A body of textile work inspired by a collection of prayers, poems and a suitcase of vintage textiles.
What I made and the story I hope they tell.....
The connection between women’s words and nature was the starting point for this work, each garment and piece of fabric is eco printed with leaves found locally in Milton Keynes.
I have also thought about traditional decorative stitched things that women may have created themselves, techniques that I have used before in my work: English Paper Piecing (EPP) hand embroidery and collage. I found vintage fabrics initially from my own stash and then introduced fabrics I have dyed and printed with embossed motifs from Kathy’s collected lace and embroideries.
The resulting work is a collection of vintage nightdresses from the suitcases and with 2 additional dresses to fill the gaps. The dresses have been eco printed and coloured with natural dyes, embellished with embroidery, applique and block printing.
They represent a woman’s life:
Infancy - simple and purity of a new life and a prayer from a mother to her daughter by K.Mcloughlan from the Iona community.
The decorative process: the christening gown is pre treated with a quick dip in ferus sulphate then eco printed with silver birch leaves. *The bundles shown are not this dress, but they illustrate the white fabric before steaming and the darker fabric after steaming.
The hopes and dreams of a young girl and a Poem by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning - Love for Loves sake
The decorative process: The dress is pre treated with a quick dip in ferus sulphate then eco printed with Astilbe leaves for 1 hour. I designed the vintage inspired embroidery motifs and printed them onto the cover-up, hand embroidering them with hand dyed threads (paintbox threads) the butterflies represent thoughts and hopes of a young girl for her life ahead.
The thoughts of a young woman as she embarks on marriage and a Poem by Rowena Edlin-White - Proposal
The decorative process: the dress is pre treated with a quick dip in ferus sulphate then eco printed with rose leaves for 1 hour. Soy milk thickened with a seaweed based product, and stencilled on (image 1) . Leave to cure for 1 week, then simmer in a madder dye solution. Some of the rose stencils are enhanced with dyed embroidery thread or reverse appliqué (image 2 shows the 3 stages of the rose image, the pink is darker in reality on the dress)
The pressure of a working woman when life was tough with a house to run and possibly children to care for. One piece from Rowen Edlin-white - For the childless Woman and one from Mary Eleanore Rice - A Mother is a Person.
The decorative process: the dress is pre treated with a quick dip in ferus sulphate then eco printed with Oriental plane leaves leaves for 1 hour
Life in older age, reflecting on a past life, memories and hopes that maybe didn’t materialise. Words by Kathy Keay - Strength. With reference to weaving, threads and stitches.
The decorative process: the dress was indigo dyed initially, to start the darker layer process. Then briefly dipped in a weak ferrous sulphate solution and then eco printed with walnut ink dipped lace and scattered leaves (see 1st image) Further eco printed added with free motion raw edge appliqué . Fading memories added with reference to the wedding, hopes and dreams. This dress is much darker, and refer's to end of life, the fabric is much finer, prone to tearing.
Of course, the average life span for women has lengthened over the last century. Achievements and expectations have also changed enormously (thank goodness) so many of my references are generalised.
The little green ribbons indicate the garments and textiles that were in the suitcases, others I have added to fill in the gaps of the story I wanted to tell.
I have tried to illustrate the 5 stages of a woman’s life, although there are lots of juxtapositions: some the textiles are at least 100 years old, some of the writing is older, some contemporary to when Kathy was compiling the books 1980’s-90’s. But I hope I have found poems and prayers that speak to us today.
The words are from the books Kathy wrote herself and compiled from women who inspired her.
Taken in the prime of her life of course I can only presume Kathy kept her family textiles in the loft because of her love for them, her appreciation of the work. Perhaps like many textile enthusiasts she was waiting for the ‘perfect’ time to play with them and create something new herself.
I hope this project is the beginning of further opportunities for workshops.
Thanks again to Deborah Cooper, who gifted me the suitcases, who knew where that would lead!
Also to Mike George and Lara for letting me use the textiles to tell a bit of Kathy's story.
And thank you to the women who contributed to the two anthologies for their inspiring and moving words.