Friday, 30 November 2012

Five Days in Florence

At the beginning of November, I was funded by Chelsea to attend the bi-annual costume colloquium in Florence.  The conference was entitled 'Past Dress - Future Fashion'.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of talk on past dress but not much on future fashion (within the context that I would have liked).  However, that didn't really matter as what I heard was illuminating with the highlight of the whole event being Thessy Schoenholzer Nichols speaking of her project and the funeral robes of the 'mummies' of Monsampolo del Tronto.

The conference was extremely well organised with a trip at the end of each day.  On the first day was a vintage clothing shopping crawl.  Amazing - I bought myself a Jacques Fathes grey silk shirt in immaculate condition.  It's gorgeous.   On the second day we were taken to the Gucci Museum and treated to alsorts of delicious Gucci canopes, chocolates and drinks in the Museum cafe.  The conference organisers had made sure that all the places that we visited were closed to the general public meaning we had exclusive viewing.

The Gucci Museum was amazing; a bit like visiting a rather fancy shop.  A Gucci shop even.  I liked it.  Others didn't.  The conservators in the group complained that the shelves were dusty!  I didn't spot that.  I rather enjoyed the luxury of it all and really appreciated the photos from the  '50s, '60s and '70s of people like Sophia Lauren, Tony Curtis, Ursula Andress all looking fabulous in Gucci.   Sneakily I took a photo which was completely forbidden but I could resist.

"Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten".

Good old Aldo Gucci!  He was right as his brand lives on long and hard.

As my trip continued and got better,  my ice cream consumption increased profoundly.  The ice cream in Florence is absolutely delicious.  Worth a mention even!

I think one of my highlights will be seeing Mr and Mrs Medici's clothing.  So evocative!  Really, I think my true passion is clothing from the Renaissance as viewed from paintings so to see the real thing is for me one of life's moments and it really didn't matter that they were stained and in a state of degradation.

However,  what has sparked my interest, was a vintage shop named  'Ceri Vintage'.  It was the most unusual store.  This shop was unlike any other vintage store I have visited.  Everything they sold was very well worn, patched, darned and many of the items were full of holes.  The whole aesthetic of the look that they were promoting was that of 'wear and tear'.

The clothing was displayed in a tasteful, almost minimalistic way. The shop was big and open (think All Saints - wooden floors, metal rails but much better).  Some of the clothing was so damaged that in another setting I am sure they would have been binned.  It was very clever.  What fascinated me was that this store saw the tears, the patches and the darning as a form of decoration which of course, in its own way it is.

What was slightly unnerving was that these clothes hadn't been customised.  This is how they were.  This is how they were worn when they were in use.  "People were very, very poor" commented the woman who was in charge of the shop.  I got the impression that even she (sorry, I didn't get her name),  who was very involved in the display and running of the shop also found it slightly spooky.   A conscious, design, aesthetic decision was made to sell clothes  which probably due to poverty and circumstance the original wearers might have felt ashamed to have been wearing.  They may have been there only clothes.

She relayed me a story.  A few weeks ago she had assembled a display of about 20 items of children's clothing.  The shop did sell children's coats, dresses and hats.  The ones that  I viewed, were possibly the most patched and darned of all the items in the shop.  She said she created  the display, by pinning rows of children's and baby wear on the side wall of the shop.   She said that she was not sure of display as there was something rather eerie or creepy about it;  three rows of empty, old kids clothing.

No long after,  a visiting gent from LA walked in shop.  He was so taken with her, let's say 'visual merchandising' that he bought every single item that she had pinned on the wall.  Not only did he buy it he had each piece individually framed to be shipped back to the US.  He was going to decorate his shop with these framed tattered, patched, worn, stained children's garments.   It certainly gets one thinking.  The journey of these items, anthropologically speaking is worthy of study.   Clothing from the desperately poor  being turned into art?

It is an interesting turn of events. Clothing that is stained, worn, torn and patched is now desirable.  Here's an example...... A friend of mine went to APC to buy some jeans.  He liked them so much he wanted to buy another pair but in black.  Sadly, at  £118 per pair he could afford two.  Being canny, his girlfriend asked the sales assistant if APC would buy back her boyfriend's old jeans (they were APC but were very worn, faded and torn).  Yes, they would be delighted to purchase his old jeans!  He sold them back  for £60!  And he got his pair of black jeans.  They loved the way the jeans had been basically worn to death.  His old  jeans will go back into APC system and be revamped-sold as unique bespoke jeans.   The parameters are shifting.

I need to now to work on my PhD.

Next week I will post Florence part II.

Books I am reading.
For my PhD
Small is Beautiful - A Study of Economics as if People Mattered by EF Schumacher
Approaches to Social Enquiry by Norman Blaikie

Doing a PhD is hard and you have to be very disciplined but for pleasure I've just started reading
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  Lots of references to the wool trade and silk which always adds and interesting dimension for me.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Textile Toolbox

Textile Toolbox

You can read it her first!  My first paid bit of writing. Hurrah!  It's a start......

This was commissioned by TED and Mistra (Sweden).  It is a platform for designers and experts to engage with new ideas for the fashion industry.  It is a really good website and well worth a look.  Other than me, Emma Rigby has written a piece  along with Dr Jonathan Chapman and Sandy MacLennan.

Designs That Look at Models From History and Nature

Whilst working in a dress archive with the opportunity to examine countless historic pieces, I realised that the majority of the garments that I was viewing had been altered, mended or totally refashioned.  I soon became transfixed with a question.  Why and for what reason did these people want, need or take the trouble to go to such great lengths to increase the life span of the garment?

As a society, in need of solutions to reduce waste, it occurred to me that there is a possibility that these past examples could inspire answers to this problem.  Could contemporary clothing be designed and constructed (not too dissimilar to their historic forebears) with the notion of durability incorporated into the very seams of their structure. Garments could be designed to be reconstructed into another pre-determined style.  The idea of unpicking and adapting could be integral to the design aesthetic.  Maybe this could be considered a realistic sustainable design model?  I believe so.

There is a lot of information hidden away in these historic garments.  A few months ago, I was introduced to the ‘auto chrome’ collection of Albert Kahn. This vast collection of images provides a fascinating archive of visual information of a time before cultural globalization and the homogenization of much of the world’s dress.  One extraordinary image taken in 1913 caught my eye.  It is of an Afghan man.  Staring directly at the camera, he wears a rather stylish but tatty tartan coat.  On closer inspection, the coat appears to be constructed from individual pieces of tartan.  Where, in 1913 did our Afghan acquire his traditional Scottish Tartan coat?  It has been documented that towards the end of the 19th century two Scottish regiments were stationed in Afghanistan.  It gets cold in the winter in Afghanistan so it would seem sensible to construct a warm wool coat out of redundant tartan military kilts.   What a brilliant use of a superfluous wool cloth!  Similarly, the case of Mrs Guiney, who in 1954 accepted £5 from the Museum of London for a silk gown that had been in her family for several generations.  The letters say the dress belonged to Queen Charlotte however; it no longer resembles the 18th century gown that Queen Charlotte might have worn.  It is constructed in the style of a fashionable 1890s day dress.  The material evidence suggests that the gown had been meticulously reconstructed twice, to more fashionable styles suitable to the dates of women who later went on to wear it.

Two entirely different garments from opposite parts of the globe.   Both created from deconstructed garments to then be reconstructed to form other in a different style.  What can we learn from these two examples?  It is possible to deconstruct one garment and for it to morph into another.  If the textile quality is good and the skills are there, why waste valued fabric? Possibly there was an emotional attachment to these pieces that kept them in service for so many years. We can’t know but this interesting question fascinates me.

There are a number of contemporary designers who embrace the concept of transformation.  Swedish fashion designer, Anja Hynynen designs to make her garments more durable. She describes her ethically produced clothing as having a ‘timeless quality hopefully spanning generations’ and positively encourages her customers to hold on to their clothes. Furthermore, she runs workshops enabling them to learn skills to give them the confidence to work with their clothing; to mend, restyle and upcycle.  In contrast, Bea Szenfield constructed her 2010 collection, ‘Sur La Plage’ by hand from paper.  The paper was cut and folded into tiny shapes that assembled to create a series of stunning garments. She selected a material not generally associated with clothing and used it as the foundation for her collection.  Her clothing is obviously not durable but a creative and imaginative exploration of material reinvention.  Conversely, paper used to be predominately made from old from rags with many people selling their old clothing to merchants only to be shredded and reconstructed as paper.

It could be suggested that these designers are looking at ways of allowing the consumer to interact with their clothing and have the opportunity to engage with the material structure of the garment. Any interactive experience is likely to evoke some sort of emotional response, which could potentially be positive design tool for increasing the life span of our clothing. The research I am conducting examines historic garments like our Afghan’s coat and Mrs Guiney’s dress to assess and evaluate some of the reconstruction techniques and motivations that historically were routinely used to lengthen the use life of garments.  Through my investigative research I hope to create a link with these historical refashioning techniques and introduce some as a model within the contemporary sustainable clothing industry.   

Figure 1.
Gardien Afghan d’un tombeau musulman
Copy of auto chrome taken in December 1913.  The auto chrome resides in Musee Albert Kahn within the collection Archives de la Planete.  The Afghan man guards a Muslim tomb in his coat probably constructed from upcycled Scottish Military Uniform.

Figure 2.
An altered arm hole in the inside of an 18th century bodice located in the archives of the Museum of London.   The bodice was constructed from Spitalfields silk and lined with linen.  Note the contrasting textures of the two hand woven linens.  The stitching, also linen, is not uniform or neat.  Often stitching was done in this way to allow for ease in unpicking for future alteration.

Figure 3.
From the 2010 collection ‘Sur La Plage’ by Bea Szenfeld.  This garment has been hand constructed from individually cut discs of paper.

Figure 4.
A rag market in Liverpool in 1895.  Women took their rags to the market to be sold on to paper merchants.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Transformational Thinking and Practise Field Day

Long time no blog...... however, I'm now back!

Piece of 16th century velvet.  Photo taken at an exhibition in Spitalfields, May 2012

Last week I attended a day long event run by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion .  It was so enjoyable.  The sun shone and I even learnt to knit.  We meditated and relaxed.  The relevant academics were there and Dr Kate Fletcher sent us out into the environs of Lime Grove to forage.  We were to forage for 'stuff' that society discards, that society believes is unwanted and no longer values.  Interesting. I walked past my Dad's old house, where I lived as a little girl.  I found some rubbish in the front garden and it reminded me of when I used to sit on the front steps watching the boy a few houses down play out. I really wanted to join in but was too shy to ask. The sunny weather reminded me of the ice cream van that used to come by that sold real chocolate ice cream.  You could even buy banana ice cream which Mary (my beloved step mother always loved).  Objects and memory are very evocative which takes me on to Jan  Brockmeier's work on memory and the archive.  But before I go there I will post a short film of a teenager's bedroom.  It links in the with waste, rubbish and what society believes as acceptable.

I've been reading the work of Jan Brockmeier.  He writes with such clarity and to start with I can recommend the paper 'After the Archive:  Remapping Memory'.  I found it in the e-library through Sage.  What interests me, in relation to the historic clothing that I am examining, is the link between re-appropriation and practises of remembrance that can be carried  out in 'processes of intergenerational transmission'.  Basically, in some instances (Nancy Pawsey's gown), what is it about the emotional connection and memory that keeps these garments in use?

My practise has taken a new turn in as much I am making shirts again.  This is nothing to do with my PhD work just a way of making some money.  They will be under the label 'Gussie Still Loved' and will be made entirely from waste stream cotton, wool mixes and silk.  I am very lucky to have access to all the waste fabric from a successful bespoke shirt makers in the West End of London.  I have made them for myself in the past and they are all much admired.  So there we have it.  Each shirt will be unique and constructed from the finest fabrics, beautifully sewn and made here in London by people paid a decent living wage.  5% of all profits will be donated to Meningitis Research.  This little project is to help me fund my PhD and hopefully raise some money for charity.

Exhibitions I have visited.
Bauhaus at the Barbican - fantastic, brilliant, a must see and I even bought the catalogue (£32!!!!!)
The Stuff that Matter - fabulous look at the textile collection of Seth Siegelaub.
What I am reading
Cotton - Beverly Lemire
New Realities, New Roles for Designers - Essay Competition Design Academy Eindhoven April 2011

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sunny Weather

What beautiful weather we are having.  How lovely to see all the spring flowers and to feel the sun on my face but what I haven't been doing is any work!

Brief run through for my own sake!  I have started writing up my research on the Nancy Pawsey's dress and have realised that I haven't been as thorough as I should have been in examining and writing up my study information.  I suppose that is how one learns.  I have missed some really obvious things.  Why did I count the stitching on the 18th century bodice but not the 1840s bodice or even 1880s dress?   Arghh!  I despair at my self.

Whilst at the Museum of London, Hilary Davidson, who incidentally, is speaking at York University, CECS study day entitled, Desiring Fashion:  The Consumption and Dissemination of Dress 1750-1850 this 23rd June, gave me a paper written by Jules David Prown to read  It was published quite some time ago,  1982,  but it has been very helpful in re-enforcing my methodological practise.  The title of the paper is 'Mind in Matter:  An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method' and is published in Winterthur Portfolio, Vol.17.

From reading this, I have realised that I am probably too biased in the examination of my garments.  I take the garment out of the box with the anticipation and knowledge that it has been re-fashioned or altered.   Therefore with a sense of urgency, I am expecting and wanting to see what I hope to be there.   In my case,  a major altering or customisation of the original garment.

 The bibliography was most informative and I have highlighted various books to read.  First on my list is a classic, Flugel, The Psychology of Clothes (1930).

I participated in a work shop on memory with Dr Jen Brockmeir which was fascinating and I need to read more on this subject.  I might even join the 'Memory' reading group that another student is planning to set up.  Dr Linda Sandino has given us all a reading list.

Lovely section of cotton lace from the petticoat of Nancy's the 1880s dress 
Last Thursday, I thought that I would learn how to adapt the print from Nancy Pawsey's dress.  My intention is to design a contemporary dress and adapt the print from her silk into my own textile design.  A sort of 18th century silk modification.    I thought I would have a go in Illustrator.  Well, I spent three hours trying to teach myself using the book 'Digital Textile Design' by Melanie Bowles.    I only got through half of the first tutorial.  It just kept going wrong.  My ineptitude with technology drives me insane.   I am such a dummy around computer programmes.  It's so frustrating!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Nancy Pawsey

I spent my third day at the Museum of London photographing the dress of Nancy Pawsey.  I managed to get some really great photos owing to the fact I took along a tripod and a macro lens.  It was a wonderful day and as per usual Hilary Davidson was very helpful and gave me some information that she had found out about my dress.  This dress seems to have captured her imagination as well as mine.  Nancy Pawsey, the dress's first owner appears quite a character.

Whilst researching Nancy's dress,  I saw some 17th century sailor's slops.  Hilary was showing them to some experts so  I was able to have a look too.  Amazing.  They were rather large and brown in colour. They were very patched with numerous repairs and what looked like a big button made from bone on the front opening.  The experts were impressive.  I wish that I had got their names.  They are part of the Living History movement and specialise in the ordinary clothing of the 17th century.  These two people were amateur historians yet are classed as specialists (which of course they are). Many years have been spent studying material culture, old documents and what ever they can lay their hands on to inform themselves.

Nancy Pawsey was born Anne (Nancy) Wilton on November 6th, 1747 and died September 27th, 1814.  She was a very skilled embroideress and apparently taught Queen Charlotte and her court ladies to embroider.  The dress was given by Queen Charlotte to Nancy who re-sized it for herself.  It was altered and re-fashioned twice by members of her family in the 19th century.  The 1880s alteration was done by her grandson's wife Helen Deare who died in Hove, Brighton in 1891.  I think from there it was kept in storage until it was sold to the Museum for £5 in the 1950s.

What is interesting is that in 1788,  Nancy was a witness in a trial at the Old Bailey in London.  Two gentlemen Thomas Dudfield and Hart Levy

 'were indicted for feloniously stealing on the 17th December, one hair trunk, value 3 s. the goods of Sarah Wilton, spinster, one silk gown and coat, value 4 l. one pair of satin slippers, value 4 s. one linen handkerchief, value 8 d, one paire of stays, value 20 s. one silk cloak, value 12 s and one pair of silk stockings, value 6 s. the goods of Joseph Pawsey'.  

The goods actually belonged to Nancy's sister.  The trial is fun reading.  The two poor men were found guilty and were transported for seven years!  Let's hope they made it!

I am about to start my writing up procedure so more will be revealed.

This photo shows the arm hole of the 18th century bodice.  Note the  different linens used.  The linen in the sleeve itself has such a fabulous weave.  It is much thicker.  Note all the 18th century hand stitching

This is the inside of the 1840s bodice.  These are three bone channels .

Work Shop at TED
I went to a workshop at TED run by 'Red Jotter'  She was very impressive and I learnt a lot from her about presenting and interactive workshops .  Very importantly I now know what 'blue sky' thinking is and where I can find a 'hash' tag.  She is suggesting maybe I should learn how to tweet or twitter.  I think I should but can I be bothered.  Is it just another thing to do?

I also met a woman, Sian Weston ( ).  She has written two very interesting papers which can be viewed on her blog, one about heritage branding and another about Burberry.  I found them extremely interesting and really poked interest in British manufacturing.
Additionally, I went to hear Lucy Kimble talk on 'design thinking' which was inspiring.  She's an academic who works at the Young Foundation.  Really need to explore her work further.

Books That I am Reading
Still the same ones as last week.  But for fun I 'No such thing as Society' by Andy McSmith.  It's a general overview of Thatcher's Britain both politically and culturally.  It's an easy read and is filling me in on all the necessary bits as although I was alive then I was a teenager and to be honest it all passed me by.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Changing the Paradigm

I am very tired and feel that I haven't done enough work this week.  I never seem to do enough.  How much is enough?  No practise either.  Oh well.  Haven't progressed any further with Ms Rothstein.  Where does the time go?  Went to the British Library to renew my membership and they would not accept my passport as proof of address (I'd left my driving license in Hotel Saxelhus on my trip to Copenhagen and haven't got it together to get another)!  Argghhh what a waste of time.  So my plan to read Bourdieu in peace has been thwarted.  Can't say I am that disappointed.

This week has been very interesting as I read the most fascinating essay by Kate Fletcher.  I've read it before but like with so many things this time I thought about it differently.    'System change for sustainability in textiles' and it is part of a group of essays in the book,  'Sustainable Textiles:  life cycle and environmental impact'.  Basically, there are many ways to reduce energy, oil, water, packaging but what would really help would be to change our relationship with the whole system.  It is very interesting but where it led me was that I have decided to try and understand historically the system of manufacturing textiles.  How is it that the system of manufacturing textiles and fashion has got to this place?  

I have begun reading a series of essay on 'Textile History and Economic History' edited by N B Harte and K G Ponting. Of course I love it.  Immediately what strikes me is that textiles have always been created  using a variety of different structures in order to pull the final product together.  Silk, the fibre was imported before weaving likewise with cotton.  Even in the period before the industrial revolution when yarn was 'put out' and weaving was a domestic industry, the end product was created from a whole series of processes.  Here we are now in our current situation which appears to be a cumulative extension of what originally started many centuries before.  

The Englishman's clothes, Thomas Dekker claimed (writer of the Seuen Deadly Sinnes of London (1606), The Non Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed.  Alexander Grosard (privately printed in 1885) vol. 2 29-60)  claimed

"An English-man's suite is like a traitors bodie that hath beene hanged, drawne and quartered, and set up in seuerall places:  the collar of his doublet and the belly in France; the wing and narrow sleeue in Italy; the short waist hangs over a Dutch bothers stall in Utrich; his huge sloppes speakes Spanish;  Polonia gives him his bottes; the blocke for his head alters faster than the feltmaker can fit him".

How fabulous is that depiction!  That illustrates fashion but what I am beginning to comprehend is that even before the clothes were made up the fibres very likely were imported, and piece work was everywhere so how can we change a system that has been with us since the beginning of time?  

Beautiful old label, sadly out of focus as it was snapped on my phone 

The interesting aspect is that in my research I am realising that the garments where altered and restructured generally in the home or a work place.  Maybe it is possible to shift the paradigm albeit at a final stage - maybe it was always there but has just been lost in the last 30 years.

And as for bring the manufacturing process back to 'Great Britain'.  I believe so strongly in having a textile manufacturing system in Britain.  About a year ago I watched a documentary on catch up telly (BBC Wales) about the women who had worked at the Burberry factory which  before it was closed was  situated in Wales.  The programme documented what they are now doing 2 years after it was shut down.   Some are employed, some have retired and some were still out of work but what these women missed as much as the money was the camaraderie, friendship, chats, the Christmas lunch. etc  We have now got vast pockets of unemployment in this country but I really do believe that the free market has  left so many people standing in the cold.  The loss of skills, mental and physical health and dare I say it, the 'cultural capital' is being stripped from our society.  That's just me babbling but I really do believe very strongly that we need to support our own people.  There's an interesting article in Eco Textile News this month about the production of outdoor clothing and it being made outside of the US and the lack of control regulations for the workers.  I just skimmed the article but the writer was basically saying what I think but from a US angle.

Man's shoes - photo snapped on the train

Finally, before I sign off, on my way back from CSM the other day, I was sitting on the Met line and this old boy got on the train.  He was in his 70s or even 80s and he had these fantastic shoes on.  They really curled up at the toes and had brass (probably composite) buckles.  He was a very natty dresser and even had stripy socks on.  He didn't look eccentric or over the top you could just tell that in his time he really had loved his clothes and still did.  The shoes are probably from the 70s.

Books that I am Reading.
Harte, N.B. Ponting, K.G (1973) Textile History and Economic History, Essays in Honour of Miss Julia de Lacy Mann.  Manchester University Press
And For Fun
Pidgeon English by Stephen Kelman.  In the end I loved this book.  I think it could possibly have been edited down a bit but it was so well crafted and I loved all the characters.  A really good read.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Half Term Hiatus

A reluctant pause in my studies has been brought about by half term.  My 10 year old has been away from school so not only did I take days off work, I didn't study much for my PhD either.  However, I did bake lots of cup cakes, chocolate chip cookies and even went to see the 'Muppet Movie'.  I just couldn't face 'Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace' in 3D!  I went on a day trip to Cambridge.  Me and my older son took my nephew out for lunch.  I had never been to Cambridge and now have a little secret fantasy that once I am a Dr maybe I could get paid to teach there!!!! (Ha Ha) I loved it, what a gorgeous town.

Back to my work.  I did attend two mornings of RNUAL and heard some interesting confirmation presentations.  I particularly found Morna Laing's presentation on the depiction of the 'child woman in the fashion press' very interesting.  She uses a form of 'discourse analysis' to pull her participant observations together.  I will look into that as it could be relevant for my own research.  I heard Emma Rigby talk.  What is interesting is that two of her participants have altered their trial garments.  I won't go into Emma's presentation, I know all about it however if I do have any interested readers, Emma Rigby and she looking into designing clothes to minimise laundry use.  Two of her participants have adapted their garments.  One had removed the press studs and sewn on buttons and created button holes.  This is a fair amount of work. The button holes had been finished; on a machine or by hand I am not sure.  Another participant had dyed her merino wool undershirt, green.  Now that could be complicated.  So what I am beginning to conclude is that these participants were not afraid to engage and adapt their garments.  This was done without prompting.  She had no idea that they could even sew.  I did question Emma on how she selected her participants.   It was done through advertising, putting up notices on Gum Tree etc so they weren't necessarily a bunch of like minded people.  It is definitely food for my thought.

My Work
It has been very minimal this week.  However, I have been reading Natalie Rothstein.  It is so interesting.   So much work went into the production of this highly decorative woven silk.  My gown, Nancy's gown, Queen Charlotte's gown was produced by the weavers 'Batchelor, Ham and Perigal' and Ms Rothstein mentions their names several times in the opening chapter.  Apparently, one small town in northern France contributed a disproportionate number of migrants, whose family entered the 'Flowered Silk Branch' of the industry, the 'Perigals' being one of them.  I find it very exciting when I touch the silk to actually think that it was woven by these extremely skilled workman who were part of chain of migrants escaping persecution.  Here, I am in 2012 touching it and taking photos on my phone!  I can feel the history!  Literately.  So I  am beginning to contextualise my gown.  There is a book of samples from 'Batchelor, Ham and Perigal' in the V & A.  I think I must visit it.  If they will let me.

Here's a quote that I underlined, as it made me view the patterns in her book from a different perspective.  What I am trying to say is that it is easy to flick through and admire the beautiful designs, photographs and view them as works of art, which of course is what they are but they were originally designed to be sold.

'They are not, however, pretty patterns to be admired, or not in isolation - they had to work technically and they had to sell'.  Rothestein, N.  p17 Silk Designs of the 18th Century

Mercantile capitalism, it was serious stuff.  An apprentice silk weaver spent seven years as a draw boy training!

Bourdieu and Distinction
Oh no.  I had to give the book back to the library.  Someone else wanted it.  Blimey, can't say I was too sorry to take a break from that book.  Here's what I have understood so far.  Taste is manifested in everything people do and possess.

'the basis of all that one has- people and things - and all that one is for others' Bourdieu, P. p56 Distinction

I think I am going to sit in the British Library, where there are no distractions, tap into the collective conscience of concentration that sits in a fug above all those studious scholars  and work that book out 'cos I know it's relevant to me.

Books I am Reading
I am fed up with Pigeon English.  It's great and I love the the main character but there is so much dialogue primarily between teenagers.  I live with two teenagers, enough is enough already!  It's driving me a bit mad.  I might give it up.

I was given 'Love on the Dole' (Walter Greenwood) for Christmas maybe I'll go there.  Set in northern England the 1930s,  it tackles the subject of unemployment and various social issues.  Could be useful.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Cold Snowy Week In London

I sit here very cold, in my little room, still in my pyjama's (socks and thermals underneath and feet placed on dog for warmth) whilst I write my weekly research journal. I have a ritual that I get up early every Sunday whilst the rest of the family sleeps and I crack on.

What happened this week?  Apart from snowing, I went to hear Jonathan Chapman of 'Emotionally Durable Design' speak at CSM alongside Becky Earley and Carole Collet.  Apart, from the room being about 100 degrees and drying my eyes out and making me feel sleepy, it was very interesting.  He appears very laid back and relaxed , telling us to just focus on the one bit of the world that we can change!  So that's what I am going to do! I like him and his book (above) it is a very interesting read.  Here's a quote which is very much relevant to me and my approach to design.

Everyday objects that engage the senses invade our lives and literally depend upon our care and attention in order to survive.  Designers must aim to increase the intensity and perceptibility of subject-object dependency, enabling products to achieve and more immersive modes of prolonged user engagement.

Jonathan Chapman, Emotionally Durable Design 2005 (p.81)
Becky Earley, my director of studies, was sadly unwell so we were one down.  All went well and it was most useful, Kay Politowitz present along with Linda Sandino.  I showed my 2 half size garments.  I was a little disappointed with the outcome of my 1940s influenced dress (it bears no resemblance to a garment from the 1940s but the inspiration came from Ms Rogers and an old shirt of my mother's).  The pattern was not quite right and the collar didn't fall correctly but as the collar was only sewn on about an 2 hours before the actual tutorial so it was just one of those things.  I will correct it.

The garments are,  the 1973 inspired dress that can be restyled by unpicking and removing the sleeves and collar.  This I suppose, doesn't have to be a permanent change but the act of unpicking and re-sewing is a quite a significant decision.

All the fabric used in both sample pieces were off cuts.  The cotton used here was a lovely fabric, so easy to cut and sew.  There was hardly any fraying and ironed beautifully too.  In reality, this type of cloth is an ideal material for this methodology as it is so easy to work with.

All seams on the inside of the garment are french seams.  The dress can theoretically be restyled into 9 different garments.  Personally, I like my own version made and lined in silk.  I wore it to a party and was voted the best dress person there!! Only about 30 people at the party though so not such a feat!

The collar is not right as the front is supposed to gather into the neck and the collar will curve downward.  I will re cut the pattern and think about using another type of fabric as the chiffon was very difficult to work with.  I think this style will work better made into a full size garment.

The dress is designed (should have put pics the other way around) to turn in to a blouse.
 In the skirt of the dress is room enough for two sleeves to be cut.  I have made the pattern for the shirt and sleeves (the shirt comes out of the dress but I don't want to cut this dress up as it is a sample) but haven't had the chance for it to be constructed.
I have made a sample of the sleeves which are similar to some sleeves to be found on a Biba dress from the 1970s.  The sleeves will be quite full with tie cuffs. The ties can be materialised from the belt.  More will be revealed once it is constructed.
It is so easy for me to feel disappointed and not finish this garment because it didn't work out in reality to the garment that I had in my mind's eye but I will carry on and draw it to its natural conclusion.

Print - I must quickly jot this down, before I forget, Kay Politowitz,  talked to me about the print on the garments.  The garments have been made from scraps so of course the print looks much larger than if the garments were full size.  Additionally, she has inspired me to think about printing my own fabric and utilising a change in print design as part of the garment metamorphosis.  Is that a good word?  Metamorphosis instead of adaptation.  I need to think about it.

This journal came about from a recommendation in the book 'Visualising Research:  A Guide to the Research Process in Art and Design' by Carole Gray and Julian Malins.  Now my next step has been to create a contextual review mind map.  Blimey, it nearly sent me insane as I created it on my new Adobe CS5 Illustrator program.  I watched an hour and half of on line tutorials and still found it very confusing.  I kept turning my little bubble things solid black.  ( I wanted to scream!) It's all a learning curve, a frustrating one at that.  The colours don't really mean anything except that the pink bubbles are practise related.

Books I am Reading
Bourdieu, P.  Distinction (1979) A social Critique of the Judgement of Taste
I am struggling with this book, the language is intense and confusing but I totally comprehend and agree with what I am reading (dare I say this though?  Maybe some of the research is a bit out of date now. I don't know I am not a sociologist).  The acquisition of knowledge is a very important.  Taste, knowledge, consumption - it is very closely linked.  I will read on.
I haven't even looked at Natalie Rothstein for 2 weeks now nor opened Digital LR Cameras & Photography for Dummies however I have started reading (I'll put it in it proper bibliographic format)
Prown, J D. (1982) Mind in Matter:  An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method.  Winterthur Portfolio Vol.17, No.1
Now, this is interesting and good to read for those like myself studying garments within the museum context.
And for pleasure....
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman.  I am really enjoying it.

This week,  I will focus on my existing books, read them and not start any new ones.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Preparation For Tutorial

I am very busy trying to prepare for my tutorial.  I really need to focus.  I want to show them two 1/2 size garments.  One is constructed and the other is still in pattern pieces.  I did the stupidest thing the other day.  I was cutting out my pattern and in true Matty style, I decided to make the dress from silk chiffon.  Why silk chiffon? Well, of course, it's because I love it and I couldn't resist it but really it's not helpful. Anyway, I carefully laid out the chiffon, easing and blowing out any creases, lying it between brown paper and tissue paper.  I cut the back out on the fold and then in a moment of complete madness, lost my concentration and decided to neaten up the brown paper to which the piece was lying and I sliced the CB right down the middle. Man oh man!!  One CB ruined in a second.  Thank God it wasn't a full size garment.  I write this just to remind myself of the pitfalls of losing one's concentration.  Anyway garments progress.....

This morning, I had a brain wave.  I was hanging out some linen that had been washed in my home (my husband was washing the lengths to get rid it of the dressings etc) when my light bulb went on.  Aha!!  Forget the silk chiffon, linen is the way to go.  Of course it is.  I've been staring at an unpicked 18th century linen bodice so of course I must use linen.  These linen lengths came from Spence Bryson in Ireland.  Funny as I just looked them up and their site says they are a hankerchief manufacturer.  This linen is fine and gorgeous and I think will gather beautifully.

Additionally, I am trying to formulate a mind map showing my literature/contextual review.  Although, it's totally not the way I think, it's very useful and guess what I am going to create it in AI (Adobe Illustrator  ha ha).  I've no idea what I am doing but now with my new Adobe Creative Suite installed, I've got to use it.  By the way, on the subject of mind maps, we had a really informative session with Dr Caroline Gardiner and in her handout she suggested using a free software package called Compendium.  Well, I am sure it's brilliant but I wasted an hour and a half trying to figure out how to put my work on it and still couldn't do it.   My mind map is formulating my way forward and clearly outlining that I have wasted some valuable time reading irrelevant literature, irrelevant to my research.  Good literatutre but not needed for me.  Annoying.

I've only got one more drawing lesson with Celia at CSM.  I've loved it so much.  Life drawing all day Saturday is so relaxing.  I've learnt so much.  She's a brilliant teacher and I love all the people in my class.  I wish it wouldn't end but...........  Being a PhD student is so fabulous 'cos it's an excuse to do all these extra things in the name of research.   One girl flies in from Bucharest each weekend for this class. Blimey.

Clothing for Sale in Organic market in Olargues, South West France

Taste, the idea of taste.  What's good taste?   Good and bad taste in clothing is  linked in with identity (and in my opinion branding).  When I was in the South of France, this summer, I went to an organic market.  Apart from being incredibly expensive, without thinking I bought the most expensive melon in the whole of Europe (8 euros!), there were clothes stalls and yes, they were selling your typical organic clothing.  Revolting.  The cotton was undyed and constructed in France but no normal person would truly want to wear it.  Here's the thing, it's only the truly committed who will wear this type of clothing and as a designer I want to create clothing that the committed/half committed and not really committed want to buy because they are lovely, stylish and wearable.   Clothing that doesn't say "I'm committed [to the cause] and only wear this type of clothing because I am committed!!!"  I am thinking on the page but I think it's very important.  I have started reading 'Distinction' by Bourdieu to get a clearer understanding to arguments and theories around 'taste'.

 In the opening paragraph of the introduction is a quote by Paul Claude, from Le soulier de satin

"Take one of our good pupils, for example:  modest and diligent, from his earliest grammar classes he's kept a little notebook for  phrases.
After hanging on the lips of his teachers for twenty years, he's managed to build up an intellectural stock in trade; doesn't it belong to him as if it were a house, or money"

That quote really resignated with me.  Maybe it obvious but it leads on to the whole concept of that question.  How do we acquire taste and style?

Books I am Reading?
Digital SLR for Dummies.  I will master my camera.
Distinction:  A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste by Pierre Bourdieu
Silk Designs of the 18th Century by Natalie Rothstein
and whilst pattern cutting I always consult Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich.
And for pleasure, I have just finished The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (what a book that is).  There is a paragraph where a young Russian greets our narrator.  His clothing is described as being made of brown Holland and has been patched beautifully.  The patches are exquisite colours and patterns (African obviously) but what the narrator notices is how beautifully they are been sewn.  To me that is interesting - a man commenting, in a book about the neatness of the stitches in the patching of a garment.  I know Richardson writes about sewing all the time in 'Pamela' but here we are about 150 years later ....
Not sure where I am going with this.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Museum of London Revisited

Another fabulous day spent at the Museum of London.  Day Two of examining my gorgeous pink brocade dress but more is to be revealed.........

Also visiting was my old college mate, Alice Gordon.  Her passion is 16th century linen so the day was passed not only having the benefit of Hilary Davidson's knowledge but Alice's as well.  Very pleasurable indeed.

On arrival, Hilary told me she had been digging around and that in another box she had found not only the 18th bodice but the 1840s bodice as well, all the off cuts (which included a pocket) and a stack of letters detailing the history of the dress.  How very exciting.  In my last entry, we concluded that the rouching around the sleeves of the 1880s dress was the 18th century bodice re-worked as there was evidence of 18th century seams and stitching.  The 18th century bodice has now been found but the rouching may still be bits of the old bodice as the brocade was literately cut away from the linen lining.

See the above photo.

The linen in the bodice is beautiful with the linen on the sleeves being much thicker than that on the back and front.   That is, I imagine for additional strength.  All that hand woven linen is extraordinarily beautiful.  The weave is exquisite.  When I get my hands on a macro lens I will put some photos in this journal.  A very interesting observation from my lovely friend, Alice, the linen on the sleeves was cut on the horizontal.  Note the selvage on the back of the right hand sleeve of the photo.  A beautiful selvage it is too.  Furthermore, Alice told me she always counts the stitches per inch on the garments she's analysing (per inch as that is measurement the garments were constructed in).   In her experience, she can tell generally tell whether a tailor has constructed the garment.  This isn't so relevant to me as I am working from the 18th century onwards where many women were working as seamstresses however, it interesting to possibly be able to ascertain the the sex of the maker.  In this bodice there were 7 stitches to an inch on average and they weren't that neat.  Maybe a tailor originally sewed it?

This bodice had also been altered.  The stack of letters proved fascinating reading.

The letters were correspondence from a Mrs Guiney to the Assistant Keeper at the Museum of London.  They were dated June 11, 1954.  The Museum of London bought the dress for £5.  Mrs Guiney wrote the history of dress in an attachment letter.   Anne (Nancy) Wilton married  Joseph Pawsey in 1776.  She was a very skilled embroider and taught Queen Charlotte and her court ladies embroidery.  The story says the dress originally belonged to Queen Charlotte.  Which means that Nancy was given it by QC most probably as a gift.

The dress was then altered again in 1840 by  Mrs Pawsey's son's wife and then again by her grandson's wife in 1880.  The wonderful thing is all these women kept the bits they had cut away.  The dress must have been very important to them all to not throw the various bodices away. Or maybe people just didn't throw so much away in those centuries.  Well, we know they didn't but I like the fact the discarded pieces all remained together and that the garment was passed down from generation to generation.

More info, Nathalie Rothstein analysed the silk and has identified that it originated from the Spitalfield silk weavers, Batchelor, Ham and Perigal.  I am afraid my reading of Ms Rothstein work has not progressed since last week.  Not through lack of interest but lack of time.  I really could do with one extra day in the week.  I plan to go back one more time and take more photos this time with a macro lens and a tripod.  Oh, how I wish I owned both of those camera accessories.  Mind you it would help if I could use the fancy camera that I have!

What is a Beautiful Garment?
So what else?  If I am to design and I am designing clothes like their historical sisters that can be re-fashioned to another garment, I want them to be beautiful.  I want them to sell.  I want them to sell to many women.  But how can one define beautiful?  I want the garments to be first beautiful but designed with durability, longevity in mind.  Not to fall into the  classification as some beardy weardy eco clothing.  How does the designer working in this field get away from that classification and label?  We live in such a representative world.  Clothes, I really believe are such signifiers.   It really is worth thinking about.

I have started reading 'Understanding Material Culture' by Ian Woodward.  It one of the those great book that summarises information so you can then take the overviews further.  Anyway, I am rather interested in chapter 6 'Objects and Distinction.  The Aesthetic Field and Expressive Materiality'.  Urgh,  sounds complicated but isn't.  The chapter looks at how objects acquire and represent status, aesthetic value etc.   

The reason I feel I need to explore these theories is that a) I am doing a PhD and b) I want my designs to be seen as beautiful in their own right not because they have a label attached.  I really admire Margiela for his work.   (I know he did have a label, in a sense, but his sympathy is my admiration).   I don't want my designs to be branded as 'eco' or 'durable'.  I want them to beautiful with added extras.  I want them to be like Mrs Pawsey dress.  Endless, adaptable, beautiful........   Ha ha - big task.  

Books I am Reading
Still am desperate to get my teeth stuck into Natalie Rothstein.
Understanding Material Culture by Ian Woodward (2007) Sage
and just because I want to, 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad.  Actually, I am not reading it.  I am listening to it unabridged on my iphone.  I download books and then listen to them when I am walking to work.  Great way to catch up on novel.  I listened to 'The Great Gatsby' the other week.  Fantastic book. I don't do this very often but I listened to over again, straight away just appreciate the skill of F Scott Fitzgerald.   

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Pink Brocade Dress

After two days in the studio looking at flags from the Peninsula Wars (quite beautiful but in the most terrible state), I headed off for the first of my three study days at the Museum of London.  I am looking at a rather interesting dress that was originally the property of Queen Charlotte.  In writing this, I have just noticed the uncanny connection that I was, for two days looking seven silk guidons that are shot to pieces and literately disintegrating in the acid free that they are housed in, switching to Queen Charlotte's cast off silk dresses.  The Hanoverian connection is spooky - I live for the 18th Century!

Hilary Davidson,  the assistant curator at the MofL is wonderfully helpful, informative and approachable.  I had seen this dress previously in another visit and it had caught my eye as the dress was immaculate in its transformation from a mid 18th century gown to its  late 19th century incarnation.  The work began with a thorough look see of the garment, taking measurements and really casting my over the dress.  It is a combination of 18th century silk brocade and 19th century silk (satin weave in cream).  Its current style is an 1880s dress with a centre front fastening.  I will be taking some more photos of the garment on a mannequin hopefully on my next visit.  The dress is both hand and machine sewn with extreme skill.  There was certainly  not much evidence to show that it had been re-fashioned.  The only evidence I could see was that on the underside of the arms, two triangular inserts both of different sizes had been sewn,  other than that it looked immaculate.

1750-1770 Silk Brocade from a gown originally belonging to Queen Charlotte
However,  here's where Hilary came in.  Above both cuffs is about 20cm of rouching.  The brocade has been rouched and used as a form of embellishment.  Hilary showed me that if I looked for seam lines within the rouching and followed them I could probably find more evidence of the original 18th century dress.  She was right.  There they all were.  I couldn't believe it - beautiful 18th century stitching.  I was told this was probably the bodice of the original dress re-used as decoration!  How amazing is that.  Hilary also showed me some 18th century folds and seams which I had completely missed.   The stitching was much closer to the selvage.  Our 18th century seamstresses generally stitched closer to the selvage.  Of course they did why waste the fabric?   I just didn't see them.   The wrong side of the silk looked very different from any other 18th century silk that I have seen.  More like a silk woven on a Jacquard loom.  Interesting.   I picked up Natalie Rothstein's book and am going to have a good old read about the silk industry in 18th Century Britain and France so I can get a clear under standing of how the silk was manufactured.   A very informative day.  Back next week.
Wrong side of the silk brocade.

1973 Dress
It's been made and and sits beautifully on Hilda but no photo as yet because I need to adjust the hem and sew the buttons on the cuffs.    Went to D & M Buttons to get my little buttons covered.  My boyfriend in there has offered to take me to Barcelona as he said I looked tired.  I might take him up on it.  I am  pleased with the outcome as I feel that I have taken this project to it's natural conculsion.  I did unpick the sleeves.   The nice fine cotton was easy to unpick and the stitch marks barely visible.  I will be interested to see what Becky, Kay and Linda have to say.

1940s Shirt.
The 1/2 size pattern has been made and I am working on the sleeves which will be cut from the skirt.  I am inspired by the Biba sleeves in the 'Black in Fashion' V & A book.  Unfortunately, there is not enough fabric to create full length sleeves.  I keep working.  I really want to get this finished before my tutorial on 8th February.

Fashion Illustration For Absolute Beginners
Celia, our teacher is lovely.  I'm getting better.  I really am.  I enjoyed myself this week and think that I am beginning to really understand about weight distribution.  Finally, I have understood that holding the pencil up thing.  When I was at Goldsmiths, that teacher Peter Cresswell explained it to me so many times but I never got it.  Well, I got it yesterday.  The class is fun.

Books I am Reading This Week
Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century by Natalie Rothstein.  It's fabulous but everybody know that.
Still on Visualizing Research.  This is a very good book and has really cleared up in my mind the objective of the 'Literature Review'.  In the book it's called a 'contextual review' which I like.  It clarifies it more in my mind.
Additionally, just because I love it 'Couture or Trade:  An early pictorial record of the London College of Fashion.'

Quirky Photo
On my way to the tube station yesterday.  I saw this shoe sitting on a bin.  I knew it was fairly old or 'vintage' at a glance.  I looked around for its partner but she wasn't there.  The shoe was 'Made in England' and I didn't recognise the brand.  Made in Northampton?  In its day it was a cheap shoe but as a vintage item it had a certain touch of charm about it.

Lone Shoe in Wilesden