A body of textile work inspired by a collection of prayers, poems and a suitcase of vintage textiles.....
In April 2022 I was gifted 2 suitcases of vintage textiles by my friend Deborah Cooper which had belonged to Kathy Keay, a young women who had lived in Great Linford before she sadly died in 1994. The cases had been carefully moved around to different houses by Kathy’s friend Mike George, while he bought up her young daughter. The suitcases were full to the brim and included some vintage cotton nightdresses and other household textiles, when I saw them I thought they would make an interesting project representing the stages of a womans life.
As well as the nightdresses there was a lovely set of undergarments that might fit a 12-year-old at the time: camisole, nightdress and bloomers! Then dozen fine cotton embroidered cloths, pillow cases and pouches, some with fine hand made lace. A bag of lace and trims that had obviously been taken off other items and saved. There were also, a good dozen large vintage heavy cotton net curtains I believe French and called Brise-Bise. Then 2 huge linen sheets…. a fabulous collection used linens and garments!
I then found out that Kathy had written and compiled 8 books in her time. Two of the books were anthologies of prayers and thoughts from famous female writers who inspired Kathy (Emily Bronte, Helen Keller and Emily Dickenson) as well as lesser-known women writers at the time: their thoughts on being women in the times they lived.
‘Laughter, Silence and Shouting’ Kathy Keay 1994
‘Dancing on Mountaings’ Kathy Keay and Rowena Edlin-White 1996
‘Spanning both centuries and continents, they reflect the energy and honesty, hopes and fears of women in every age, from biblical times to the present day’ - (Present day meaning early 1990’s)
Below are the selection of books I read and was inspired by, they are still readily available from various second hand booksellers.
I then read the biography by Marion Osgood
‘What ever happened to Kathy Keay’ 2010, as well as a fascinating and detailed read (highly recommended) I was also excited to find out that Kathy had been a keen textile enthusiast.
"Increased creativity came also in her second field of study, which unsurprisingly was art. She was now producing wonderful batiks, collages and woven samplers. Twigs, leaves, pieces of bark.....anything might spark off an idea and be photographed for reference, or even brought home to be incorporated into a new design. These pieces of work became increasingly valued amongst her friends, displayed first on the walls of shared lodgings or tiny bedsits, eventually gaining pride of place in family homes"
I began to think about how I could use these items to tell a story.....
I had had no idea when I was first given the suitcases, that there was a story there to be told.
Finding out about Kathy and her life around Christianity and the role of women at the church before they could be ordained (which happened in early 1994) was interesting, there were lots of presumptions and pressures on women to play the ‘right’ role in the church and Kathy fought strongly to break those stereotypes.
The resulting ‘Remember who you are’ exhibition is a collection of vintage nightdresses and domestic textiles 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.
I’ll say at this point I am not religious and much of her writing goes beyond my understanding, but there are many questions, frustrations and joy of life that we can all relate to and that have been just as relevant to women over the centuries.
So this is how the project began.....
Thanks of course to Deborah Cooper who gifted me the suitcases, who knew where that would lead!
Also to Mike 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.
Part 2 will be about the textile garments I have embellished and the messages I would like them to convey.