Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The imperfection of words

" - My young master in London is dead! said Obadiah. -
- A green satin night-gown of my mother's, which had been twice scoured, was the first idea which Obadiah's exclamation brought into Susannah's head. - Well might Locke write a chapter upon the imperfection of words. -
Then, quoth Susannah, we must all go into mourning.-
But note a second time: the word mourning, notwithstanding Susannah made use of it herself - failed also of doing its office; it excited not one single idea, tinged either with grey or with black, - all was green.- The green satin night-gown hung there still.
-O! 'twill be the death of my poor mistress, cried Susannah.- My mother's whole wardrobe followed.- What a procession! her red damask, -her orange tawney, - her white and yellow lute-strings, - her brown taffeta, - her bone-laced caps, her bed-gowns, and comfortable underpetticoats.- Not a rag was left behind.- 'No, - she will never look up again,' said Susannah."

Laurence Sterne (1759), the life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Penguin Books, Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England 1967, p, 354, 355

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pins & sheep

"Pin-making is similar to needle-making and almost as expensive; at the end of the fifteenth century, when in England a sheep sold for twenty pence, pins pointed individually on a pinner's bone, cost four pence per hundred."

Mary C. Beaudry, Findings: the material culture of needlework and sewing, Yale University Press, New Haven & London 2006, p.16

memory, loss, mortality, love

"A hoard of children's milk teeth are wrapped in a white silk handkerchief and secreted away in a white envelope. The image is titled Anatomy of Time I. Vered Lahav conjures moments of visual poetry out of the most deceptively simple if elements. The overall colour scheme is white on white. The meticulously rehearsed and staged photographs tend towards the emotionally evocative; the assembled sculptures are objects of sentimental resonance. There are cherished embroideries, covert lovers' messages, traceries of the long departed. [...] The surface appearance might be slight, is certainly subtle and delicate, yet the themes go deep: the nature of memory, loss, mortality, love."

Vered Lahav
Wolverhampton Art Gallery, to 23 January 2010

The Guardian, 17.10.2009, The Guide, p.39, RC

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cutting holes

"For many years, children occupy space in the household, whether they have a room to themselves or whether they share with siblings. When they’re little, their rooms provide a place for them to cut holes in their sheets in secret, as well as a place to be sent for time-outs when parents discover they’ve been secretly cutting holes in their sheets."

Robin DeRieux
Whose Room Is It, Anyway?
UC Davis Magazine on-line Volume 25 · Number 3 · Spring 2008

knitting patterns

"Old knitting patterns are easy to see as ephemeral, disposable items, artefacts of everyday life that we can see in our memory on our mothers’ laps, but that we don’t readily picture in an archive. They are produced for a very specific purpose, and are not designed to become historians’ or biographical researchers’ sources. However, cultural historians and historians of everyday life can learn from them, and can use them as windows on to their time of production. Using sport-related knitting patterns from Winchester School of Art’s Knitting Reference Library as a case study, this paper will look at what historians and biographical researchers can get from this type of evidence: both empirical evidence about disposable income, materials, technology, and household economics, and more subjective, cultural evidence about class, identity, and gender."

Sweaters and Swimsuits:knitting patterns as historical sources
Dr Martin Polley, University of Southampton
Friday 11th December 2009: Building 32, room 2097, 2.o0 p.m.

see also:

Sunday, November 08, 2009


"The First World War was a war dominated by high explosives and heavy artillery. Battlefield casualties included an unprecedented number with horrific facial injuries - injuries so severe the men were commonly unrecognizable to loved ones and friends. Often unable to see, hear, speak eat or drink, they struggled to re-assimilate back into civilian life. This secondary tragedy - the living unable to 'live' - catalyzed Surgeon Sir Harold Gillies to transform the fledgling discipline of plastic surgery based on his unrivalled observation of the profoundly wounded and his ability to push the parameters of the profession beyond all known techniques.

Since 2004, Artist and Project Façade Leader Paddy Hartley has researched, responded to and interpreted the personal and surgical stories of some of the servicemen who underwent this pioneering surgical reconstruction under Sir Harold Gillies."

Visit the project gallery at


"In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century, fabrics appropriate for mourning garments, were black or similarly dark in color as well as non-reflective. People in mourning were expected to wear dull and non-figured fabrics, avoiding shiny silks and reflective jewelry [...]

Before the nineteenth century most elements of mourning garb were made at home, but black pins for mourning had to be directly purchased from local merchants. [...] A widow who retired into mourning would be expected to send someone else, a servant or slave, perhaps, to make the necessary purchase rather than be seen in public herself."

Mary C. Beaudry, Findings: the material culture of needlework and sewing, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, p.26

Monday, November 02, 2009


Red and White

"According to legend, the Austrian flag was invented during the Third Crusade by the Babenberg duke Leopold V. After a particularly gory battle outside the city of Acre, the duke found his tunic completely drenched in blood. When he removed his belt, the cloth underneath was still white. So taken was he by this colour combination that he adopted it as his banner."

Hari Kunzru, Nowhere to hide, Saturday Guardian 31.10.09, Review, p.16

"I'm not going under"

"My husband left me at the beginning of this year and a had a bit of time in sackcloth and ashes and weeping, you know, in his old T-shirts and my old pyjamas, and then, without even thinking about it, I put on this red cashmere cardigan, and it was really piratical red, and at that moment I thought, to use a cliché - but there is a truth in every cliché - I will survive, and the red was like a sort of red flag: I'm not going under."

Justine Picardie, in The Emotional Attachment: How do we feel about the clothes we wear? Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4, 29.10.2009