Saturday, September 26, 2009

Euroqual Workshop: Archives and Life History Research, 21 - 23 September 2009, Madrid

A meeting of researchers from many countries with shared interests in and different takes on archives and life stories. Not at first sight a conference that had much to do with textiles, but of course, like all such gatherings, a networking event and like all human enterprise embedded in textiles and stories.

We shared experiences, research narratives and stories around dining tables always laid with white linen, and in the lecture theatre facing a row of solemn flags behind the speakers' table - a reminder to me of the privilege of having been invited, a certain formality maybe lending gravitas to the event that dissolved as the days went on and disappeared altogether once we retired after yet another splendid meal to the Duque de Alba bench with its own aristocratic tale outside La Residencia for la penultima. So many honored guests had stayed and talked at this beautiful place before us: Federico García Lorca, Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Albert Einstein, Paul Valéry, Marie Curie, Igor Stravinsky, Walter Gropius, Henri Bergson, Le Corbusier and Alexander Calder. Calder's wife Louisa, by the way, like him worked with bright colours but in threads, and wrote a book on crochet.

In the mornings which came always too early, after an invigorating shower the faint scent of vinegar lingering in the white bathroom towels mingled with the fresh fragance of the Agua Colonia to clear my mind for another stimulating and challenging day ahead. We make our own sensory memories of time and place.

I took my hyperbolic crochet work into the lecture hall to think through my hands as I listened. There were other textile encounters in words and images - in Cristina Sanchez's paper on public mourning, for example. I was very moved by an image Francisco Fernandiz showed: of two brightly coloured picnic chairs next to the excavation site of one of many mass graves holding the remains of those killed by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. The chairs with their cheerful patterns, so ordinary and bright, carrying the heavy weight of the past in the people sitting in them and telling their memories of terrible events that happened long ago, but are neither forgotten nor forgiven.

Calder, Louisa & Konior, Mary (1979), Louisa Calder’s Creative Crochet, Penguin Books Hammondsworth/England, New York/USA

for photographs of Madrid, colours & textures, go to

Mourning: black ribbons, white gloves

"Black ribbons and white palms are two common elements in all the shrines and demonstrations. The white palms stand for fighting terrorism with peace. It has become a national symbol in Spain in the fight against terrorism. A group of law students at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid first adopted the gesture of painting the palms of their hands white or wearing white gloves to signify the hands of people who want peace as opposed to the bloody hands of terrorists."

Sánchez-Carretero, Cristina (2006), Trains of Workers, Trains of Death: Some Reflections after the March 11th Attacks in Madrid, in Santino, Jack (ed), Spontaneous Shrines and the Public Memorialization of Death, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, p.341

Jorge Semprun

"An individual patch in the impalpable material of that shroud. A dust mote in the ashy cloud of that agony. A still flickering light from the extinguished star of our dead years."

Jorge Semprun, The long voyage,Grove Press New York, 1964, p.120

My thanks to Rosa-Auria Munte Romos from the University Ramon Llull in Barcelona, for reminding me of the poetic power of Jorge Semprun's writing.

"¿Pero puede uno asumir una experiencia cualquiera sin llegar a dominar más o menos su lenguaje? ¿O sea, la historia, las historias, los relatos, las memorias, los testimonios: la vida? ¿El texto, la misma textura, el tejido de la vida?"

SEMPRÚN, Jorge. Aquel domingo. Barcelona: Tusquets, 2004, p.71, quoted in MUNTÉ, Rosa-Àuria (2009) Cuando realidad histórica y ficción literaria convergen: la autoficción de Jorge Semprún sobre Holocausto, conference paper, Madrid 2009

["But can one take on any experience without more or less mastering its language? In other words histories, stories, tales, memories, testimonies: life? The text, the very texture, the fabric of life?"]

Who produces silk?

"Nuestra apuesta trata de contrarrestar una tendencia a hacer desaparecer el trabajo y los trabajadores, a la vez que las estrategias empresariales, de las escenas productivas. Es la tendencia al deslumbramiento ante el cadre bâti, ante los artilugios o artefactos, o ante los fragmentos incomprendidos de los mismos, sin que, en muchas ocasiones sean esos investigadores capaces de reconstruir el proceso productivo, y menos aún la red en la que se inserta un centro de trabajo. Como aquéllos a los que identificó Doña Emilia Pardo Bazán: maravillados ante un tejido sin saber si la seda la produce un árbol o un gusano. Piezas, fragmentos, edificios o restos y vestigios desenraizados en suma."

Juan José Castillo (2006), La Soledad del Trabajador Globalizado: Memoria, Presente y Futuro, Los Libros de la Catarata, Madrid, Spain, p.16

["Our task is to counteract the trend of making work and workers disappear from the scenes of production, together with entrepreneurial strategies. It is the tendency to become dazzled in front of the cadre bâti, of equipment or devices, or their little understood fragments, and researchers often unable to reconstruct the process of production and, even less, the network in which the workplace is embedded. Like those people identified by Mrs. Emilia Pardo Bazán: marvelling at a fabric without knowing if silk is produced by a tree or by a worm. To sum up, pieces, fragments, buildings or remains and traces uprooted."]

A breakthrough in pants

"Here's the news in briefs - left-handed men need no longer worry about getting their knickers in a twist.
Underpants specially made for southpaws are going on sale, to help them spend less time unnecessarily fiddling down below. The design of the left-handed trunks could save men a crucial three - yes, three seconds when stopping to spend a penny.
Alas, it will cost a little more than that to get your hands on the pants - between £16 and £22. But retailers believe they will appeal to the 3 million British men thought to be left-handed. The traditional Y-front opening in pants favours right-handed men, leaving lefties to reach further down and and across at the aproriate time. [...]
Rob Faucherand, head of men's accessories at Debenham's, insisted: 'In our view this is a vital step for left-handed men. Switching the opening from vertical to horizontal may sound like a small step but it's the breakthrough that many men have been waiting for.'"

Aidan Radnge, Undies specially for lefties - pantastic!
Metro, London 24 Sptember 2009, p.25

Friday, September 18, 2009

Small finds

"Consider the seemingly most obvious and most trivial of all small finds - the common straight pin and the not-so-logical syllogism about pins that one often encounters in the literature, Pins equal sewing, or so most archaeologists assume, they also assume that sewing was done by women. Therefore pins = sewing = women. But [...] common straight pins were used to fasten both men's and women's clothing, to fasten documents, to fasten shrouds, to serve as guides for threads in lace-making, to conjure spells and to ward against them; in other words pins were used for many other purposes beyond sewing. And it is sometimes possible to differentiate what these purposes might have been, since pins were were made in different sizes because different sizes were needed for the diverse purposes I've mentioned. But because we think we 'know' what pins mean, we do not pay them much attention."

Mary C. Beaudry (2006), Findings: the material culture of needlework and sewing, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, p.8


"In April 1440, two galleys outfitted on behalf of seven Venetian merchants docked at Southampton on their return voyage from Flanders carrying eighty-three thousand ins as part of their cargo. Documentary evidence hence reveals both trade in and use of vast numbers of straight pins, most of them made of finely drawn wire and fitted with small heads. Such pins would not have served well as cloak fasteners and the like, but instead were used to fashion women's veils - pinning the folds of linen headdresses or securing transparent veils to the hair or around the shoulders to the front of a gown. it is noteworthy that the trousseau of Edward III's daughter, Princess Joan, whose wedding took place in 1348, included twelve thousand pins for fastening her veils, and there are numerous examples of the use of pins in this manner in fifteenth-century art."

Mary C. Beaudry (2006), Findings: the material culture of needlework and sewing, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, p.13

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Raw material

" Das Rohmaterial, das ich am liebsten benutze, besteht aus Abfallstoffen. Neue Stoffe interessieren mich nicht, sprechen mich nicht an. Es ist nicht ihre Unschuld, die mich blockiert, sondern ihr Mangel an Erfahrung. Je mehr Geschichten ein Stoff erlebt hat, die über seine eigentliche Herstellung hinausgehen, wie z.B. ein Kleidungsstück, das getragen, zerrissen und wieder
geflickt wurde oder ein Betttuch und ein Bettkissen mit ihren Geheimnissen, um so mehr spricht dieser Stoff zu mir. Es ist die Anhäufung –das Übereinanderschichten von Geschichten – die den Stoff in meinen Augen wertvoll erscheinen lässt und mich
inspiriert. Diese Stoffe würden sonst weggeworfen. Die künstlerische Wiederverwertung ist wie eine letzte Rettung, die ich den Materialien anbiete, indem ich ihnen eine allerletzte Atempause vor dem endgültigen Zerfall schenke. Es geht mir nicht darum,
den Zerfall festzuhalten, im Gegenteil – vielmehr bin ich auf der Suche nach der Erhabenheit der Erlebnisse, der Enthüllung
ihrer Schönheit im Sinne von Authentizität und Reichtum an Erfahrungen."

Pascale Goldenberg, Nadel und Faden 2009 Katalog

["The raw material that I most like using, consists of discarded fabrics. I have no interest in new fabrics, they don't appeal to me. It's not their innocence that puts me off, but their lack of experience. The more stories a fabric has lived beyond those of its production, for example a garment that has been worn, torn and mended, or a sheet or pillow with their secrets, the more the fabric appeals to me. It's the accumulation - the layering of stories - which makes the fabric valuable to me and which inspires me. These fabrics would otherwise be thrown out. The artistic re-use is like a last salvation which I offer to the materials by giving them a last breathing space before their final disintegration. But my concern is not only to arrest decay, on the contrary - I am on a quest for the sublimity of these experiences, revelation of their beauty in the sense of authenticity and richness of experience."]

Monday, September 07, 2009

Watching the stretching

"Let us imagine an infinitely small piece of elastic, contracted, it that were possible, to a mathematical point. Let us draw it out gradually in such a way as to bring out of the point a line which will grow progressively longer. Let us fix our attention not on the line as line, but on the action which traces it. Let us consider, that this action, in spite of its duration, is indivisible if one supposes it goes on without stopping [...]. Let us take our mind off the space subtending the movement and concentrate solely on the4 movement itself, on the act of tension or extension, in short, a pure mobility."

Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics, A Citadel Press Book, Carol Publishing Group, New York 1992, p. 164, 165

Second Life

"Make do and mend: Dad's duster pants

My mother doesn't believe in reincarnation. But there is one thing that she is willing to make an exception for - my father's pants.
As soon as the elastic begins to go, the underwear ends its brief life with Dad and moves to a better place - the cleaning cabinet.
What enters as briefs, comes out as dusters. They go from protecting the family jewels to cleaning the family heirlooms. They destroy dust, erase fingerprints and leave television screens and mirrors sparkling.
Strangely enough, it's only my father's pants that get a second life.
So think twice before tossing your old undies out, and give them a different type of life."

Paul Staunton, Family Life, The Guardian, Family, 5.9.2009, p.7

In my parental home, too, my father's pants found a second life as dusters.

Friday, September 04, 2009


"How far does intuition go? It catches hold of a thread: it is for it to see whether this thread goes as far up as heaven or stops at some distance from the earth."

Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics, A Citadel Press Book, published by Carol Publishing Group, New York 1992, p.14

Missing cues

"Clare Lawrence Moody is a keen knitter and she has recruited her fellow actresses in The Girls of Slender Means at the Assembly Rooms into a knitting circle. Director Muriel Romanes considered having them knitting on stage, but when one too many cues were missed in rehearsal - "Oh, sorry, just had to cast off a line" - she thought better of it."

Veronica Lee, Edinburgh Diary: Knits, wits ... and 4,000 holes on Prices Street
The Observer, The Review, 30.8.2009, p.14