Wednesday, October 31, 2007


"Ghosts of stockings" (and buttons)

"At a time when spirit photography was popular, George Cruikshank wrote and illustrated a humorous essay mocking what he saw as the absurdity of the mediums' claims to contact the dead. According to Cruikshank, if there are spirits of people, then for them to be able 'to present themselves before company', there must also be:

'... the spirits of trousers, spirits of gaiters, waistcoats, neckties, spirits of buckles and shoes and knees; spirit of buttons, ... spirits of caps, bonnets, gowns and petticoats; spirits of hoops and crinolines, of ghost's stockings.'"

A Discovery Concerning Ghosts, with a rap at the 'Spirit-Rappers', George Cruikshank, 1863

in: Ridout, Lizzie (2007), Homeward Bound or An Exercise in Collecting Beginnings, British Library, London

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Regina Silk

"...the artist was seated with a computer on a round dais shrouded in white tulle, a wall-sized screen behind her. In the darkened room, she communicated with the audience through voice and keyboard. Her words, repeated by the computer and projected on the screen as a running text, contemplated the notion of “being.” As Frank reframed the question, “Who am I?” seven spectator/ performers began to spin a web of colored threads around her seated figure. The threads wound out into the audience, where members tightened the filaments until the artist became trapped.
In Italy, viewers who understood less of her English-language dialogue responded directly to her mood and movement. They became more emotional, spinning her closer and tighter.
Frank has engaged in a spectrum of conversations with her audience over the past 10 years. In a number of projects, sewing was her metaphor for digital networking; constructed dress objects stood for Frank herself. Always made of flowing silk, the dress-as-façade retained its classical dialectic function—leading the eye toward an object (woman), while marking the artist’s physical and spiritual boundary."

Regina Frank:
Nurturing a Sculptural Encounter
by Cathy Byrd
Sculpture Magazine, March 2001, Vol.20, No.2

Monday, October 29, 2007

Black Dresses

I came across this photograph in a second-hand shop. On the back it says "May 1926, Nice".

I am intrigued by the holes - mice maybe?

The faces are almost gone and so, quite likely, are the women in the black dresses.

I am thinking of my family photographs, of people long gone, but their clothes still in existence. This photo to me is more an object than an image, an object of sadness, mourning, mortality, decay, absence and destruction.The image that remains is ghostly and eerie.

It reminds me of a piece of work by Lizzie Ridout who bought old "photographs from second-hand shop graveyards", edited them "to remove all signs of the person, and retain just the sitter's clothes." She printed them on paper where,if exposed to light, the remaining image will fade with time - thus the inevitable change of everything that is becomes visible through acceleration.

Ridout, Lizzie (2007), Homeward Bound or An Exercise in Collecting Beginnings, British Library, London


"One of my most vivid recollections this - the first time I was away from home, staying with my grandmother. I was about ten and feeling homesick in a strange place with only her familiar face to comfort me, and so she bought me some linen and silks and started to teach me to embroider. I was to make a dressing-table set to take home with me - a daunting task for such a novice. She seemed a stern, stiff woman to me then, but she worked very lovingly with me, giving me pride in the work and pleasure in the anticipated reception of it. I remember coming home bursting with the wonder of it because I had made it myself and could give it as a surprise. Of all the things I have made since, this is probably the most enduring and carefully looked after. My mother has it still."

Jenny Lavin & Sue Pooley, Our Family Heritage: A Conversation between Two Sisters
in: Elinor, Gillian, Richardson, Su, Scott, Sue, Thomas, Angharad, Walker, Kate (eds) (1987), Women and Craft, Virago, London, pp. 11 & 13

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kandahar, Afghanistan

'Afghan women embroider covers for almost everything, especially guns, which enable their menfolk to show others the needlework skills of their bride."

Sheila Paine, Embroidered Textiles: Traditional Patterns from Five Continents, Thames and Hudson, London 1997, p.177

Caring for your BDU (battle dress uniform)

"Are your BDUs fading? Wearing thin at the elbows and knees? Have the pockets, collar and cuffs frayed? Has the stitching come so unraveled you're trailing nine yards of thread and stray cats think you're a play toy? Can you no longer tell where the camouflage ends and the coffee stains begin?

Don't blame your BDUs. Maybe the problem lies with the way you do your laundry. But some simple improvements in your washing routine can change you from raggedy to stylish.[...]

It's OK to machine dry your cap, shirt and trousers.[...]

If you prefer to drip-dry your uniform, make sure to put it on a rust-proof hanger.[...]

Never iron dirty clothing. That can set dirt and stains permanently into the fabric.

If you want your temperate or enhanced hot-weather BDUs to look crisp, starch them. AR 670-1 (3 Feb 05), Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, Para 3-6.d, says it's OK. [...] Just remember, starch shortens the life of BDUs. Para 1-9.a.(5) says soldiers will not receive an increase in their clothing replacement allowance to make up for wear caused by starching.


Never starch aircrew BDUs or an NOMEX clothing. They're made to be fire- and heat-resistant and starching defeats that protection. Starch leaves a flammable residue that fills the spaces in the clothing's weave. It'll burn and so will you."

COPYRIGHT 2005 PS Magazine

Friday, October 19, 2007

Horse Hair

"Another time I guess I was supposed to be having a nap in my pram and it was in the hall of our house. I remember picking at a hole in the brown leather padding of the pram and pulling out bits of horse hair stuffing."

BBC Radio 4 Memory Experience


The Pattern (by Michael Longley)

"Thirty-six years, to the day, after our wedding
When a cold figure revealing wind blew against you
And lifted your veil, I find in its fat envelope
The six-shilling Vogue pattern for your bride's dress,
Complicated instructions for stitching bodice
And skirt, box pleats and hems, tissue paper outlines,
Semblances of skin which I nervously unfold
And hold up in snow-light, for snow has been falling
On this windless day, and I glimpse your wedding dress
And white shoes outside in the transformed garden
Where the clothes-lines and every twig have been covered."


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Freshwater Pearl Buttons

"In 1887, a German pearl-button maker named J. F. Boepple immigrated to the United States. From the beginning, he realized that the seemingly endless supply of freshwater mussel shells, whose beautiful luster and durability will withstand even the severest laundering, would provide the raw material for a new and significant industry in America. In 1912, nearly 200 plants in the United States utilized valves of freshwater mussels for the manufacture of buttons. The button industry boomed until the development and refinement of plastics following World War II."

McClung Museum, The University of Tennessee

Stripy blanket

"My first memory is of my tiny bedroom at my Gran's house in Sale in Manchester. There was a stripy blanket on the bed, which I lost when I was in my twenties. My other memories of the house are connected to taste and smell - the taste of raw peas, when I was shelling them into the collander, and the smell of rosemary, as Gran had a huge bush growing in the front garden."

BBC Radio 4 Memory Experience


"My second memory is of my father coming back from the Army on leave. I did not know him or recognise him and was frightened and hid under my mother's skirt, and can still feel, see and smell her pink satin petticoat with a lace edging. My father picked me up and I was very conscious of his prickly khaki uniform and the rough skin of his face where he had been unable to shave, and his deep voice, but also his beautiful blue eyes and his loving kisses and cuddles."

BBC Radio 4 Memory Experience

The smell of plastic

"I know that I can definitely remember a lot before the age of three and a half because that was when my father died and I remember I think this is possibly my first memory. I was standing in the front room of our house when my father walked in. He had been away and had brought presents. He gave me a little plastic pinny. The thing I recall is the smell of the plastic. Whenever I smell that particular plastic smell I am immediately taken back to that incident."

BBC Radio 4 Memory Experience

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Busy Miss Golden Fleece Embroidery Needles

In Greek mythology Jason and the Argonauts set out on a quest for the Golden Fleece which will restore Jason's rightful place as ruler. This is a story of adventures, trials and tribulations, of violence and conflict. At first glance an odd choice for a pack of 'Busy Miss' embroidery needles - but maybe not. Now that I have started to think about it, connections and tentative links keep emerging.

Birthday Ties

My daughter is now eighteen. Gathering up the ribbons after she has unwrapped her presents, I am thinking about the ties that have joined us over the years, some cut and broken long ago, others newly bound, gifts of time and attention given and taken, tied up and unwrapped.