Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Purple velvet, white linen

"This was a corner of my parents' bedroom that was covered by a faded purple velvet curtain, behind which hung my mother's dressing gowns. The darkness on the other side of the curtain was inpenetrable: this corner formed the infernal pendant to the pardise that opened with my mother's linen closet. The shelves of that wardrobe - whose edges were adorned with a verse from Schiller's 'The Bell', embroidered in blue on a white border - held the neatly stacked linen for bed and table, all the sheets, pillowcases, tablecloths, napkins. A scent of lavender came from plump silk sachets that dangled over the pleated lining on the inside of the two closet doors. In this way the old mysterious magic of knitting and weaving, which had once inhabited the spinning wheel, was divided into heaven and hell."

Walter Benjamin, A Ghost, in Berlin Childhood around 1900, Transl. Howard Eiland, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge/Mass. & London/England, 2006, p.101

"Das war im Zimmer, wo die Eltern schliefen, eine Ecke, die ein verschossener violetter Vorhang von Pluesch verkleidete, und hinter ihm hingen die Morgenroecke meiner Mutter. Das Dunkel hinter der Portiere war unergruendlich: der Winkel das verrufene Pendant des Paradieses, das sich mit dem Waescheschrank der Mutter eroeffnete. Dessen Bretter, an denen, blaugestickt auf weissen Borten, ein Text aus Schillers 'Glocke' sich entlangzog, trugen gestapelt Bett- und Wirtschaftswaesche, Laken, Bezuege, Tischtuecher, Servietten. Lavendelduft kam aus den prallen, seidenen Sachets, die ueber dem gefaelteten Bezug der Innenwand der beiden Spindentueren baumelten. Derart war der alte, geheimnisvolle Wirk- und Webezauber, der einst im Spinnrad seinen Ort besessen, in Hoelle und Himmelreich aufgeteilt."

Walter Benjamin, Ein Gespenst, in Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1987, pp 62/63

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tangled threads


A task to irritate a saint
- unravelling string of every length!
Before all's done, perhaps I'll faint;
it's such a tax upon one's strength.
This piece seems boastful of its knot,
as if it knows it hurts my nails.
Dear me! This bag does hold a lot;
my courage flags and fails.
But, after all - it's rather fun.
Suppose this string is but a street.
Ah! Now my journey's well begun; each knot
A mountain at my feet. Till these be scaled,
I can’t progress. I clench my teeth
and work away, beyond this knot lies happiness,
and I must pass while yet 'tis day.
Another piece leads to a hill
where fairy folk in tree trunks dwell.
I'll blaze this trail with good right will,
and live among them for a spell
So swift my fingers work, and fast
(imagination's on the wing!)
and all my troubles fade at last -
for life is like a knotted string!

Wilhelmina Stitch, 1927

Friday, May 11, 2007

Net curtains

Net Curtains

"The original point of net curtains was to stop prying eyes looking in to your house if you had little or no garden. At the same time, because of their diaphanous, lacy texture they didn’t stop the light from entering. Genius.

What they are famous for, of course, is the fact that you can look OUT without being seen. Net curtains have come to be a symbol of suburban pretension and hypocrisy: coyly hiding our business behind them whilst actively sticking our nose into other people’s. We have been accused of being a nation of “curtain twitchers” and the net curtain is the main weapon in our armoury. Their supremacy is now under threat, however. 69% of people who do not have net curtains say it is because “they don’t like them”, and 42% because they are unfashionable. The decline in net curtain coverage has proved a success with burglars who find it easier to decide which houses to rob, but less so with the nation’s pet parrots who frequently bang their heads trying to fly through unadorned windows."

Making ties

"The ugliest tie
Sewing men's ties was very popular in the 1970s--I don't know if it is still done, but it is very easy. The problem with this tie, as I mentioned earlier is that I made it from left over bedspread fabic. It must have been a bargain, because it was a king size bed, I made my daughter a dress and head scarf and my husband a tie."


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Knots of perception

"(...) Serres describes the senses as interconnected in a knot. This is a useful notion for enucleating both the complicated (imbricated or twisted) nature of everyday perception and the embodied 'compacity' of the senses. (Employing the metaphor of the knot takes us away from the model of the text, with its neatly separated, two-dimensional characters, and suggests instead the multi-colored knotted symbol system of the Incas known as 'quipu'...).

Howes, David (ed.), Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader, Berg, Oxford, New York 2005, introduction, p.9

Women Artists

"While some women undoubtedly felt discouraged or stifled by ladies' work, the evidence indicates that many women found it stimulating and fulfilling and that they employed it as a means for developing their own aesthetic sensibilities.(...) Such cases indicate that women's craftwork was not just the result of an oppressive redirection of feminine creativity into trivial pasttimes, but, in many cases, a considered elaboration of a feminine aesthetic. The by-now hoary question of why there have not been more women artists in Western history perhaps merits a different answer than the usual ones of feminine incapacity or subordination. The women artists were there. We have just not been looking in the right place."

Classen, Constance, Feminine Tactics: Crafting an Alternative Aesthetics in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, in Classen, Constance (ed), The Book of Touch, Berg, Oxford, New York 2005, p.237

Lace making

"She had an immense bed with red curtains (...) in which she had had thirteen children! On the table, covered with a red carpet, was a great quantity of lace in the various stages of its making, reels of cotton, spindles, and pins with different coloured heads as well as a sheaf of designs on pink cardboard. Quite a number of different laces were begun, emerging from the cushions, and she explained that she would change from one to the other, according to the urgency of the order, with the same ease; but never did she waste her time, and I noticed that she never looked at the work she was doing except, occasionally, when she altered the arrangement of the pins, and in this way they came out from between her delicate fingers, browned, veined, and bent with age, yards upon yards of snow-white lace of pure design.

She was Mme Gaillard's most treasured lacemaker and, quite unable to read or write, had apparently been born with the gift of lacemaking in her fingers, exercising them, making them nimble whilst she watched the geese or the sheep in her native Auvergne (...)."

Henrey, Madeleine (1951), Seamstress and Marketwoman: Working Women in Early Twentieth-Century Paris, in Classen, Constance (ed), The Book of Touch, Berg, Oxford, New York 2005, p. 245


"I had a passion for ironing and I was given the handkerchiefs to do. (...) For a handkerchief to be ironed perfectly, it had to remain rigid, in its folds, when one took it up. I think the art of ironing as it was done in Paris in those days has quite disappeared. Nobody today realizes what sorcery these women had in their fingers, how their irons ran and beat and curved with a speed and a deftness that came from secrets handed down and hours and hours of practice. What miracles one can do with heavy old-fashioned irons heated on coals or on the gasring! Pleats form themselves magically all down nightgowns or lingerie, blouses stand up like living things! To sew quickly and deftly (with a thimble) and to iron like these Paris women used to are the loveliest gifts that a woman can have."

Henrey, Madeleine (1951), Seamstress and Marketwoman: Working Women in Early Twentieth-Century Paris, in Classen, Constance (ed), The Book of Touch, Berg, Oxford, New York 2005, p. 246

Sewing & Reading

"Mme Hosier felt a great longing for all this beautiful lingerie, and one day she told my mother that if we would agree to make some garments for her and her daughter Lucienne, she would bring some material and do what she could to help. She made the admission she could not sew, and added that it made her even more ashamed than if she had not known how to read."

Henrey, Madeleine (1951), Seamstress and Marketwoman: Working Women in Early Twentieth-Century Paris, in Classen, Constance (ed), The Book of Touch, Berg, Oxford, New York 2005, p. 246

Tartan blankets

"Before the advent of power looms the weavers of Kilbarchan were renowned for their blankets. Particularly special were the extra-warm, double-sided tartan blankets which only a few highly-skilled weavers could make due to the number of shafts involved. They were often commissioned as wedding gifts, one side featuring the tartan of the man's family and the other that of his wife's. Johnston have supplied the Royal Family with these blankets - originally used in open cars and on board steam ships. In his book 'In Scotland Again' (1936), H V Morton publishes extracts of his interviews with the weaver William Meikle, who mourned the demise of this craft. While observing Meikle weave a blanket with a Grant tartan on one side and a Maclean on the reverse, Morton enquired how he did it. He replied, 'Well, my eyes are on the Maclean and my mind is on the Grant.'"

Christine Macleod, The Weaver's Cotage, Kilbarchan, and James Sugden, Johnstons of Elgin, in Dickson, Elana, de la Haye, Amy, Dodd, Eugenie, Lorenz, Rolf (eds), Textile Tales, boxed set of cards, Published by TextileTales 2003,

Two Tartan blankets

"About 20 years ago, my father gave me a Tartan woollen blanket (dark blue/dark green), very fluffy. It is very soft to the touch.

When my mother was very ill with cancer, I bought her a very similar blanket and took it with me to G. When I arrived there, my mother was already in hospital. I gave her the blanket, but she died 3 weeks later. That was about 10 years ago.

I still have the two blankets. I thought, maybe one day I'll give one to M. and one to A. But for the time being, I use them on my bed and on the children's bed. I don't like other people using them. They are family blankets, somehow. I am attached to these blankets and would be a bit upset if I lost them. They do symbolize my father and my mother in a way (they divorced when I was 9 years old.). It might be a way to keep them together on some deeper level (through the warmth of a blanket.)"

Female, 52 (from my correspondence)