Build It Together – Blog

How do you start a collaborative banner project? 

This post was initially published by Rachel Dobbs (from LOW PROFILE) on Zak Foster’s Quilty Nook (an online textile community) and is inspired by a question raised at Alice Gabb’s RADICAL HISTORY OF PROTEST BANNERS talk on the same platform.

Some background:

My friend Hannah & I have recently been working on a participatory banner-making project here in Plymouth, UK. We have been working together as artists for the last 20 years (under the name LOW PROFILE), but we’re quite new to banner making and have never tried a collaborative or participatory sewing project before! We have always enjoyed using text (especially texts that we find or see in the world) – often through making badges, making large scale texts on buildings, and more recently by inviting large groups of people to come together to make texts with their bodies.

Over the last year or so, in our city, the local government has made a controversial decision to cut down a large number of mature trees in the city centre (previously it was one of the greenest city centres in the UK), which attracted lots of local activism, petitions, protest and invoked a High Court ruling to try and prevent this eco-destruction. In the face of all of this activism, the city council went ahead with this action anyway (under the cover of darkness as “emergency works”), leaving the city centre devastated and strewn with felled trees (many of which remain in place to this day, 6 months after being cut down, because of the legal situation that unfolded). It felt demoralising, and as though those in power would wield that power no matter what – and that we, the regular citizens, had little or no say in the way our city develops.

Our starting points:

Hannah & I regularly make artwork that seeks to bring people together – often through events, excuses for conversation, through small and large text statements, or through making sound pieces.

Recently we’ve been thinking a lot about how to increase the participatory aspects of what we do and create, and we wondered about how people could be more physically and actively involved in the “making” of the artworks themselves. Like Alice Gabb, we have for a long time been inspired by protest, banner making, craftivism and the use of textual statements to promote change, self-identity and a sense of belonging. We had also been thinking a lot about the softness of textiles, their durability, their portability, and their connection to our hands. 

During and post-COVID, I’ve also found myself returning to working with textiles to help soothe and comfort myself, and escape into a much-needed sense of flow. I started to watch lots of video tutorials online (usually made by women by themselves working on a sewing machine and speaking to camera), sharing their knowledge and skills in quilt-making and paper piecing. I started to show Hannah the types of things I had been making and trying out, and we wondered together about how to turn this from a solo practice into a collaborative one.

We were both aware of the historical practice of quilting bees, and more contemporary patchwork projects made by many hands (like the types of projects highlighted in the very excellent publication “Many Hands Make A Quilt: Short Stories of Radical Quilting” by Jess Bailey / Public Library Quilts), and wondered whether this might be a useful approach for us.


  • How could we invite other people to “make” with us?
  • How could we create something that involved many people, where each contribution of time and energy felt important and valued, even if the same people weren’t there for every part of the making process?
  • How could we bridge the skills gap and involve anyone who would like to take part – from complete beginners to very experienced sewists?
  • How could we author statements that other people could get behind and resonate with, and that would encourage conversation and new thinking?
  • How could we set up a situation that felt welcoming, gentle and peaceful while retaining its small-p political

What we came up with:

In the end we settled on a new way of working for us, which panned out kind of like this:

  • We would source and gather secondhand and unwanted textiles (from friends, relatives, charity shops and our local Scrapstore) in defined solid colours
  • We used the colour palette presented by what we found – most of the fabric we gathered came from old bedsheets, pillow cases and duvet covers
  • Hannah & I co-designed the banners together using phrases we felt summed up our desire for how we would like things to be, and felt would resonate well with other people – one banner uses the phrase BUILD IT TOGETHER (which is a phrase we have been using as one of our own “mottos” for some time) and the other says MORE RADICAL IDEAS (which we drew from a longer online comment on a news article about a proposed building development in Plymouth city centre)
  • We would cut / trim the fabrics we gathered into large half-hex shapes (sized to fit well into the palm of your hand, but not too small to feel “fiddly”) and cut light card templates that could be glue-basted together
  • We would invite people to come and sew with us in monthly open “Making Days” over 6 months or so. This developing patchwork would incorporate the work and stitching of many people, who could come and go as they wished.
  • The patchwork would form a background for the banner and the BUILD IT TOGETHER text, which would later be stitched on (at this point we hadn’t worked out how!) and would be quilted with a backing fabric to help it keep its structure.

When we started on this, we didn’t exactly know how it might pan out – so it was quite the leap of faith. We started to chat with a few different community organisations (who we knew previously from working on community art projects) in our area to see if they might be interested in the project, and whether they felt it would be something that their community members might want to take part in. The feedback from everyone was super-positive, so we set the project in motion!!

A range of different groups and organisations signed up to be “partners” on the project – meaning that they would agree to promote it to their members via posters, social media, their email lists and personal recommendations. We also set up a series of events on Eventbrite, where we asked people to RSVP to attend. One of the organisations also agreed to host the Making Day sessions – giving us the use of their public-facing space for one day per month.

We realised that this activity (and the local partnership around it) could be part of a project that might attract public funding (here in England from Arts Council England), so we made a speculative application to ACE to cover all the costs involved, and we were really fortunate to be supported by them.


On the first Making Day, we started off with just the fabric pieces, the half-hex templates, some needles, thread, glue-sticks and scissors and an A0 printout of our BUILD IT TOGETHER design. During the first day, eight people showed up (at different times) and stayed for a few hours each to sew with us. We talked each person through the process (one-to-one), demo-ed glue basting and simple whip stitching, and got them set up with their own helf-hexes to get started on. Conversation flowed, we chatted through the ideas we were interested in, people exchanged their own experiences, laughed and got to know each other. 

We set up a kettle, with tea and coffee and biscuits, so that people could help themselves to drinks and snacks. We made sure to take photos for social media, and got a photographer friend to come and take shots of the process (for 1 hour during the day). We got everyone who took part to stamp their name on a small piece of fabric (which would later be attached to the back of the banner so they could be credited). We also asked people to fill out a quick paper feedback form to let us know a little bit more about them, where they had come from and what they thought about taking part.

As we continued, more and more people have attended the Making Days – we’re averaging about 16 people per session now, with many people staying for longer and longer periods of time. Alongside this, we set up a remote option for folks who couldn’t join us in the space, where we mailed out materials and made an online instruction video for people to follow. When people signed up to take part in this way, we also offered them the option to come to a live Zoom hangout where we would sew together and chat. We were also contacted by new groups locally, who had seen photos of the sessions and felt it would be a good fit for their members. By the time of the third Making Day, we also started on our second banner – MORE RADICAL IDEAS – where the background was made (offsite on the sewing machine) by improv piecing all of the scraps and offcuts from the half-hexes, and the text is appliqued on by hand by folks who join us.

At the moment, we are working towards our last Making Day (in October) when we hope to complete both banners, and the organisation that has been hosting our public sessions will also be displaying these finished banners (alongside some other artworks and proposals that Hannah & I have been making during this residency-type time) in November. We’re really looking forward to inviting everyone who has taken part back to the space to celebrate together!


Obviously, this is only one example of a way to set up a participatory banner making project – and it’s probably quite a long-winded one! Here’s some of the things we’ve learned so far:

  • People often need to see what it’s like to take part before they want to take part themselves. For this reason, setting up a series of dates for “making” and showing photos of the process has been important to allow the buzz about the project to grow.
  • Partnering up with a range of local organisations on a project is super useful! It helps for people to get a personal recommendation from someone they know and trust so that they feel invited.
  • Bringing your project to another group’s space can be a great way to get people involved. We were invited to run a session at a refugee support group in the city, and some of the members enjoyed it so much that they joined us again on a future Making Day.
  • People have lots of different types of existing commitments, and different feelings about being with others in physical space. For this reason, be flexible about how often or how long people need to attend for. Try and work out a way that it is comfortable for people to drop in and out of the activity as they wish, but still feel involved and valued.
  • Greeting each person as they arrive is really important, and introducing them to the space and project. You’ll need to adapt the way you do things for each person’s own individual needs and ways of working. As a baseline, make sure that the space you use is accessible to people with mobility needs, and actively encourage acceptance of people to come-as-they-are.
  • Having an overall design or layout to start with can be very useful, as it allows people to see what their contribution might be, how it fits into a larger whole, and they can then work out how much they want to do themselves.
  • Some people really enjoy the freedom of just doing & making (without having to be involved in design or decision-making). Many people who joined us have expressed that they loved being able to craft in this way without ending up with “stuff” themselves.