A couple of days ago, my historian husband was poking around a rather wheezy old laptop looking for a missing picture. He didn’t manage to find it, but he came across a batch of lovely photos taken for me by Dave Lush, husband of Sandie Lush, the world-class, award-winning, sans-pareil Bristol quilter, who is also married to a very nice man (see www.sandielush.co.uk). In this cache of photos, was a set of pictures of a project I did ages ago and never did anything with, the ‘TV Good Women’ quilts.
This was a series of quilts that I made to investigate something which I find intriguing. Where do children get their ideas about work from? Well, clearly from their parents’ experience but also from popular culture such as television programmes. So there is a whole generation of children who think that work is like the paper company in The Office, and, of course, to some extent it is or the show wouldn’t be funny. I have long been interested in gender at work and so I wanted to think about what the men (and they are mainly men) who are now running major corporations would have learned about women and work from the sitcoms they were watching in their formative years, the 1970s. So I looked at Dad’s Army and Mrs Pike, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Elizabeth Perrin, Are You Being Served and Mrs Slocombe, On The Buses and Olive and Fawlty Towers and Polly. I made them all oversized place settings, inspired in part by Judy Chicago’s iconic Dinner Party in which she reclaimed all sort of lost women of achievement in what was a very important installation in the 1970s second wave Feminism (see www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/home.php). This has long been an inspirational piece for me, and this is my own very small tribute.
The example of this work given here is the place setting I made for Polly. Sybil is probably the female character that most people remember, but I was interested in Polly because she was the glue that kept the whole thing together and sided with the boys against the ferocious Sybil. It seemed to me that she fulfilled the same function as the goddess Athene, who protects the men on the battlefield. So I made her some armour which you can see in this quilt and juxtaposed it with the cut-out Margaret Beale style flower doilies (see www.stitchcotswold.realpages.co.uk/margaretbeale11nov06.htm). The effect of the layers of organza stitched together and then burned away is lovely but gave me a very nasty headache from inhaling the fumes as I melted the fabric. I have been a bit reluctant to do it again even though I really love the effect. The red heart in the centre is an embroidered net fruit bag, which I seem to remember held oranges at one point. This is to draw attention to the emotional and relational work that Polly does which keeps the whole thing going, but which is only successful if no-one sees it. A lot of women’s work falls into this category.
I take these pieces with me when I do talks and they always get laughs of recognition. I like them because they seem to me to combine form with content. Women’s work is often homemaking and these quilts are place mats which could at a pinch be used in serving and presenting food, which is a large part of homemaking. I like to combine the method and the message!