Apologies about the gap in blogging. The end of term is always surprisingly busy with everyone trying to get things finished so that students can get ready for their examinations. At the end of what we must now call teaching block 2, I decided that I had to spend some time with my textiles or I would go bang. I started with the doll you can see in the photograph which came from a panel I bought at Flo-Jo‘s on Gloucester Road in Bristol. I was moved to do this because of a seminar that I had been to in Cardiff on Narrative and Storytelling
First something about the doll. It comes in a panel with a pet dog. It is a very easy pattern to make up and you just cut round it and don’t have to bother about seam allowances and those sorts of technical things. The patterns match at the seams without much faffing which made it a delight to sew. But, you would have to have some idea about how to make soft toys. The dog has a gusset construction which might confuse you if you hadn’t done one before and the method given for assembling the doll is much easier if you stuff the head before you put the legs on rather than after. That said, there is a good clear instructional video on the web, but I don’t think there is a reference to it on the panel. The video is at:
I bought the panel because I love making dolls so much and this seemed like a nice do-able project, but I had put it away in the ‘I’ll get round to that at some point’ pile and left it.
Then I went to the storytelling event at the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling at the Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries. There was a bit of a lull in the proceedings at one point and someone shouted out, ‘Let’s have a story’. Patrick Ryan, one of the convenors, decided to tell us a version of a well-known story from the Brothers Grimm. It was an early version of the story which was contained in their manuscripts but did not make it into print. It is about to be published in Jack Zipes’ new book and Zipes had told it at storytelling session last year. This is how it goes:
In the very coldest depths of winter, a count and countess were out driving in their carriage. The count pulled aside the curtain at the window and looked out at the snowy white landscape outside.
‘My dear,’ he said to the countess, ‘do you know what I would like? I would like a little girl with skin as white as snow.’ The countess said nothing.
They drove on a little further and he looked out again. He saw the huntsmen in the snow skinning their kill, and he saw the bright red blood staining the white snow. ‘My dear,’ he said to the countess, ‘do you know what I would like? I would like a little girl with lips as red as blood.’ The countess said nothing.
They drove a little further still, and the count looked out once more on the landscape and he saw a flight of ravens suddenly rise into the sky on their jet black wings. ‘My dear,’ he said, ‘do you know what I would like? I would like a little girl with hair as black as a raven’s wing.’ The countess said nothing.
He continued to look out of the window. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘my dear, that is exactly what I would like, a little girl with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as a raven’s wing.’ The countess still said nothing. He was thinking about the little girl as they continued to drive through the countryside. Suddenly he noticed a small figure standing at the side of the road. It was a little girl with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as a raven’s wing. The king banged on the roof of the carriage. ‘Coachman,’ he said, ‘stop, stop now.’ And as the coach stopped the count opened the carriage door and said to the little girl, ‘My dear, you must be frozen standing there, come into the warm, come and sit by me.’ The little girl looked at him and smiled and allowed herself to be lifted into the carriage and to sit by the count and to snuggle up to him and get warm.
They drove on, and the count petted the little girl and tucked her up in his furs and called her his darling child, and she sank into the velvet seats and the soft furs and smiled contentedly.
The count continued to make a great fuss of the child and to talk about all the good things she should have at his palace. Eventually the countess took off one of her gloves. She banged on the roof of the coach and bade the driver to stop, then she opened the window and threw the glove out to where it landed in the soft snow.
She looked at the girl and said, ‘My dear, if we are to be friends you must obey me at all times and do as I command. Go outside and fetch my glove.’ The child was reluctant to leave the warmth and safety of the carriage and refused to get the glove. ‘My dear,’ repeated the countess, ‘if we are to be friends and live happily together you must do as I ask. Go and fetch my glove.’ The child was reluctant and she wheedled and cried, but eventually she gave in and got down out of the carriage. At this point, the countess slammed the door shut and banged on the roof of the carriage and said, ‘Driver, drive on now, drive as fast as you can and do not stop on any account, no matter what you hear.’
This is clearly a very early version of the Snow White story. I understood it as the Evil Queen of the story getting rid of her rival to be the Fairest of Them All before she even got as far as the castle. But Patrick Ryan rightly suggested that it is a very powerful version of the story because it is so ambiguous. He saw the countess saving the innocent child from the evil count, and another participant unhesitating saw the child as demonic, summoned by the triple incantation of the white, red and black.
I suddenly thought back to the doll, which is interesting because it has two sides, the one at the top of this post which is quite sweet but has a rather haunted look in her eyes:
And the other side where she has, with Bones, the undead dog, become a zombie:
The doll is called Zoe the Zombie Doll, designed by Emily Taylor and available from Riley Blake designs. I rather hope that the designer chose ‘Zoe’ because it means ‘life’ and not just because it alliterated with Zombie!
I am writing at some length about this because it links with something I have noticed when doing arts -based sessions with my students: objects are very good for showing two sides of a phenomenon. Some examples are the two sides of an organisation: the shiny bright one facing the public and the reality behind the scenes, or the gaps between the espoused values of an organisation and the ones it really uses and so on. Objects are able to capture this ambivalence and duality in a clear and direct way. This doll contains the good child and the bad child, which as most of us know, real children also embody.
Flo-Jo’s boutique, by the way, is a great shop because the owner seems to stock only things that delight her, so there are no safe floral prints in tasteful colours. Instead she stocks lots of interesting prints that are very strong graphically and particularly colourful. It’s no good if you want to make an antique washed out looking piece but a treasure trove if you are looking for something unusual. Highly recommended.