C9 & Moving Forward

Having agreed to the content of a new project, a series of 9 email exchanges alongside 34 text messages over 16 days has enabled us to take some steps forward.

Decision making began with the organisation of all found fragments as a labelled photograph which was shared by P via email. This enabled the individual selection of 4 pieces of china each to be represented in the book. Whilst we both later admitted to making this selection without using any pre-determined system or pattern, interestingly one choice overlapped and C9 was chosen by both of us.

The exchange of written conversations has enabled a different form of decision making to take place, and the thinking through of ideas has been undertaken as questions inviting comments. This open ended approach has resulted in the shared clarification of design decisions and technical details. The use of photographs within emails from P has very much supported this process and mock ups of the final books were presented alongside written ideas. This aided decision making around choice of scale and presentation of the final 2 books. The final email decision centred around choices connected to the positioning of each fragment within the book. In response to this a tracing will be made to document the arrangement of fragments so that both of us work to the same format.

P has sent me the selected 8 fragments so that I can explore the positioning of each piece to document their discovery within the ground and make tracings which we both can use. I am keen to develop my own printmaking practice and will take on board compositional formats seen in A Slice through the World, the recent exhibition at Modern Art Oxford (https://www.modernartoxford.org.uk/event/a-slice-through-the-world/) In particular I will draw upon the ‘floating’ compositions seen in the work of Lucy Skaer and ‘overlapping’ compositions seen in the work of Kate Davies within the construction of a drypoint background for the fragments.

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Unearthing a New Idea

p china

Our main focus in recent months has been the forthcoming SPF and the opportunity this offers us to exhibit new work. Whilst we were both keen to pursue the button box idea, the project had been progressing slowly and failing to gather momentum, it was during this interim period that some chance findings led to a potential new project.

Whilst digging a large proportion of garden in a recently purchased property, fragments of china started to be unearthed on a relatively regular basis – the natural reaction to these findings was to remove them and save each piece. When researching further it seemed that these garden discoveries were not uncommon:

http://daughterofthesoil.blogspot.com/2008/01/things-we-dig-up-in-garden.html

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/jan/26/leadersandreply.mainsection2

As the collection began to grow, it seemed that these fragments could form the basis for a new book.

The idea was proposed to T, who was immediately enthusiastic about the idea, and had unknowingly found similar relics within her own garden; it seemed that this was the break-through we needed in developing our next collaborative project, and a FaceTime meeting was arranged.

t china

T started the discussion by putting the time schedule (until SPF) into perspective, this was followed by a proposal that addressed both the desire to produce new work for the London, alongside our previous aim to produce a book which enabled us time to develop and experiment with visual style and structure.

The proposal – which was readily agreed – was to produce two books.

Book one will be a simple concertina fold, with both structure and medium being inspired by a recent visit to an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford. As the discussion developed, it was decided that a pair of simple books would enable us to both work individually on an edition that when seen together would work as a whole. The books will be informed by some aspects of previous practice, cataloguing for instance, and we are interested to explore how archeological finds are recorded and displayed.

For book two we will use a different method of research gathering– namely the Small Publishers Fair event. T recognized that such events always provoke conversation and discussion around specific book themes. Therefore the aim is to engage with friends, fellow exhibitors and the public to seek their reaction, response and comment to book one. It is hoped that these findings will inform the content for book two. In preparation for SPF we will explore a range of possible questions.

 

 

 

327 Buttons. 7 Categories.

sorting buttopns

I chose to categorise my button box by materiality; this was an immediate and intuitive response to the task – and only when I began to sort through the buttons did I consider the various other options available.

I was able to divide the button box into 7 categories: wood, metal, seashell, cloth-covered, leather, clear and plastic, the latter was the largest category – and therefore it has a sub-category of colour. In addition there were a few oddments that could be considered miscellaneous. It became evident that each grouping could be broken down further, for example of the 24 metal buttons 9 were gold and 15 silver; or 14 were engraved with a pattern, 10 were plain etc.

Here are the findings.
Clear = 13 / Cloth-covered = 15 / Leather = 12 / Metal = 24 / Seashell = 33 / Wood = 11
Plastic = 219 and within this category there were 63 black, 60 white, 28 brown, 13 blue, 13 green, 11 orange, 10 grey, 7 purple, 6 red, 6 yellow and 2 striped buttons.

The orange plastic buttons were the only group made up of identical buttons.
The reverse of the cloth-covered buttons also reveals two names – Astor and Trims. Astor appears to be a German company, whilst Trims has been difficult to identify.


As my button box is inherited, many of the contents reflect buttons of a specific time – the metal buttons look particularly dated, as are some of the fabrics of the cloth-covered buttons; others are timeless.

stripey buttons

My favourite buttons are the pair of black and whited striped conical-shaped ones… what were they part of…?

And finally (in the spirit of the Vera project) the miscellaneous section:misc

Reading, Researching and Reminiscing

bb1
Our joint task for August had been to read Lynn Knight’s book ‘The Button Box – lifting the lid on women’s lives’ – having read about two thirds of the book it is clear that whilst some of the buttons have a particular memory attached to them, the contents offer an opportunity to explore and discuss the social history of women in a far wider context.

The Foundling Hospital – and subsequent Foundling Museum resonated strongly, with stories of tokens, such as decorated fabric pieces being left with children by mothers (mostly unmarried) who were unable to care for the child, but would leave the token not only a token of their love, but as proof of whom the child belonged to, if the mother was able to return at a later date and claim the child back.
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/oct/09/foundling-hospital-museum-threads-feeling

I found buttons and button boxes to be rather limited in terms of primary research, although more enlightening were discussions with family members; Ruby my paternal grandmother had entered a tailoring apprenticeship somewhere in Hampton Court when she was 14 – this was considered a good position and later she worked as a cutter for a company in Staines.
https://cvhf.org.uk/history-hub/rationed-fashion-victory-rolls-womens-fashion-in-the-1940s/

Granny would also make clothes for her four children – including stage clothes for my father and his sisters’ – their claim to fame being that when very young they played in a band with guitarist Julian Bream (and his sister Janice) and performed to the Italian prisoners of war. ‘The girls wore red velvet dresses made from old curtains, with hand-crocheted, by her, collars and cuffs. Tony’s band trousers were made from blackout fabric, with red stripes down the sides’. She also made my Dad a bomber jacket out of an old blanket of which he was very proud. Whether or not she was involved in any war-time activities such as sewing circles (Sew for Victory) or the W.I. is unknown (further research required!)

Similarly sewing was part of my maternal great grandmother’s life who, when widowed during the Great War, and with three young children to support, sewed shirts for a living – common practice during those times. These would be sewn at home by candlelight.
the war widows’ pension […] was devised to confine the woman to the domestic role of idealised mother whilst refusing to pay her sufficient money to keep her within the home.  At around half the “minimum wage” of £1 a week, the payment was more of a token gesture. http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk/history/the-world-wars/

Finally I started to consider the receptacle in which we keep buttons – mine include an inherited cigar box of Granny’s, and a wooden (lead-lined) tea caddy where I keep spare buttons that are attached to garments in plastic bags. Growing up in the 60s/70s, my mother’s buttons were kept in a small blue and red tartan silk draw-string bag; however this theme appears limited.

It was at this point that a Facetime meeting was arranged. We started by discussing our individual opinions of the The Button Box book, and whilst we both identified themes that had interested us, we were aware that we were gravitating towards sewing themes rather than the button/button box. This was an issue as it was a theme already covered in our previous edition Sewing Secrets. Another discussion centered around whether or not the content should be personal – and relate to our family members, or whether we draw content from a wider source – although the issue remained of what the content could be!

With a time limit to our discussion, we decided to go back to an earlier idea – in the first instance we will both categorise our individual button boxes. How we choose to do this (at this stage) is up to the individual, and we will share our findings on the blog within five days, this will be followed by another FaceTime meeting.

Thrift & The Button Box

IMG_4633

With first research around the theme of housekeeping completed individually, a pre-arranged Face Time conversation enabled the joint consideration of these. Emerging areas of interest were identified, and further detail exchanged through free-flowing conversation and recalled anecdotes. As research sources were discussed, we spent some time reflecting upon how content gathered to inform this new project may enable challenge to our working methodologies and individual practice alongside the avoidance of repeating earlier projects located within similar themes of social history and domesticity.

Drawn to the notion of specific moments in time, we reflected upon the marriage bar, changing roles within the household and the identification of specific tasks assigned to these for our parents, grandparents and self. The routine and rotation of household tasks through the fortnightly turn-out were discussed and linked to some extent to our own experiences. Some consideration was given to taking this theme forward through the collection of data from friends and their families.

Continuing to explore notions of thrift, we discussed the teaching of domestic skills and the saving of buttons from old clothes within the button box. The button as an evocative object was considered through the research and writings of Lynn Knight, and the potential for collecting our own real and imagined stories considered.

With some consideration of potential timings and deadlines for this project, we agreed to spend August undertaking further individual research around The Button Box through reading and the collection of real and imagined stories. This will form the content of the project and enable September and October to be allocated to design and production.

Keeping House: The Way Things Were

First research around the notion of keeping house, revealed a series of linked words defining a range of domestic materials, account books to catalogue household expenditure, and money given or granted on a regular basis to finance the running of the household. I read about differences across generations, expectations for raising children, keeping house and the marriage bar.

The marriage bar restricted employment of married women, and (as in the case of my maternal Grandmother), required the termination of a woman’s employment when she married. Seemingly, this practice was justified as a social policy to find jobs for men and single women and allegedly created a disincentive for women to marry. In 1946, The Spectator, published an article which presented reasons for the implementation of marriage bars. These included thoughts around married women not needing jobs as they were financially supported by their husbands. Schools prepared girls for this life of domesticity providing tuition in cookery, household management, darning, sewing and how to iron a shirt properly. Girls were taught to look after their house and husband, and once married their husbands were considered the head of the household. Clothes were often homemade, either sewn or knitted. Knitted items were re-cycled by being unraveled and re-knitted into something else. Allegedly, when collars on shirts became frayed, they were unpicked, turned inside out and sewed back on! And buttons from old clothes were saved for the button box.

I discovered a Housewife’s Button Box within the contents of a discarded sewing box for sale in a local bric-a-brac shop earlier this year. Of the original 72 plastic two-hole and four-hole buttons, 29 are remaining and 25 other buttons have been added to the box. Of these 25, 10 have 4 holes, 13 have 2 holes and 2 are shank buttons with a loop at the back for fastening. In reading about button types, I discovered correct and incorrect sewing conventions linked to button and fabric type. Whilst investigating stories surrounding button boxes, I happened upon the historian Lynn Knight who explores the narrative of haberdashery through lives of ordinary women. For Knight, buttons are tokens to recall the clothes they were made to fasten and embellish, the housewives and mothers who made and wore those clothes, and the lives they contained. Within her book, The Button Box: Lifting the Lid on Women’s Lives, Knight writes about stories passed on from the women in her family, their changing prospects over generations and of clothes as self-expression, defiance and entertainment.

An article in The Guardian, written in February 2000, questions whatever happened to the housewife? It begins by presenting the view of a journalist some 40 years ago who wrote about suburbia as a good place to bring up children but a dull place to live! The original article apparently connected with readers and ultimately led to the formation of the National Housewives’ Register which aimed to unite housebound wives with liberal interests and a desire to remain individuals. Re-named as the National Women’s Register in 1987 it continues today, with groups meeting regularly to discuss everything except the domestic. The article notes that early members of the register admitted to fiddling the housekeeping to pay for the membership fee! A present NWR member, who is just 10 years older than I am, recalls having to give up her secretarial job when she got married because the company did not employ married women stating “it was the way things were”.

Alongside information about the roles of women within the house, I also found a WW2 sewing kit, called The Housewife, designed to contain all the materials a soldier would require to carry out any repairs to his clothing, including a thimble, two balls of grey darning wool for socks, 50 yards of linen thread wound around card, needles, brass dish buttons for battledress and plastic buttons for shirts.

References
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/housekeeping
https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-1950s-Housewife/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwone/women_employment_01.shtml
https://history.blog.gov.uk/2015/05/26/a-perfect-nuisance-the-history-of-women-in-the-civil-service/
https://www.civilservant.org.uk/women-history.html
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/feb/28/gender.uk
https://nwr.org.uk/component/k2/item/14?Itemid=263
https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30016350
https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/lynn-knight/1073993/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/10/the-button-box-lifting-the-lid-on-womens-lives-lynn-knight-review

Cleanliness, Thrift and Routine


For several years I have collected books that relate to traditional aspects of domesticity, therefore these editions became my initial point of reference. The books cover the periods from approximately the 1930s-60s, so are written for a different time, with the natural assumption that keeping house was the sole responsibility of the female of the household. The main theme of all the books across the 30 year spectrum appears to be thrift – recipes, shopping, cleaning hints, laundry, mending and how to budget the household finances efficiently.

“A housewife, to be really successful, must not only be a good cook, and house-keeper, but a good shopper so that she gets the best value for her housekeeping allowance’ The Modern Housewife’s Book

 KEEPING HOUSE: There appears to be an extraordinary amount of importance placed on ‘keeping a house spick and span and free from dust’ with several of the books offering suggested house-work routines which refer to the ‘fortnightly turn-out’ where tasks are rotated, through to entire chapters on spring cleaning and the military precision required to juggle housework with other duties such as cooking and looking after children.
HOUSE KEEPING: The same amount of order and precision is given to managing the household budget as to the cleaning routine, with all the books assuming that the housewife will keep weekly accounts of her expenditure, pointing out that “this not pointless drudgery, but the necessary routine of a well-managed household…” The Book of Hints and Wrinkles

There are suggestions of how to break down the household income and plenty of advice on budgeting, with hints on cheap shopping, menu planning and cutting down on household bills (avoiding unnecessary phone call and turning off the lights!).

As stated at the beginning of this post, these books refer to a different era, and it is easy to make light of the pedantic nature of the writings, however if you strip away the out-moded references, what is left are themes that we can still relate to; different pressures undoubtedly mean that we still, to various extents, rely on routine to manage our daily lives (which includes shopping, cleaning and cooking). Similarly there is probably more pressure to maintain our homes – DIY make-over programmes of the 1990s, the plethora of home magazines and social media platforms such as Pintrest encourage us to update our interiors on a far more regular basis than say my grandparents (who had the same furniture for their entire marriage).

To Bordeaux and Back

IMG_3296

A pre-arranged visit with friends presented the opportunity for a face to face meeting to make sense of first ideas in response to our new project. The time afforded enabled free flowing conversations, in which we questioned content and context with a particular focus on overlaps with previous projects and our interest in continuing to challenge working methodologies and individual practice. Object led memories were discussed as we exchanged stories around childhood, parents and grandparents, and similarities were noted with ideas beginning to be formed linked to keepsakes, evocative objects and the house and home. Interests in family photographs, clothing and shoes emerged as we spent some time sharing details around favourite items and specific moments in time. Keen to establish our next step, we considered potential timings for research,decision making and realisation and began to construct a series of first points of enquiry focussed around the selection of evocative objects connected to our grandparents. As we discussed these in more detail, common themes around keeping house emerged and we became interested in the notion of housekeeping, ‘housekeeping money’, and routines and rituals linked to these roles across generations. In response to this, we agreed to each undertake first research around the theme of housekeeping in order to clarify our question of enquiry prior to gathering stories and memories.

New beginnings

In the past two months work commitments have impacted on any opportunity to discuss our collaborative pratice; however a pre-arranged FaceTime meeting offered us the chance to
reflect on what is important to us individually and to bring these thoughts and ideas ‘to the
table’.

The discussion started with what could be deemed as the ‘failure’ of our most recent collaboration, The Blue Book, however it was clear that we could take some valuable lessons from the project; it re-iterated the fact that the ‘altered book’ is not our favoured genre and starting a project with no particular purpose, or emotional (or personal) attachment to it, hindered our commitment to the process. Therefore our first decision was not to explore this type of project again!

T expressed concerns around returning to known practice, and producing books that, although may have commercial appeal, may limit our making to repetitive/expected outcomes. We both agreed that it was important to continue to challenge our working methodologies.

We articulated the need to address a particular aspect of our individual practice – whilst T had enjoyed the research and process element of previous projects, she felt the development of imagery had not always been as successful, therefore it was important for her to address this. P recognised that recent projects had led to an emphasis on book content rather than book structure, and therefore it was important to explore and develop this further. We recognized that this could be the starting point of the project and started to discuss a range of themes which included: the ‘Hear her’ radio series, keepsakes, hidden messages within garments (inspired by the Phantom Thread film), cataloguing aspects of our meeting in the middle project, inheritance, domesticity and MA practice.

It became clear that with our new individual aims, we could still explore our joint areas of interest without compromising the integrity of our practice; therefore we will look to develop a body of work based around the idea of evocative objects and the memories we attach to either the object or the original owner of the object (namely grandparents).

Closing the blue books

the end 2

The aim of today’s pre-arranged FaceTime conversation was to share and exchange ideas emerging from the two pre-set tasks set four weeks ago, namely the cataloguing of colours within our respective books and the generation of new text matter based on the combination of page 99 from each novel.

Whilst we have both completed the tasks,it was evident, from the individual blog posts produced in response to these, that we are finding it difficult to apply appropriate levels of meaning and context to this project. As we began to discuss issues face to face, we quickly came to the conclusion that whilst the project has enabled us to develop new working methodology, both the process and book content hold no real appeal or significance, and subsequently this lack of engagement is hindering the momentum needed for us to collaboratively drive the project forward. Therefore, at this point, 5 months into the project, we made the joint decision not to pursue this project any further. Since beginning to working collaboratively, 13 years ago, this is the first time that we have abandoned a project.

Once the decision was made, we exchanged ideas around new directions.We both highlighted areas for potential exploration, these included, Vera / evocative objects / women of the walk / celebrating a moment from time / notice boards / the typewriter owner – all themes which have the potential to link back to past projects, or concepts, that have arisen whilst working on other books. Size, scale, processes and working methodology also formed part of our discussion, and some initial decisions were noted.

Our aim now is to locate a new project. The starting point for this is to undertake both a review of previous work and individual research with each of us uploading a blog post to record our progress after two weeks of research, prior to a next scheduled FaceTime meeting in mid-May.