San Juan Ridge Tapestry Project creator Marsha Stone was browsing in a bookstore and saw a book of the renowned Bayeux Tapestry that depicts the invasion of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror. When she saw how needlework could tell a complex story, she thought “We can do that!”, bought the book, and began organizing the community to realize her vision. She invited Jennifer Rain Crosby to draw the cartoons that hundreds of community volunteers began stitching into 100 feet of tapestry. But Marsha’s vision was not a theme of conquest. Instead, the San Juan Ridge Tapestry Project celebrates the story of 50 years of collaborative community engagement by living lightly on the land.
The narrative freezes running at the top and bottom of the tapestry suggest a cinematic unfolding of this remarkable community. Co-Director Susanne Cockrell saw a film within the threads and A Radical Stitch was born. Through interviews with early homesteaders and the next generation, the film chronicles a complex history of trailblazing environmental activism that grew out of urgent necessity and a deep connection to place. Where the tapestry chronicles the past, the film asks if the community’s founding ideals and values narrated in the tapestry can endure into future generations.
One possible response to this question can be seen in the collective effort of the tapestry itself as the film examines Marsha’s vision in the context of women’s handworks that have long documented community life, political upheaval, and nature through textiles. Fourteen years, hundreds of stitchers, and 100 feet of tapestry can only be realized by a community that values their collective commitment to each other. Each tapestry panel has a list of hand-written contributors on the back, an archive of family, friends and visitors. As second generation Ridge member Caleb Dardick says, the community endures because each member will step up and say “I want to add my stitch.”
It is this collaborative commitment that has enabled the community to overcome numerous challenges. Mining interests have dried up wells, logging companies have attempted to denude the forests, arsonists who couldn’t understand their independent vision for the community torched the school they built by hand for their children. And now they face the dual threat of drought and wildfire caused by climate change. Through interviews with early homesteaders and the next generation A Radical Stitch suggests that the community’s trailblazing environmental activism might serve to ensure their radical vision endures.
The San Juan Ridge community’s knowledge is stitched into the tapestry, portraying a creative act of resistance in the face of environmental degradation that offers a road map for other communities and future generations. A Radical Stitch looks to the future by expanding on this knowledge in a form that makes it available to audiences worldwide.