Poppy Szaybo

Poppy works as a freelance heritage consultant for museums, galleries and archives. Although her original training was as a documentary photographer, she has been engaged in textile practice since 2012 – graduating from the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) with an MA in Contemporary Crafts in 2015. Poppy is a Co-Founder of The Archive Project, and makes work in response to ethnographic collections in museums and archives. Her work is also concerned with human migration and diaspora – drawing on both her own African-American and Polish-Jewish heritage, and the refugee communities she worked with during her years as a consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children.



Searching online for antique and vintage threads for a new textile piece, I was distracted by the proliferation of sewing ephemera listed in EBAY – all types of boxes full of cotton reels, needles, rusty scissors, thimbles, clasps, buttons, hooks and many other items. I started to bid for the boxes, sometimes paying up to £50.00 for an unknown quantity of ‘stuff’. Packages started arriving, and the sense of excitement at unwrapping boxes from the UK, USA, Australia was part of the initial thrill of my growing collection. COLLECTING. The boxes differed in material, texture, colour, design, contents – but the smell was always the same, a slight odour of damp.

I currently work in one of the largest archives in London – 950 years of history in one building. Personal histories left in attics, basements, rescued, cleaned, preserved – and the familiar smell of age, dust, clinging to each document.

ARCHIVES. I now have over 100 objects. I started to collect more specialised objects – a receipt from the Singer Sewing Machine Company in 1916, a WW1 sewing kit for soldiers fighting in far off lands, a large leather and metal tape measure, needles given to passengers on ocean liners, merchant books full of handwritten notes in pencil – each object a story I will never be told.

I wanted to look more closely at each object. TOUCH. Some of the objects make me feel sad, especially those taken to war. Soft leather pouches filed with needles and thread, to darn holes in socks and torn clothing.

PHOTOGRAPHY. Each object has been photographed. A documentary series recording my collection as it grows. Pinned to the wall of the Cello Factory, with shelves displaying the boxes and their contents. Textile pieces made in response, some containing needles and thread, too many to keep unused – stitched in. CONTAINED.