Personal profile

PhD Project

In my PhD research I am asking how practice can help us understand the role that material culture played in the gift economy of early modern England. I will be looking specifically at needlework – both plain sewing and embroidery – and print materials such as printed instruction manuals and illustrated ballad sheets.

I am interpreting gift economy to include any sort of mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationship. My definition is not limited to exchange between people through objects and practices, but between people and objects themselves. It also includes the exchange of skills and other forms of embodied knowledge. Throughout the study I will look at issues of which items of needlework have survived and why, and the tension between the ubiquitous or everyday nature of certain categories of object and the exceptional or luxury nature of the extant artefacts which document their use.

In turn I will explore the relationship between these objects and exchanges and the spaces in which these practices occur and reveal what this tells us about individual and communal memory. My approach will continue to be grounded in object-oriented new materialist theories to explore the interactions and relationships involved in their creation, use and distribution as indicators of their value and function.

My practice research will be underpinned by a theory of reciprocity which encompasses a reciprocal, reflective practice, between myself and material objects and, in one case study, myself and participants. This study reaches between the present day and the early modern period and it has parallels with the cycles of reciprocity within which memory and emotions are created.  

Research Interests

Early modern material culture

Early modern and contemporary embroidery

Early modern and contemporary printmaking


Participatory practice

New materialism


Sarah Capel is an artist and researcher with an interdisciplinary practice spanning the studio and work in the community. She is currently undertaking a PhD with the University of Coventry’s Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities to further develop her practice.

Sarah’s art practice has always operated in parallel with employment in the voluntary sector. This has included research and communications roles as well as most recently running creative programmes in the community.

Sarah’s practice uses printmaking methods. She predominantly makes woodcut prints but also incorporates screen-printing and etching into her work.

Sarah’s work is concerned with the embodiment of women’s identities and memories in their creative work. She takes inspiration from work with women in the community, many of whom have experienced trauma in their lives, and from her interest in historical examples of women’s creative expressions of identity. Sarah feels that printmaking is a natural medium for capturing hidden stories that need to be told and for communicating these to a wider audience. Her decision to use wood cuts to make her prints is influenced by its roots as the earliest form of printmaking. 

Sarah’s latest body of work comprises a multi-modal interpretation of an early modern sampler, experimenting with what can be revealed through re-creation and manipulating of original text. Sarah has found natural links between the type of marks she makes – her use of positive and negative space, close-ups and blow-ups, repetitive and hidden imagery – and stories of isolation fear, pain, uncertainty and loss.


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