The Banana Man Quilt


This is my latest piece of work which I made as part of the re-writing of an academic paper.  I was writing about the interesting question of where organisations are, using the Body Shop as my case example.  I argue that organisations have no material reality – they exist through their products and services, buildings, staff, brand, and so on, but they are intangible.  They have no materiality, as we call it in the trade.  And so I go on to argue that they exist through our experiences of them as clients and customers or staff or other stakeholders.  One of the anonymous reviewers of the paper, one of the kinder ones, was interested to know about my experiences of the Body Shop, and so as I rewrote the paper I was thinking about my experience of doing participant observer research at the company and meeting Anita.  This quilt panel, which could form part of the enormous Body Shop quilt that I made last year, tries to say something about the experience of the company and its CEO for me.

I am back to my obsession with Walter Benjamin and his ideas about montage and juxtaposition, that the researcher collects things together but imposes no interpretation on them.  The viewer is trusted to be able to draw their own conclusions from the material in front of them.  John Berger illustrates this brilliantly in his book Ways of Seeing in which he presents a documentary-type photo of a poor Victorian child and then a sentimentlised oil painting of a street urchin and asks us to consider the issue of child poverty – and how we are trained to react.  I find all this fascinating.  So in this panel, again, I try to suggest a response to Anita Roddick by presenting an image of Elizabeth I as Gloriana.  I ‘saw again’ because I did this on the main quilt with this panel:

This is one of my favourite panels from the big quilt, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when Gloriana turned up on the new one.  Going back to the academic quilting, I use juxtaposed images of Anita Roddick and Elizabeth (Anita and Eliza) to suggest parallels between the two women that I don’t want to state explicitly.  So, I can say that Elizabeth I was capricious, stubborn, terrifying and so on without either doing damage to Anita’s reputation which I am keen to protect as she did so many great things, or getting sued.  Anyway, I found the photo-transferred panel of Elizabeth I (or someone who looks very like her) when I was rooting through some really ancient stuff looking for some Baltimore applique panels I did years ago.  I don’t remember making this piece at all, but I’m glad I found it because it is great with my theme of juxtaposition, and also gave me a great start on a colour scheme.

This was quite a difficult quilt to make.  I am still not sure that I got the design right, but I like the elements in it.  The left half of the quilt is about Elizabeth I and her gloriousness, and the right explicitly links her with Anita through the repeated use of an embroidery stitch called granite stitch:

This is used for the dress of both women.  I like this element in the quilt because I had it propped up as I was making it, and suddenly realised that I could continue the line of the dress out of the painting.  This continuing beyond the frame of the photo in sketchbooks is a very common exercise – which I have done, but could never really see the point of, but here it worked really well.  I finished off the bell shape of the skirt and then added a little embroidered slipper.  I also quilted into the picture as I find it is the only way to stop it ballooning up if I am going to do a lot of stitching round it.  If you look at the top of the picture of Gloriana, you will see that I fell spectacularly off the no buying anything wagon when I went to a wonderful bead shop in Cambridge, just down from Kettle’s Yard with my lovely friend Beatriz:

I couldn’t resist those plastic rose and chrysanthemum beads, and I bought the little pearl seed beads because you really can’t do something about Elizabeth I and not have pearls.  Having broken the duck I also bought the big blue ‘finding’ in the centre which was exactly right, and the bejewelled crown over Anita’s frock from Hobbycraft.  Oh dear.  A very severe lapse!  In my defence, the oval pearl beads had been in my stash for years.

Underneath the picture is a series of three little appliques based on the Body Shop products:

The quilt gets its name from these.  When I did my fieldwork at the Body Shop I saw the man whose job it was to feed bananas into a machine for a fortnight every year to provide the factory with one of the ingredients for its conditioner.  I have never forgotten it!  Anyway, this was my first go at writing with the machine which I think went quite well.  The wobbly repeated line round it felt a bit too modern and whimsical for my sort of quilting, although it is a very particular style and there is a lot of it about and I really like it, just not on my stuff!  I also used Steam-A-Seam rather than bondaweb which is my usual choice, but I really liked the new product and will use it again.

For some reason I wanted this quilt to be really well made, and so instead of my usual raw edge applique I did a lot of seaming together.  I chose to use some curtain fabric samples which were the right colour and texture to suggest an art gallery wall – and I am really interested in portraiture and museology so that was good.  But the end result – using a fusible polyester wadding for the first time, was trickier than I was expecting.  The machine quilting was fine, but the hand-stitching was a real nightmare.  Because I wanted to use every scrap of the upholstery fabric I included the bits that had been glued to the card in the sample book and, of course, this made it really hard to get a needle through.  So, I wanted to encrust the middle part with cross stitch and then stitch beads onto it, but frankly I gave up. I managed some, but fortunately the sequins were enormous and did an okay job on their own:

I found some very old faceted beads which bulked it all out and gave the right kind of encrusted feel to the piece.  This quilt is a lot about the glamour Anita Roddick exuded.  My experience of her, to go back to the start of the post, is of her glamour.  I won’t go into it here, as I have been writing about it, and academic theories of what glamour is and how it works, and I might come back to it in another post, suffice to say, when I met her she wasn’t in the dungarees and T-shirts I expected naively from her counter-cultural beginnings, but exquisite and very expensive clothes.  This quilt is a reference to the gorgeous little Dolce Vita black shift dress she wore when she addressed an academic conference in Boston as part of my research team’s presentation.  The first time I met her she was wearing what I think was an Issey Miyake linen dress with precision folds and a very expensive sheen!  There is no reason why she should have been wearing sack cloth and ashes, but it surprised me every time I saw her in expensive clothes.

Anyway, this has been what I have been working on for the last couple of months.  I really like it, but now need to think what to do with it.  I put a hanging sleeve on the back, but really it belongs to the monster piece I made last year.  More on adventures in hanging work very soon…

3 thoughts on “The Banana Man Quilt

  1. I think many female Ceos could be compared to gloriana, as its a strong cultural image that really resonates strength, despite her many weaknesses, its both flattering and human, and speaks of the determination women need to suceed.

  2. I suspect that’s a very good point. I like the fact that they were both at the head of a global enterprise as well. Plus, I love the iconography of Elizabeth I and love working with her image! Thanks for leaving a comment.

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