Author: tamarmaclellan

Thrift & The Button Box

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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.

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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

To Bordeaux and Back

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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.

Cataloguing colours within my Blue Book revealed 127 individual references to just 10 colours with black and white being the two colours used most frequently. In the majority of instances each colours is used as a metaphor, with references to age and emotional states being the most common. I have become interested in this symbolic approach to using colour linked to a specific parlance through time and place. Perhaps this is an approach to making with meaning which could be applied to stories and subject matter concerned with domesticity and the everyday?

In order to combine page 99 of both Blue Books, I began by alternating sentences. Whilst not altogether successful, this did get me started, and I began to see the body of text as individual pieces similar to that of a jigsaw. By cutting out words, and smaller phrases I started to group similar words and look for potential stories within the text. Small sentences began to emerge, almost as extracts from some bigger story. Whilst these are a combination of words from both books, I struggled to make one sequential piece of text and instead made 10 short stories taking inspiration from the reference to chapter 10 within P’s book.

Within the Difference

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P and T: Following a visit to Windham, we took the opportunity to determine our next project. A face to face meeting enabled us to exchange books and view first hand commonalities. We questioned if there were any? and if we wanted to alter, combine or produce by-products of these volumes. A leading issue was the discovery that ‘Twenty Years A’Growing’ is considered a seminal work documenting the Irish language which presents some challenges in making responses which haven’t previously been considered. This, together with some initial reservations around the author of ‘Venture to the Interior’, resulted in the decision not to focus on the main characters in the book but to search out something new.

We started to talk about cataloguing, and how we had both really enjoyed the inventory aspect of the Windham instructions. We were reminded of the Vera project, and spent some time talking through how we had catalogued the seemingly random collection of broken jewellery and the subsequent value this had given to 5 miscellaneous pieces. This seemed to give us a way forward. We questioned – why we can’t catalogue these books in the same way that we catalogued Vera? This could be a new way of looking at the books – a visual examination of the whole rather than the narrative or the leading character. From this point, we began to generate a list of categories to catalogue. These became: colour, transport, animals, clothing, food, drink, occupation, climate, building, equipment (domestic or otherwise).

We agreed on a system and will plan a FaceTime conversation on 15 March to review emerging ideas.

Visiting Windham

P and T: A pre-arranged face to face meeting enabled the opportunity to visit Windham in the Bucks County Museum, as part of an exhibition called Ex Libris: Altered Books (http://www.buckscountymuseum.org/museum/events/498/ex-libris-altered-books/).

As our first venture into the genre of altered books, it was interesting to note the similarities and differences within the rationales and books presented. Windham Volume 1 and 2 was shown alongside 2 other books that utilised similar approaches to either the production or research methodology. A large proportion of the books appeared to place greater value on decorative elements, whilst on reflection we concluded that the process we had put in place to re-work Windham had greater importance to the development of our practice and it is this that will inform our next collaborative Blue Book project.

Blue Books: First Observations

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T. A pre-arranged FaceTime conversation provided the opportunity to share and exchange initial observations made individually in response to first readings of our new blue books. Selected independently, it was interesting to note a number of actual and potential similarities as we talked through our findings.

In consideration of this new project, we both agreed that we remain interested in continuing to question our established collaborative practice, and that whilst we had enjoyed our first altered book project, we do not want to repeat Windham, but use what we learnt in the process to move our practice forward. With this in mind, P introduced the notion of the production of a series of by-products at a continuum of the process of altering our new blue books. These may provide the opportunity to further explore scale, text and image in alternative formats.

Beginning to exchange the stories and characters contained within our books, we noted the emergence of content similarities. Both books contain maps and document journeys and both tell stories with male leads and references to other languages. Time and place may be significant alongside characters met along the journey. As a starting point we both agreed to begin to list the characters and geography contained within our books in preparation for our next planned face to face meeting in two weeks time.

P. Considering the random selection of two ‘blue books’, it is interesting how many perceived similarities there are between the two editions, are these coincidences a matter of chance? or could we have found similarities within whatever books we had chosen?
As well as reading the novel, I did some primary research into the author Laurens van der Post – sadly he does not have the same charm as Windham; a friend of Prince Charles, and godfather to Prince William,  the story of his seduction of a 14 year old girl entrusted to his care during a sea journey, which resulted in her becoming pregnant, does little to endear him to me; however I should not let this colour my opinion of the book or the potential development of the project.

Instruction 8: The Colour Blue

Initial research around the notion of oratory brilliance, in response to instruction 8, led to articles claiming that the content of successful speeches informs, entertains and offers immediate audience engagement often employing chronological or alphabetical organisation. I read about the value of charts and tables to convey data and the use of visual imagery to make the speech more powerful. Alongside this reading, I reviewed the book itself and began to consider how I could respond to this instruction and affect the whole page at the beginning of each section. I observed that volume 1 covered the first 45years of Windham’s life and that within key content outlined at the beginning of each section there were multiple references to the colour blue. From shades of blue representing Windham’s education (Eaton Blue, University of Glasgow blue, Oxford Blue) to the blue of Windham’s political beliefs. I noted all links to the colour blue within the introductory text for each section and used the copy machine to re-print this in the single colour blue. By increasing the scale, I have attempted to add further importance and value to these links. I constructed a table of the numbers 1 – 45 to fit on a single page of the book and reprinted these using the copier machine to achieve 7 shades of blue to convey a significant happening within each section – these became: Eaton Blue, Dublin Blue, Sky Blue (to represent Windham’s assent in a hot air balloon), French Revolution Blue, Pastel Blue (to represent the clothes favoured by Marie Antoinette), Tory Blue and Navy Blue (to represent the Royal Navy). Beginning with a black and white and reversed negative image I produced each of the shades I blue I had selected by altering the density, choice of single colour, depth of saturation and altering the colour balance functions on the copier machine within the colour/image quality options provided. By removing specific years which each table I have identified the relevant years written about within each section, and attempted to draw upon some of the issues identified as strengths within successful speech writing.

Instruction 7: 10 Additional Marks

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With no margin marks at all within Volume 1 of the Windham papers, I was initially unclear about how to respond to Instruction 7. Reading around the notion of markings in books led to articles in celebration of marginalia, claiming that this process enables a heightened form of engagement in which the reader can collaborate with the text and mingle with the author on some primary textural plane (O’Connell, M; The Marginal Obsession with Marginalia 2012). Whilst previous readers had not engaged with the process of making marks, I had observed occasional thin strips of additional paper within the inner page margins dotted throughout the book. These presented a contrast to the printed page of text and I began to consider that these could be the margin marks which I identify in some way. I think that these strips are connected to the insertion of illustrations within the book which seemed to link to standpoint O’Connell presents in which margin marks retain something of the former owner’s presence, in this case the former owner may have made the book! In order to identify these strips of paper, I inserted sequential numbers in the top left and right page corners to highlight the quantity and positioning throughout the book and then marked up each strip in black. I contrasted these with blank white self-adhesive labels in the corners of all of the pages which contain no additional papers. Interestingly the addition of so many labels has increased the thickness of the book and produced a slight tonal change to the colouring of the page edges.

Instruction 6: A Question of Selection, Organisation and Presentation

The examination of dictionary definitions and their accompanying synonyms once again framed my visual response to instruction 6. Processes of working emerged through this initial research around how to select, organise and present text decoratively to include both the voice of the author of the introduction and provide clues to the life and times of William Windham.

Some research into endpapers provided information about their placement and early methods claiming that endpapers were originally made within anything to hand including manuscript off cuts. This seemed to suggest making use of sections of the introduction in some way.

Returning to a system of colour coding established within Instruction 2 to catalogue Windham’s personal and professional life, I introduced a new colour to include the voice of the Earl of Rosebery, the introduction author and golden boy of the early 20th century. Reading through the introduction I searched for the essence of the texts – clues to the successes and failures within Windham’s life and the standpoints made by Rosebery. The process of highlighting these added decoration to the introduction and provided a starting point to build upon. These selections were copied and over-printed with scale increased through the use of the copier machine in an attempt to visualise the charm of conversation which is what Rosebery claims to be the ‘real reputation of Windham’. Decorative and non-functional text sections emerged and I considered drawing attention to punctuation markings and key phrases. A selection of words which‘survived’ the numerous copier machine overprinting are still functional, in that they can be read. These have been embellished with text removed from the introduction to add additional decorative elements exploring scale and placement.

Positioning the end papers within the book, I made use of the markings already in place so that the words wrap around the book plate, Christ Church library bar code, and date of entry to the original library collection.