Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Tuesday, February 27, 2007


"The discovery of twisting fibre into string '… opened the door to an enormous array of new ways to save labor and improve the odds of survival, much as the harnessing of steam did for the Industrial Revolution. Soft flexible thread of this sort is a necessary prerequisite to making woven cloth. On a far more basic level, string can be used simply to tie things up - to catch, to hold, to carry. From these notions come snares and fishlines, tethers and leashes, carrying nets, handles, and packages, not to mention a way of binding objects together to form more complex tools. (…) So powerful, in fact, is simple string in taming the world to human will and ingenuity that I suspect it to be the unseen weapon that allowed the human race to conquer the earth, that enabled us to move out into every econiche on the globe during the Upper Palaeolithic. We should call it the String Revolution."

Elizabeth Wayland-Barber, Women's Work: The first 20,000 years, Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times, W.W.Norton & Company, New York, London 1994, p.45

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Blue towel

“Recently, one morning, I washed my face and used the same dark blue towel as usual. But, suddenly the smell from the towel disturbed me deeply. It has been such a long time, I didn’t realize I have carried on my father’s smell on my body. The smell reminded me of his towel, which had a very strong smell like mine. After this smell came out, I didn’t let it go. I started to imagine the towel in the bathroom in my home. It is not a particular towel, but it is a particular smell from my father. After I woke up from my daydream (….), I was quite happy because I knew my body has retained the smell of my father. I can carry on easily for the whole of my life (…) without any other materials, but through a towel.”

Male, 30s, UK/Taiwan

Striped towel

'A gentleman in San Francisco liked to arrange his towels side by side with the diagonal stripes heading in alternate directions so they formed a chevron pattern.' P. 181

Joan Kron, Home-Psych: The Social Psychology of Home and Decoration, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./Publishers, New York 1983, p.181

White towel

"His army years, his time in the colonial service, his difficulties with women (one in particular), his throat full of unconfessed longings - all have come to rest in a large white porcelain tub and a warm towel waiting, folded beautifully, over a chromium rail."

Carol Shields, Soup du Jour, in Shields, Dressing up for the Carnival, QPD London 2000, p.165

Thursday, February 22, 2007


"Primitive man's sealing of contracts with blood, his marking of possessions, and the decorating of graves with red ochre finds an echo in the extraordinary power of red in Western European embroidery. While costume and embroideries for the home slavishly follow fashions, linen articles for the trousseau remain resolutely monogrammed and numbered in red cross stitch. This custom of marking ritual textiles in red is almost inextricably bound to the life-consuming production of the home-grown, handspun, handwoven linen. Replaced by purchased cotton, the bottom drawer linen of continental Europe is still marked in red."

Sheila Paine, Embroidered Textiles: Traditional Patterns from Five Continents, Thames and Hudson, London 1995, p.150

'Exotic pets'

"People in the humanities, for their part, take a piecemeal approach to application. They will isolate an attractive scientific or mathematical concept and add it to their own disciplinary system, like an exotic pet."

Brian Massumi, Concrete is as concrete doesn't, in Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Duke University Press, Durham 2002, p.21

I like the image of the 'exotic pet'. There are many of those among our everyday textiles, bits and pieces brought back from travels, picked up at a market, bought in a fair trade shop, given as a present: tablemats, napkins, throws, scarves, bags, blouses, belts, cushion covers - visitors from other times and places, their stories intermingling with ours.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cable stitch

“I’m a sucker for cables. Almost every piece I’ve knit over the past several years is filled with them. I love the way they wrap among themselves, twisting and roping through the weave of the yarn.I suppose there is a narrative of sorts in this – two sections of stitches that cannot stop playing with each other, that must rough and tumble, twist and gyrate under the needles, caught in the act of love or war as the rows progress.”

Jennifer Vasil, New Orleans, USA, web designer and long time knitter/crocheter

Monday, February 19, 2007

Knitting for birds

A friend recently gave me a ball of soft fluffy knitting yarn. It reminds me of the soft feather down of young chicks.

"I have recently taken up knitting following a tragic incident with my last budgerigar. I would like to make a winter coat for the replacement bird. Does anyone have a knitting pattern I could use?"

from letter page, newsletter of Cast-Off Knitting Club for Boys and Girls, KC2/Oct.02, London 2002

"A Port Augusta woman who knits 260 tiny jumpers every year is part of an international effort to save thousands of fairy penguins threatened by oil spills..."

More about this and knitting for birds on textile artist Deirdre Nelson's web log

Fake grass

I am fascinated by fake grass. I used to live in converted servants' quarters on the roof of a block of flats in Mexico City for a while. The rooms had been converted on the cheap into overpriced appartments. To make the whole affair look pretty and distract the eye from the shabby workmanship, the floor between the appartments was covered in fake grass and some "Greek" statues were placed here and there. It was a strange world up there on the roof top.

Later I was thinking of covering my bathroom floor in fake grass, but never got around to it - maybe that was a good thing.

Once I tried to find some fake grass for an art project. This was before the days of the internet and finding a supplier proved more difficult than I thought. I tried greengrocers and shop fitting suppliers. Someone suggested I should try an undertaker, because they use a lot of it for burials.

In the end I found a small place in East London that catered for market traders and only opened from 5 to 10 am. I bought a couple of meters and it has come in handy for all sorts of things.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Black Lace

I got an e-mail today. It said:

"Every woman should have a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill and a black lace bra."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Subversive doilies? Or "intricate exercises in a pointless decorative art"?

I dyed some doilies in black, pink and turquoise. Do the colours change the perception of the doily?

The colours remind me of Simon Periton's work that I came across in an old magazine cutting from 2000.

"The humble doily, beloved of the Victorians, is transformed in the subversive. sartirical art of Simon Periton... In Periton's hand, these intricate exercises in a pointless decorative art explode into original and subversive pieces, replete with art historical references and motifs of contemporary culture... In his doilies, he turns the repeated motifs of the contemporary political gesture, such as the anarchist's encircled 'A' into bulbous, unexpectedly decorative entities. The doily, he says, 'contextualises the trivial and the banal. That's what fascinates me.'"

Robin Muir, The Independent Magazine, September 2000

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kitchen Networks

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Baby Basket fabric (Germany 1953)

This is the fabric of my baby basket. My mother wrote to my father in a letter about it the month before I was born. This letter, dated 14.1.1953 tells us that she was looking for a fabric to match their bedroom and was thinking of salmon pink, possibly with little blue flowers. She bought the baby basket with stand for DM35 from Schulze in Obernstrasse in Bielefeld, a mattress for DM8 and hade a square pillow size cover made from blue damast and filled with 375 g of feather down for DM34 at Kirchhoff's. 6.5 Metres of fabric were needed to dress the basket, at an estimated cost between DM15 - 16, including some 'Molton' fabric for the lining, plus DM20 for labour costs.

At the time, my father's monthly salary was approx. DM200. My mother used her savings.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Baby Pink and Baby Blue

Why are baby girls traditionally dressed in pink and baby boys in blue?

Pink pyjamas

"Very young (perhaps 12 - 18 months?) in my cot, unable to hear any noise in the house and feeling very afraid of being alone. Calling out for my mother. Eventually, my angry father appeared, shouted, smacked me and left. I cried. I remember particularly the cream paint on the cot, the wallpaper in the room, and my pink flannel pyjamas with little spots on (which may have been small flowers or something similar)."

from the BBC Radio 4 Memory Experience

Fabric from my early childhood, 1950s, Germany

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Child's bedroom curtain (Germany 1958)

My sister and I shared a small bedroom. These curtains accompanied us all through our chidhood. They featured a girl in a green checked dress with blond plaits, a boy on a bike, a ball, building blocks, a bird in a cage. When I was ill in bed and not allowed to read, I would look at them and make up stories. I felt like the bird in the cage and was dreaming of escape. The room had no heating, it was full of stuff that my mother could not bear to throw away - I was trapped.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Baby mittens

“A pair of baby mittens knitted for me by my then eight year old brother. No longer in existence, sadly – they would have been 45 years old. The mittens were made for me prior to my birth and presented from behind his back with pride when I was born – he had learned to knit to do these gloves, as he was so excited. He was responsible for naming me and our relationship has always been a special one. The mittens were a very tight tension, which expressed the struggle he had on his own to produce them in secret. Also they were apparently presented in a grubby state which declares the same thing. The fact that they existed at all represents the love he had for me even before I existed. The mittens … no longer exist except as a memory, which makes me feel very sad as our relationship has also deteriorated slightly – this seems almost symbolic of that fact.”

Female, 45, UK


folds poem

While playing with the folds, the shape of the cloth is forever interchanging,
parts of the surface become exposed, others withhold unseen .
Shifting... a new shape still to come, never identical.

In this continuous movement, of folding and unfolding, hiding and revealing,
a game of disclosing and concealing fragments of the fabric seems to be created.

A constant transformation, metamorphoses into new forms,
temporary and unstable, remains but a moment in its given shape,
only to abandon it on my next touch.

And as I touch it , different narratives unravel
awakening the life that lies dormant in the weave of the cloth.
Alive, yet intangible.

Alicia Felberbaum 1996

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Clear vision

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Household chores

"Nan's vivid recollections are an outcome of the everyday bodily experience of household chores, manifested in acts of cleaning and polishing, as well as the art of decoration."

Anat Hecht, Home Sweet Home: Tangible memories of an uprooted childhood, in Daniel Miller (ed), Home Possessions: Material Culture behind closed doors, Berg, Oxford/New York 2001, p.134

Untouched Memories

Many textile tems such as handkerchiefs, tea towels & table linen are never unpacked. Often they are elaborately folded & arranged, pinned or tied with ribbon, presented in gift boxes, wrapped in cellophane with bows and labels. Why were they never used, why were they kept? Unwanted gifts, tokens of affection, souvenirs? Were they kept for an occasion that never came? Were they forgotten in a drawer or wardrobe? Unloved or loved too much, or just hoarded?

When I come across these, I don't unwrap them either; I prefer to leave them undisturbed, to look, not to touch.