in-law, containing personal writings from the Dutch East Indies. These old handwritings and records of events and encounters are inspiring to me, and give an impression of times few are still alive from.

The past is often far more fascinating to me than the here and now. As far as I’m concerned, I have the feeling of living in the wrong time. My textile collages subsequently often relate to nostalgia and melancholy. Because my work is made without the use of a sewing machine, I cannot hurry, I take my time and through that I get time. The concept of temporality gives me a great sense of freedom and not being stuck in time. It’s about traveling through the mind and letting go of linear time.

The same sense comes back in different kinds of meditation and gives mental resilience to strengthen the work as well. I find peace in narrative mysticism and books like described below. Great tomes (for example De Avonden and Het Bureau) seem to describe a time that keeps reoccurring. This is very similar to craft and meditation, with repeating gestures, though slowly growing towards an engaging whole.

Books on textiles:

Ideas for church embroidery – Beryl Dean (1968)
Profusely illustrated with photographs and some drawings, the majority being in black-and-white, this book explores the use of embroidery and also application in the ecclesiastical setting. This book was designed/planned as a successor to Church Needlework which gave practical instruction for making vestments and furnishings. Now the intentions towards sparking off the creative imagination so that the embroiderer can herself design the same undertakings.

Van aardse stof tot hemels lof – René Lugtigheid (2021)
A priest robe of which the silk fabric has swayed over a dance floor once before. In the eighteenth century, gala dresses (robes à la Française) were sometimes tailored to priest robes. But how could this transformation from worldly clothing to sacral garment take shape? Or with other words: How did ‘worldly fabric become heavenly glory’?

Tot op de draad – Ileen Montijn (2017)
In ‘Tot op de draad’, Ileen Montijn shows how in times when ‘something new’ was still a rare luxury, the idiom of ‘something borrowed, something new’ was more than a slogan. With imagination, patient dedication and craftsmanship, clothing was mended time and time again. Old clothes are indeed a hundred times more fun and interesting than new ones.

Threads of life – Clare Hunter (2019)
The Hare with Amber Eyes meets The History of the World in 100 Objects: an eloquent history of the language of sewing over centuries and across continents.

Books on mysticism:

Die Minne es al – Hadewijch (2002)
Particularly beautiful anthology from Hadewijch’s letters, strophic poems, epistles and visions with translations, illustrated with ten (enlarged) miniatures in colour from a Northern French prayer and meditation book of around 1300.

De Fioretti van Sint Franciscus
In the Fioretti (translated: ‘flowers’) are collected the most famous stories of the life of Franciscus of Assissi (1182-1226), gathered and written up a century after the death of Franciscus by an anonymous friar.

De zeven manieren van Minne – Beatrijs van Nazareth (2002)
In this work, Van Nazareth distinguishes seven forms of experience: purifying love, serving love, the unsatisfiable desire for full love, mystical joy of love, the storm of love, celebratory love, and the transition to eternal love.

Louteringsberg – Thomas Merton (2001)
An autobiographical account of the course of development from an artistic, free-spirited milieu to the entry into a strict Catholic monastic order.

Hildegard von Bingen, content about monastic life, healing powers of herbs (and monkery in general) and monasticism.

Heiligenlevens in Nederland en Vlaanderen – Ludo Jongen (1998)
In ‘Heiligenlevens in Nederland en Vlaanderen’ are assembled tales of the lives of the most important saints from the Dutch language area, from the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century, ordered according to the Roman Catholic Calendar of saints.

Other books:

L’angerie. Visuele poëzie – Hans Clavin (1973)
I have several books of collagist Hans Clavin that are inspirational for making collages. Find a short portrait of Hans that I incorporated into my own film here.

Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka – Johnny Frisbie (1996)
‘The Autobiography of a South Sea Trader’s Daughter’, written by Florence ‘Johnny’ Frisbie. Johnny wrote this book between the age of twelve and thirteen, in three languages of the Pacific; Rarotonga, Pukapuka and Pacific English dialect. ‘Puka-Puka’ describes the childhood years of the half-Polynesian girl on different islands in the Pacific, though specifically the northern Puka-Puka. The book was rarely reprinted, still less translated. Published in relatively small editions, the book was nearly unfindable after the 1950’s.

Fortunately, I managed to get a hold of a copy translated to Dutch. These days it is again widely available through webshops (though usually second-hand). Some passages in this book bring me back to a piece of my childhood in the tropics. I recognize being engrossed in and the experience of becoming one with nature. Remarkable and inspiring woman and life. In this video, Johnny does an interview with Boudewijn Büch (Dutch writer, poet and television presenter of the late 20th century) – hence how I found the writer through his show.

Each fold of our programme goes along with an ambassador – these are artists of different disciplines that exemplify the themes of the fold in their practice. As ambassadors, they kick off each fold with a list of recommended readings or source material. Find full reading list here.

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