Those of you who have been reading the blog for some time may remember that I produced a series of small pieces based on Laura Ashley fabric in a sort of memory box arrangement with other artifacts. When we were putting up the exhibition at the Guild in Bristol there was a big gap just about the right size for the last of these Threads of Identity pieces. This acted as the spur to me to finish the piece which was in bits at the time.
As a recap, I started making these pieces as part of my Laura Ashley project after seeing the Threads of Feeling exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London. That show had the pieces of cloth that women attached to the registration forms when they gave up their babies so that they could later identify them if they had the opportunity to reclaim them. I was fascinated by the idea that cloth can be a marker of identity and so I made some pieces based on imaginary lives of women who clung onto pieces of Laura Ashley cloth. The first four were entirely imaginary: a missionary, an archeologist, a fashion designer and a pastry cook, but the final one is my own piece and I included all sorts of very personal things in the piece and lots of things about what I love about patchwork and quilting.
I don’t want to go into the very personal pieces in a very public forum, but I will examine some of the meanings in this narrative piece.
The elements of my life include things like the brooch that was passed on to me from the Medieval Historian’s aunt:
It is put onto a piece of dark red silk to build up a little unit in the way that Beryl Taylor suggests.
There is a little Mexican tin shrine at the top of this picture which contains an image of Ethel Merman:
A mutual love of the work of Ethel Merman is the basis for a friendship with a very fine academic colleague which has lasted several years. We are bound together by esteem of the divine Ethel as much as through common research interests,
The piece as a whole alludes to my love of quilting and the stories which have always had resonance for me. So the central motif of the acorn applique comes from Ruth E Finlay’s Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them which was first published in 1929. She tells the story of the block she found of an unfinished applique in turkey red. The story is of a young Victorian gentlewoman on the coast of America who hated needlework and longed for adventure. She met and fell in love with a sea captain, but the romance was thwarted by her father who did not think that the man was good enough for her. One night the captain came for her and she left the patchwork block behind. Of course, it ends tragically as the ship sank as they were sailing away on honeymoon, and all that remains is the needle, still threaded, rusting in the block:
So, I have left my needle to rust into the block over the fullness of time. The netting over the top is a reference to quilt conservation which is another love. I love the romance of the story but also the way that it points to the materiality of the craft. This thing is all that is left of that life, and it was clearly carefully conserved and preserved by her grieving family.
The other story which I find intensely moving is about the Changi Quilts which I have also blogged about previously. These were made in Changi jail after the fall of Singapore. The Red Cross got sewing materials through to the women in their jail and they made squares of embroidery to be made into a quilt to be delivered to the men’s jail to signal that the women were still alive. The women embroidered things that were significant to them: a daffodil for Wales, a bird, a flag and so on. I always imagine what this would have been like for me and the Medieval Historian and how he would have waited to find out if I were still alive and what I would choose to put onto the quilt. The women were given squares of hankerchief linen so I bought an old hanky and used it as a background:
I think that the Medieval Historian would look for a Westhighland White Terrier as we have two of them, and I used this embroidered patch from an old birthday card:
I hope that he would see the dog and know that I was still alive.
This piece was a lot of fun to make, and I was surprised how the clarion call of the deadline pushed me into action. I wonder if it would ever have been finished without the rush. I like the end result very much. It says a lot about my life with my husband, but also my life in quilting which has also been the source of much pleasure and companionship over the years.