The Secret Life of Textiles
A few weeks ago the exhibition All In The Same Storm: Pandemic Patchwork Stories opened at De La Warr Pavilion after months of hard work. I was one of two artist facilitators on the project; I learned much from my colleague Jimena Pardo who brought her in depth knowledge of the Chilean Arpillera movement that inspired and informed how we shaped the project.
I’ve written about the sessions that we led on Zoom in a previous post. What struck me most about the experience was how much everyday life became the stuff of art, culture and historical significance. We marked the time spent in a pandemic by commenting on, stitching about and mulling over what sometimes seemed otherwise mundane – that we needed coffee to get through the day, that we were bored, isolated and struggling with face masks.
Using up fabric scraps to create patches for the final piece reignited a long kindling obsession for thrifted clothing and other pre loved domestic textiles. As soon as restrictions allowed, I’ve been feverishly rummaging through second hand and vintage clothing shops. It’s not just that I love a good bargain – although I do! It’s the sense of story that moves me when I handle cloth that I know has lain in someone else’s hand, caressed someone’s skin. The connection of me to the past through this garment makes me tingle with interest and excitement; the knowledge that I do not stand alone and isolated in time, but tangled up with so many other souls in the rich tapestry that is our existence.
Sometimes I’ve stumbled upon things that have been extra moving – a row of military uniforms from the era of World War 2. One of the jackets had the owner’s name written on the label. Clayton’s jacket had been made by J Compton Sons & Webb who manufactured uniforms between 1930 and 1978. I wondered what had happened to Clayton and why his jacket was in such pristine condition, hanging in a shop in St Leonards on Sea.
I have found myself collecting vintage nightdresses, wondering whether their owners have passed on or just given up the nightie for a more modern pair of pyjamas. A nightdress that I wore whilst pregnant has joined the collection and I gaze at them hanging in my studio – wondering whether there is a project stored up in their threads. One of Paddy’s vests, aged 4-5, has joined it; after dyeing it with red cabbage I’ve started stitching on top of it.
Does every textile have a secret life? Consisting of the imaginations, yearnings, hopes and memories of those who’ve handled it?
All In The Same Storm runs until 5th September 2021.
There is a panel discussion:
About Northern Ireland; conflict, walls & resolution