Wednesday, January 31, 2007

... souvenirs...


"The souvenir is the complement to the exciting experience. In it is marked the increasing self-alienation of the person who has inventoried his past as dead possessions... Relics come from the past, the souvenir from the extinguished experience."

Walter Benjamin, Central Park

quoted in Esther Leslie, Souvenirs and Forgetting: Walter Benjamin's Memory-work, in Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward, Jeremy Ainsley (eds), Material Memories: Design and Evocation, Institute of International Visual Arts, London 1996, p.115


"Meanings change but older meanings cling, with something like the tenacity of a stain on cloth."

John Harvey (1995), Man in Black, Reaktion Books, London, p.13

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Father's Handkerchief

"Das Taschentuch meines Vaters, mein 'Unti' - ich habe es noch. Es stammt aus Militaerbestaenden, Soldaten im zweiten Weltkrieg. Ohne mein 'Unti', das ich immer um den Daumen gewickelt habe und an dem es sich so schoen schnueffeln liess, wollte ich nicht ins Bett (1 - 6 Jahre alt)."
(from my correspondence, Germany)

"I've got some of my father's handkerchiefs and I'd be very sad if I lost them, but that's because of the spiritual connection with your family... I just have them, they are not particularly old, I might even use them occasionally, but then in this day and age, they are not seen to be very sanitary... now I just carry them around, I suppose symbolic of my dad, because he never left the house without two handkerchiefs. And in times of crisis, he always had a handkerchief, not for himself, because he was not very emotive in public life, but I can remember occasions when I felt a bit and he gave me one of his hankies. And that's how I acquired them, so they are very significant. They don't really exist nowadays and you wonder how many emotions have been contained in handkerchiefs, and states of health, sneezing, coughing, crying, all sorts of thing."
(from my correspondence, UK)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Unusual patterns

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ephemerality - Fragile fabric

"While textiles can be described as tentative and provisional in character because of their ephemeral qualities and consequently the temporal meanings that have been attributed to them, they are not physically brittle in the sense that they do not break if dropped...Textiles can be both ephemeral and durable, withstanding years of wear, laundering and changes of use from curtain to patchwork quilt... Textiles' ability to withstand and adopt to changing conditions, and still manage to retain vestiges of their original form, is not unlike the resiliency of contemporary identity. Yet their ephemerality is also a feature which figures importantly in the particularly adaptable character that makes textiles analogous to the provisional nature of the contemporary sense of self-identity."

Judith Attfield, Wild Things: The Material Cultures of Everyday Life, Berg, Oxford 2000, p.132

Friday, January 26, 2007

Packaging felt

Packaging felt - the last step in the recycling and re-use of textiles

Textiles are surprisingly often re-used and recycled considering the ease of disposal and replacement, as if deep down there was a recognition of their value and a reluctance to just throw them out. At car boot and jumble sales, in charity shops, they are the bulk of the merchandise. The purchase of second hand textiles is not necessarily an indicator for financial need - witness the popularity (and price!) of vintage textiles as expression of identity.

Many items are downgraded or become something else: bath towels line dog baskets, socks are made into hand puppets, sheets turn into halloween outfits, long trousers into shorts, scarves into cushions, carpets appear in allotments, tea towels in nativity plays. Eventually, riches become rags. Some rags are made into paper and acquire a new important life as carriers of text and images. The rest, torn up, pulped and felted, become packaging felt - to protect large household appliances during transport and pad envelopes. So many threads, each one carrying a long history, joined in a humble fabric, still supporting human activity.

Curtain trimming

Curtain trimming given to me by a friend. She had taken it off her mother's curtain when she sorted out her mother's possessions and kept it because it was expensive, high quality and she didn't want to throw it out. However, she didn't know what to do with it and gave it to me. I don't really know what to do with it either, but can't bring myself to throw it out yet either.

"Throwing away any possessions, however useless, means tearing it off the fabric of one's experience, giving it up."

Perla Korosec-Serfaty, The Home from Attic to Cellar, paper presented at the 2nd Annual University of California at Irvine Symposium on Environmental Psychology 1982, p.13
(quoted in Joan Kron, Home-Psych: The Social Psychology of Home and Decoration, ClarksonN.Potter, New York 1983, p.148)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


"There is something therapeutic about cleaning your towels and linen and especially your clothes. For every time the washing is done don't you experience the feeling of spiritual renewal - of preparation for the rest of your life - as though you will never have to do the washing again? Somehow, that crisp, fresh-smelling pile has a wonderful life-affirming quality; it gives you the strength to face anything! ... It isn't necessarily about doing domestic chores like the cleaning and washing, it is about the idea of those jobs being done and your life having a sense of order as a consequence."

Advertising feature in Your Quarter Magazine: Modern Living in Lancashire

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lace trimmings

"What does he care about Miss Faith Cartwright and her endless and infernal needlework? Every letter his mother sends him contains news of yet more knitting, stitching and tedious crocheting. The Cartwright household must by this time be covered all over - every table, chair, lamp and piano - with acres of tassel and fringe, a woolwork flower heavily abloom in every nook of it. Does his mother really believe that he can be charmed by such a vision of himself - married to Faith Cartwright and imprisoned in an armchair by the fire, frozen in a kind of paralysed stupor, with his dear wife winding him up gradually in coloured silk threads like a cocoon, or like a fly snarled in the web of a spider?"

Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace, Virago, London 1997, p.340

Friday, January 19, 2007

Felted doily

I am fascinated by doilies. I still remember the doilies on my parents' dressing and bedside tables, sqashed under a sheet of glass which I longed to take off so I could touch them. Especially the ones on the dressing table, a large round one in the middle, a smaller oval one on each side, featuring a lacy image of the cathedral in Cologne.

Doilies are pretty much obsolete now and heaps can be found in charity shops. I often get seduced into buying - I've got some heavily beaded ones, quite unusual. A friend sent me a really beautiful one with lots of different colours from New Zealand.

I also like felting them with merino wool - as the wool shrinks, the lacy structure of the doily gets trapped and bits appear on the surface like fossils.

There are some modern takes on the doily - cut-out of thick felt in deep colours (gallery shops, e.g. De La Warr Pavilion Bexhill), Ray Beldner (cut out and sewn banknotes), Hildur Bjarnadottir (crochet skulls).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Warm feelings on a cold blustery day: baby pink fun fur

"I am about six years old and my father has gone on early shift, so I creep into my mother's bed and put my arms around her. She is soft and plumb and her nightdress was celanese. I can feel the texture of it in my head even now. I loved my mother and we would have little chats when she awoke."

BBC Radio 4 Memory Experience

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"It contained a camp bed covered with the remains of a wartime afghan, made up of lopsided squares, ill-knitted scraps of clashing wool and full of dropped stitches; there was a chest of drawers leaning drunkenly over its missing leg, a kitchen chair and armchair with the brown cloth of its seat rent by the hernial pressure of escaping springs, and the arms worn thin by many grimy hands. There was also a small gas fire beneath the mantelpiece, on which stood a pair of hideous plaster Alsatians standing guard each side of an embroidered picture of a crinoline lady in a cottage garden."

Lynne Reid Banks, The L-shaped Room, Penguin, London 1965, pp 43/44

Monday, January 15, 2007

"The face, like the ample skirt, was creased, as though both had been crumpled together at the same time. What might a good ironing not reveal?"

Penelope Fitzgerald, At Freddies, Flamingo, London 1989, p.10

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Polka Dots

Polka dots - a busy and dancing pattern, appropriate for a day of crisp blue skies, when thoughts dance out of the slumber of hibernation. A reminder of flamenco dresses when I used to dance the nights away at the 'Feria de Avril' in Sevilla.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Friday, January 12, 2007

Child's handkerchief with embroidered teddy

"Teddies sans frontiers, handknitted teddy bears helping children all over the world in all sorts of situations.
Teddies sans frontieres is not a registered charity, it has no central organisation, no rules, regulations, or subscription fees. It is just a knitting and crochet pattern and now a website. Internet myth says the project was started by the W.R.V.S. (Does anyone know the true story?) and that the first teddies went to Sudan in 1985."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

la manta - the blanket

"El hijo tiende las sabanas y pone una sola manta porque - advierte - hay calefaccion. Al viejo le da igual: se ha traido su manta de siempre, adelgazado ya por medio siglo de uso. Imposible abandonarla; es su segunda piel. Le ha protegido de lluvias y ventiscas, ha sudado con el las mejores y peores horas de su vida, fue incluso condecorado con un agujero de bala, sera su mortaja."

Jose Luis Sampedro, La Sonrisa Etrusca, Narrativa Actual, RBA Editores, Barcelona 1993, p.17

[The son puts the sheets on and just one blanket because - as he points out - there is central heating. The old man doesn't care: he has brought his old blanket along, worn thin already by half a century's use. Impossible to leave behind; it is his second skin. It has protected him from rain and blizzards, has sweated with him in the best and worst hours of his life, even been decorated with a bullet hole, it will be his shroud.]

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fragment of cashmere cardigan with under arm mending

"I've kept his most loved cardigan. He had simple, almost monastic tastes. He hated clothes, especially new ones. He only got to love the cardigan as it grew old and threadbare, so I darned the holes and mended the ragged cuffs so it would last a little longer. He died soon after. The cardigan lies in my jumper drawer like a transitional object in reverse, reminding me of his permanent absence."

Judith Attfield, Wild Things: The material culture of Everyday Life, Berg, Oxford 2000, pp 149/150


My father died in 1992. This is a piece of his favourite shirt.

"Too many books by too many authors can be confusing, like too many shirts and suits. I like to change my clothes as little as possible. I suppose some people would say the same of my ideas, but the bank has taught me to be wary of whims. Whims so often end in bankruptcy."

Graham Greene, Travels with my Aunt, The Comapnion Book Club, London 1970, p.45

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

louise Calder

"Louisa Calder, wife of sculptor Alexander Calder, has crocheted for most of her life. Her husband, one of the greatest sculptors of all time, was responsible for the first true revolution in the history of sculpture - by giving it a completely new dimension: movement. Louisa Calder with her work, published for the first time in this book, has added a new dimension to crochet - elevating it from the narrow confines of a craft in danger of becoming moribund to an art - an art of tremendous vitality, creativity & freedom."

Louisa Calder & Mary Konior, Louisa Calder's Creative Crochet, Penguin Books, Hammondsworth, England 1979, p.1

Monday, January 08, 2007

Memory work

"This is what I have decided to do with my life just now. I will do this work of transformed and even distorted memory and will lead this life, the one I am leading today. Every morning the blue clock and the crocheted bedspread with its pink and blue and gray squares and diamonds. How nice it is - this production of a broken old woman in a squalid nursing home."

Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights, Virago, London 1980, p.3

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The rope of memory

"...but then the memory - not yet of the place in which I was, but of the various other places where I had lived and might now very possibly be - would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being from which I would never have escaped by myself..."

Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Vol.I, Vintage Books, New York 1982, pp5/6

"All of DNA is a twisted rope ladder let down from heaven to draw us up from the abyss of not-being. We do not lift a finger without three kinds of information: the information we are getting from our senses at that moment; the information we have gotten from our senses in the past; and the information our ancestors have acquired since life began on Earth - that is the information that is represented by genes themselves."

Jonathan Weiner, Time, Love, Memory: a great biologist and his quest for the origins of behaviour, Faber & Faber, New York 1999, p.132

Kitchen Curtain (Germany, 1951 - ?)

"The centre of my childhood was the kitchen, a space dominated by my mother, separated from the outside world by the kitchen curtain bearing like traffic signs the symbols of her rule. This curtain has witnessed so many stories that it is not associated with any particular one, but evokes in me a general feeling of unease and discomfort."
Goett (2006), Thinking through the Fabric of Life: Textiles, Text, Texture

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tea Towels

My friend A. & I are chatting in the kitchen. I am drinking coffee, he is drying dishes. He has this thing about tea towels: he just hates wet tea towels and makes sure he has lots of spare ones, so he can get a dry one out as often as he likes. He remembers tea towels always being wet at home and how he hated the feel & smell when he had to dry dishes as a child.

Talking about tea towels he reminds me of something I once told him, that my mother told me once that the English clean their shoes with a tea towel. I must have been quite small and I can't remember the context, only that it was such a strange thing to say and how I was pondering and wondering about the significance of that remark.

The other day I was getting out an old tea towel to polish my shoes and the memory came back.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

My friend Ana from Spain bought this skirt for her daughter at a car boot sale when she came to visit me in 2003. Ana and I both used to live in London and regularly went to markets to buy clothes for ourselves & our children - Brick Lane on Sunday mornings, Portobello on Fridays. In the 80s, lots of bargains could be found - three 60s dresses for a pound! We took huge bags and filled them - our duvets, blankets, table cloths, designer clothes were all from markets.

We prided ourselves on our good eye for colours, our feel for texture. We were poor, but always well dressed.

Most of my girl friends got their stuff from markets, charity shops and boot sales. When we had babies, we left the fathers at home with the kids on Sunday mornings & went on our shopping expeditions.

The skirt was a bit too tight for Ana's daughter, so they took the waistband off. Ana sent it to me because "it's such a lovely pattern - I'm sure you will be able to use it for something..."

"I took a few paces around the room, trying to work out the exact spot where the couch would have been. As I did so, I found I could only conjure up the haziest picture of what it had actually looked like - though I could recall quite vividly the feel of its silky fabric."

Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans, Faber and Faber, London 2000, p.187