Every year on New Year’s Day I make a doll. I either make something which reflects how I am feeling about the past year or something that I want to work on in the coming one. Here are the links to the last two New Year Doll postings:
Very often I just sit down and see what sort of doll emerges. My rule is that it has to be made in a single day and be recognisable as a doll. This year I had an idea what I wanted to make, which was a Gibson-Graham doll.
This is where we get into academic quilting territory. J. K. Gibson-Graham is actually Gibson and Graham, two feminist economic geographers, who are/were interested in alternative economies. Sadly Julie Graham died in 2010. Katherine Gibson continues to work in this area. Essentially they tried to imagine what sort of economy we could have if we decided to end the inequalities of the capitalist economy. One of the things that I like about their work is that they recognised that even trying to think beyond capitalism is fiendishly difficult. They begin with a quotation from Frederic Jameson to this effect:
‘It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations. (1994: xii, quoted here: ix)
They published a scholarly work, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy, and then a much more accessible field guide about how to change the economy and bring about change in communities in Take Back the Economy in 2013.
I have to admit that the earlier and more scholarly book has me sound asleep after roughly three pages and so took a long time to read, but the popular version is much easier to read and is full of examples and pictures! They are well-known for their insistence that there are already alternatives to the capitalist economy up and running, but we do not value them because they are not paid work – this is the old and familiar feminist argument that housework should be waged because otherwise it does not ‘count’. They argue that the economies are like an iceberg: the waged work we do in capitalist institutions is the only bit that economists see, but underneath the waterline is a mass of unseen economic activity. This is my version of their well-known diagram:
Now, the reason that I am interested in their work is that it describes very closely the phenomenon that I am fascinated by in my work on Laura Ashley. The women whom I study and who have very freely contributed to my project are not considered interesting by conventional social science because they are not in that bit of the economy that Gibson-Graham show sticking up above the waterline, but I argue that they are strong economic actors in the economies below. They are carers, which makes a massive contribution to the waged economy because it allows their children to work while the grandchildren are looked after, and they care for elderly parents. They do all sorts of community service, they give their dependents gifts of money, time, things, support. They donate. They serve. They are the invisible glue which holds things together to allow the mainstream economy to function. But like the invisible glue, no-one sees them.
This is an area that I want to work on this year so I made it the subject of my doll.
I had the triangular doll pattern that I bought in Stoff og Stil in Copenhagen. I had naively thought that as I am fairly accomplished at following patterns I would be able to follow it. Sadly it seems that Norwegian patterns – which is the country of origin of Stoff og Stil – have instructions rather than diagrams and I had to trace off the pattern. So, I made it up in my own way, but it was pretty straightforward. It could be a cushion really, but I put the face on so that it would be a doll:
I decided that I wanted the top to be shiny and gold like money, and that the bottom would be made up of all sorts of things chopped together and then burnt back under organdie. I used only either gifts or things that were salvaged and saved from landfill which I thought fitted well with the Gibson-Graham ethic. So here are some photos of the fabric. I took them in my dining room which has great strong light in the morning on a sunny day and makes nice crisp shadows:
This one has a lovely piece of embroidered William Morris fabric which I was give as a sample when I went to the launch of a curtain shop.
When this piece was in the whole it looked like the masonry in a stained glass window. You can also see some of the paint I patted onto it to accentuate the burned back synthetic (a bunch of curtain samples my mother gave me).
Purely by accident when I was taking the photos, the sunlight hit something and caused this fantastic prism effect. I think it was the bevelled edge of a mirror:
Here are some more:
This last one is some of the offcuts from the fabric I cut the doll shapes out of, as is this:
This last one is the sample piece I made to try out the various techniques – mainly to check that the machine needle would stitch through all the layers.
I put some marbles that were a Christmas cracker prize in the bottom to get the doll to sit upright. I didn’t quite do it in one day. We were invited to a New Year’s day lunch with very good friends to share leftovers. It struck me that Gibson-Graham would be much more in favour of that activity than sitting alone making pedagogic dolls.
Happy New Year.
Gibson-Graham, J K (2006) The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gibson-Graham, J K, Cameron, J., Healy, S. (2013) Take Back The Economy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Jameson, F. (1994) The Seeds of Time. New York: Columbia University Press.