A post as much for me as you



Today is a momentous day.  I have finally started work towards my book.  I have sat down and written out plans before for a book which all came to nothing, because I think books have to be ‘ready’ to come, but I actually believe that I am going to write this one.  I suppose that this is a bit of a public declaration that I am going to write it, a bit like getting married in the face of the congregation, and if I tell enough people I am going to do it I will have to see it through – that is my theory at least.

People do like to be dramatic about writing books.  All these quotations are taken from the internet so I don’t have references, but some are worth sharing, particularly the dramatic ones.  So Annie Dillard tells us:

The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of a stunt pilot’s turning barrel rolls, or an inchworm’s blind rearing from a stem in search of a route. At its worst, it feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence.

And Mary Higgins Clark writes in the same vein:

The first four months of writing the book, my mental image is scratching with my hands through granite. My other image is pushing a train up the mountain, and it’s icy, and I’m in bare feet.

I always want to reply to the hell of writing brigade that it could be a lot worse: they could be sunning themselves in Helmand.   Onwards.

E.A. Bucchianeri pursues a slightly different route and one which textile artists may well recognise:

The Book is more important than your plans for it. You have to go with what works for The Book ~ if your ideas appear hollow or forced when they are put on paper, chop them, erase them, pulverise them and start again. Don’t whine when things are not going your way, because they are going the right way for The Book, which is more important. The show must go on, and so must The Book.

 I always think that my best work happens when I let the piece take over and stop trying to impose my will on it.  I suspect however I plan the book it will turn out to have a shape all of its own.

I need to write a book for professional reasons.  If I am going to get promoted, I need to have written the book on something.  This, of course, is a terrible reason to write a book.  Making work for money is always soul-destroying and I think that work that I make, just to make, is always dead and flat and hollow.  So, I have always put off starting a book.  Plus, I don’t really know what I want to write about.  As Jo Lindsell says, “Every writer or wanna-be writer has ideas for books. The problem isn’t finding an idea, it’s choosing one”.  I have been in this position for a long time.  It was only after a discussion with Marybeth Stalp and Theresa Winge at a conference last month that I realised that I should probably just write a book about being an academic quilter: what it means, what it teaches me, what it is worthwhile.  I want to write the book, really to try to sort out what I think about art as a research method.  Flaubert wrote, ‘The art of writing is discovering what you believe.’  The trouble is I am still not sure where to start.  Nadine Gordimer wrote, ‘Writing is making sense of life.  You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.’  My problem is, of course, that I am not sure I can ever make sense of this small area as there is so much to read and so many perspectives to take into account, and I dread the reviewers’ comments that you get as part of the publication process.  I shall have to take comfort from the great writing teaching, Natalie Goldberg, ‘Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as meditation, it’s the same thing.  What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.’  I have had a battering over the summer with people either telling me or demonstrating to me that my mind is not of first-rate quality.  Maybe the slower pace of writing a book, rather than turning out learned articles at speed, will do me good, and help me to develop things more fully before dashing into print.

Before I move on to what my book is going to be about, I can’t help including Kanye West’s modest comment: ‘I feel like I’m too busy writing history to read it.’  Inspiration for us all.

So.  My book is going to be about my work using art as a research method.  I am going to use mainly my Body Shop and Laura Ashley projects as case study examples.  It might look a bit like this:

Part One – Rationale, theory, applications etc

  1. Introduction – What art as research is.   The relevance of art research to Business and Management Studies – or social sciences in general.
  2. A review of qualitative methods – what do people who don’t do big survey data and randomised control trials do and why alternative approaches are valid.  How do we judge this kind of work?
  3. The theoretical background.  This is a method which is entirely consonant with the Material turn in social sciences (that is, the reaction against the idea that the world is entirely shaped by language, to considering the importance of things in the world).
  4. The sociology of cloth – why is cloth so important and so significant?
  5. My method – based on the work of Barrett and Bolt.  Also the importance of sketchbooks and drawing in research – drawing heavily on the work of Michael Taussig.
  6. The so-what question.  People who do this kind of research always make big claims that it produces different knowledge or a different way of knowing.  They seldom produce hard evidence.  I would like to trace exactly what contribution this sort of work does produce.
  7. A note on teaching, including using this sort of work in the classroom.

Part Two – examples

  1. Quilts and quilt making – Nike and Gender, M&S and Leadership, The Body Shop pieces, and Laura Ashley quilt.
  2. Dolls – Nike Doll, Laura Ashley Ghost Dolls, Red Thread dolls.
  3. Artists’ books – 13 Notebooks for Walter Benjamin
  4. Artefacts – Iconic Body Shop product shrines, War Collars for women in organisations
  5. Narratives and storytelling – tracing dominant narratives through textiles, or using narrative from interviews as jumping off points.
  6. Writing as performance – the performativity of words, feminine writing, writing from the heart.
  7. Failures?  What can we learn from the work going wrong?



This is a photo of my mind map for the book on my fairly clear desk.  Plenty of paper on the left to continue my thoughts!






12 thoughts on “A post as much for me as you

  1. Goodness thats some book, or so it seems to us non academics, or to me at least. My brother has recently written an historical novel, which with no bias whatsoever I think is good, his main problem has been getting an agent to take it on.

  2. Congratulations! You’ve begun the journey. (I heard Annie Dillard speak at a literary festival here in town some years ago. I can’t recall her exact words but she appeared at the festival along with her creative writing teacher/mentor and a group of other writers who had been her classmates at Hollins University, and it was fascinating to hear them describe their experiences.

  3. Dear Ann Rippin

    For some time now I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you, and your ‘Book’ blog finally prodded me into action. I have no idea whether this is the correct communication channel to use, being unfamiliar with your blog software, so I hope this reaches you!

    For as long as I can remember, I have had an interest in textiles, both the technical and creative aspects. Brought up surrounded by textile creativity, this aspect has been a continued interest for a very long time. I was heavily influenced in this area by my mother Alice Timmins, a name you might just have come across as the author of a number of books on fabric crafts in the 1960s. My own involvement, apart from the creative side, has been in the technical side of textiles. I have a degree in textile chemistry and industrial experience in artificial fibre manufacture with ICI. After a period in management in the aerospace and electronics industries, I moved into an academic role in the UWE Business School. I firstly managed the HR programme, and then became head of a UWE-wide internal consultancy that had a remit to improve the quality of training and learning materials used in the university. Subsequently a c0-director and I ran a micro company producing management training and learning materials including some very interesting work on sustainability. Again it is just possible you may have come across some of the management materials produced in our particular form of information graphics (‘Concept Maps’ – not Buzan-style mind maps).

    More recently I have been involved in the New Dynamics of Ageing (NDA) programme run by Professor Alan Walker at Sheffield. Here I was Advisory Group Leader for one of the larger projects in the scheme, involving both clothing design for older walkers and electronic systems embedded in such garments. I have written three chapters in academic books produced as part of the NDA programme, so I can perhaps begin to understand the magnitude of the task of writing a whole book!

    As well as all this (and I do hope I don’t ramble on too much), as from September this year I will take up the position of artist in residence at the CREATE Environment centre, where I will be actually producing patchwork items from waste fabric as well as promoting better understanding of textile sustainability.

    Finally, am I an academic quilter? Probably not, but if pushed into a corner, I might admit to being an academic who quilts. Perhaps it’s better to avoid labels anyway…

    I hope you won’t mind that I’m enclosing a couple of pdfs – I think they may be easier to understand than lots of words. The work shown on the FABRICation leaflet was made by me.

    With every good wish


    Mike Timmins 1 Albemarle Row Hotwells Bristol BS8 4LY *’If you think training is expensive, try ignorance’ (Peter Drucker)*

    1. Dear Mike,

      Thanks very much for this. I think we have met in the distant past when UWE was still Bristol Poly. I met you with Philippa – whose surname I forget and saw some of your concept maps which I really liked but never got to pursue.

      I do know about Alice Timmins, of course. Everyone makes a big fuss about Amy Emms – who was wonderful, but I think that the contribution of your mother is woefully neglected, she really was the fons and origens of so much of the sevenities British quilting revival. My mother and I have her books.

      I am so glad that you would be at CREATE. It is a great place, and your work sounds really interesting. I wonder if it would be good to meet as academic quilters. I think it would be very interesting even if it doesn’t lead to full-blown research projects which is what the university is mainly interested in.

      If you would like to have a cup of coffee – either at CREATE or the UofB or somewhere else, please get in touch – I am easy to find Ann.Rippin@bristol.ac.uk.

      Thanks so much for getting in touch, I look forward to hearing from you again.


  4. Hi Ann,
    Perhaps you already know that Amy Butler will be conducting a workshop at the NEC in August if you wish to interview her; but perhaps you fancy a trip to the US?!

  5. Hello Ann, your descriptions of the visceral struggle to write, and especially to rewrite, make me smile. Having just written a book, I now am convinced that there are other, more interesting, books within the book, that have not yet revealed themselves, and that are clamouring to come out! I do not yet know who or what they are, but am convinced they may be searching for a different medium, not the rational intellectually coherent spoken voice. …. I look forward to following your journey in pictures, artefacts and words… Perhaps in the end it’s the act of writing and thinking that’s more important than the finished product, book?


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