‘Busy Hands But Open Minds’: Al Hill’s Quilted Progressive Pride Flag
After seeing Al Hill's (he/they) quilted Progressive Pride Flag on Instagram, we simply had to know more! Al has generously shared their story of the making of his flag and we're honoured to publish it here. Thank you, Al!
The History + Meaning of Pride Flags
Classic rainbow flags have so many different connections to them nowadays, like supporting the NHS (National Health Service in the UK) or just being colourful! The Progress Pride Flag is something that is hard to co-opt as something else; it’s unashamedly Queer and cannot be recognised as anything else but a symbol that represents our community.
The Progress Pride Flag is a new design developed in 2018 by Non-Binary American artist and designer Daniel Quasar based on the classic rainbow Pride flag from 1978. It’s more inclusive and Queer than its predecessor. The flag builds on the classic 70s design which symbolises red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit (hot pink, for sex, was ommitted in later versions to allow for easier printing and reproduction). The updated 2018 version by Quasar includes a section of the transgender pride flag along with Black and Brown stripes to recognise the intersection between the anti-racist movement and Pride, especially bringing to light the discrimination that Queer People of Colour face from both within our community and outside it. The yellow triangle with the purple circle recognises Intersex people (some of the Intersex community do recognise themselves as being part of the LGBTQIA+ Community, some do not). However, it is imperative that we do not forget their struggles, which in many ways share common ground with the Transgender community.
My Quilted Progressive Pride Flag
Back in 2020, I was approached by METRO Charity to create an installation as part of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival in London. I had worked with them the previous year, creating long, fabric braids with members of the METRO community during lockdown to build an installation between two trees at Dial Arch in Woolwich. The braids were a symbol of togetherness and community during isolation when this was especially vital!
For 2021, we wanted to build on our previous installation, making sure that the youth groups’ efforts from the previous year weren't wasted. I wanted my new installation to be visibly Queer, to be easily recognised, and celebrate my community. I had found my confidence in creating collaborative artwork and wanted to share this with the world. My heart was set on creating a Progress Pride Flag using patchwork quilting as my method.
So, I measured and cut uniformly sized squares for the flag in all the colours required for the rainbow. All the fabrics used were already part of my collection. Everything from scraps from previous projects, old clothing, tired bedding, and treasured off-cuts from fabric store bargain bins. I was able to source enough upcycled material to give all my workshop participants their own block of rainbow to decorate.
The making stage of the project was collaborative with the METRO Charity community. METRO Charity is an organisation working across London, focusing on the wellbeing of individuals and their identities. They hope to help individuals who may be having issues or questions surrounding their sexuality, gender, and identity. METRO Charity run various youth groups as part of their programming, so I visited local youth groups across South London and held a few additional workshops on Zoom. I worked with a variety of Queer youth aged between 14 - 25, and staff and friends from METRO Charity were invited to participate too! We used beads, stitching, glueing, and drawing on fabric patches to respond to each individual's interpretation of PRIDE as a theme.
Craft can be therapeutic, and it was easy to see the effect it had on participants. Busy hands but open minds; I often find that when people’s hands are occupied it becomes easy to talk, especially about subjects which are difficult to articulate. It was lovely to chat with so many LGBTQ+ people about their days, their connection with craft, and a sense of community effort. The pride that they took in their work and the generosity that they gave in sharing their stories on fabric really embodied everything that craft is to me. So often there is pressure to be ‘good’ at art, but for me the act of making is the craft itself. Every piece of cloth submitted back to me was a masterpiece, regardless of skill or execution.
Once the patches were made, it was a case of plotting them all out and doing lots of measuring! I don’t have a studio, so it involved working in a cramped spare room with enough room to cut out the pieces of fabric. It took about a week to measure, cut and sew all the pieces together (if you have created a quilt before, you won’t be surprised to hear that measuring took most of my time!). When we think of ‘The Artist’ we often think of the white cube space, a pristine studio and an overwhelming smell of paint thinner. My reality is creating literally wherever I can, which tends to be my living space in my little South London flat. Even if I could afford a studio (which is impossible in this economy!), craft often takes place in domestic spaces and I feel the power of generations of crafters behind me who found creativity in the most unlikely places. Even if it does mean a constant battle with cat hair, creating in my home is a type of magic.
Installing this domestic, gentle, and tactile flag into a large park was a complete contrast to seeing it laid out in my home. It was bright, large, and proud, and you could even see it from the street! It is as if we were taking a Queer domestic environment out of its safety to be outwards and proud with this large flag! Strung out with the previous year’s braids, the flag sat comfortably in a network of colour - as if held up by the many hands that created it.
I have continued to work with METRO Charity on their public facing artistic projects. The next event I will be working on with them is Royal Greenwich Together ‘22 where we will be celebrating 50 years since the first Pride in London, held on the 2nd June 2022. I am also working with my collaborators Joe Lawn, Colin Lievens, and Eleanor Louise West on an event series with Shed Project (@shed.project.studio). We’ll be running quilt workshops on 11th & 12th of June at Woodfield Pavillion on Tooting Bec Common, so come along to an event with me soon and get crafty!
Al Hill (He/They) is a textile artist working and living in South London. In 2020, they graduated from Camberwell College of Arts. As a Trans maker, he seeks to readopt the typically feminine world of crafts into Queer contexts. Working with community groups, collaboration and teaching is a key part of Hill's practice. Increasing representation, participation and knowledge in various communities.