Bella May Leonard + Silent Night

Human Hands Present, 2017

During her residency, Bella was struck by the scale and speed of the Silentnight factory. She was inspired by the idea that the frenetic, cellular mass manufacture she encountered needed, nevertheless, to be guided by the tenderness of human hands to produce ‘sleeping products’ – things we all use but know little about. Her work is a celebration of the role of the individual in the powerfully efficient manufacturing process. Bella aimed to encourage pride in the abilities and workplace heritage of Silentnight’s staff, making them part of the historical and present achievements of the company.

In collaboration with Silentnight’s New Product Development team, Bella created an assembly of divan frames that formed a canvas onto which she embroidered bold shapes and patterns from production line waste. Audiences were invited to walk around, sit and lie on the artwork, to visually explore the inner workings of a mattress in a playful walk-in installation, a dreamlike meditation on sleep and modern machinery’s dependence on tender human hands.

“For me, making is about engaging your creative, critical brain with your senses and physical body, enjoying the tactile outcome.”

Bella May Leonard


With 70 years of manufacturing heritage, Silentnight is a national name in the beds and mattresses sector, making products from the Barnoldswick factory since 1961. With the longest serving staff member being part of the company for 50 years, the team make products including spring, foam and gel mattresses that use technical advances and innovation to remain at the forefront of the market.


Bella May Leonard uses hand embroidery to gain insight into other cultures. The process of hand stitch appeals because of its labour intensive qualities and elaborate possibilities. Bella creates sculptural stitched works exploring the meaning of craftsmanship in the post-industrial West and our developing relationships to textiles. Bella has previously studied Lancashire’s industrial heritage during commissions with Queen Street Mill and Gawthorpe Hall Textile Collection. Bella extended her work for Art in Manufacturing in an installation at the historic ‘Exchange’ in Blackburn for ‘Fabrications’.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Bella. Her delving into our company history has reminded us of lots of great things that we used to do, and highlighted the importance that the human hand still has in today’s more machine led manufacturing.”



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