research

SPF: Presentation, Discussion & Conversation

Recovered / Recorded was presented on the Caseroom Press table at Small Publishers Fair, Conway Hall on 9-10 November. This afforded opportunities for P and I to discuss the project face to face alongside conversations with fellow exhibitors and visitors in response to questions around objects discovered in gardens.

P and I exchanged stories of making processes including challenges, successes and technical skills developing. We began to consider the potential of this project, and some consideration was given to C9 which was the one fragment P and I had both selected to be represented. We discussed the idea of making larger prints which combined imagery from these first books and extended each fragment to reveal the imagined whole object it may have been originally part of. These could be linked to more objects and perhaps the original/imagined owners of the china.

As visitors and fellow exhibitors stopped to view books on the table, conversations were entered into with those interested in Recovered/Recorded. Stories of objects being found in gardens were invited to be recounted, shared and documented in response to a pre-prepared series of 10 questions substantiating our areas of interest. Approximately 8 questionnaires were given out on day one in response to stories revealing:

  • the burying of barbie doll heads as a child
  • the finding of a stone head in a garden which is ‘a bit strange’ and now ‘lives on a shelf in the house’
  • the finding of lots of pottery and ‘even whole glass bottles’
  • the finding of a grenade
  • the storing of found objects within a cabinet of curiosities

Following on from the initial success of  sales and conversations at SPF, P and I will now send the questionnaire to friends and family before Christmas in the hope of gathering further stories to make use of within the development of this project in the New Year.

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Reading, Researching and Reminiscing

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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.

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).

Counting and Cutting

As I undertake the two set tasks, I am still finding it difficult to connect with this project. There is no set outcome at the moment – but this isn’t the problem, it’s more that the project seems to lack depth and I wonder if we are trying too hard to find a solution to something that just isn’t there; should we have considered our book choice more clearly and selected a topic around domesticity? Would this have given us a clearer sense of direction? However, there is the realisation that if we DO manage to produce a body of work from this project, then this method of working could enhance our current collaborative practice and become a foundation for developing further work.

Despite the negative comments above, I am enjoying the process of discussion, and the subsequent setting of mini-tasks to advance the project. In terms of the current tasks – listing the colours, although a little tedious, is easy, my final tally is approximately 380; however working with the texts from our respective page 99s is proving to a lot harder than I expected. I have tried various methods of combining the texts and at one point even resorted to an online story generator, which also failed! I am aware that this could be an abstract narrative and so I looked at the work of Raoul Hausmann and Dada poetry – including the Tristan Tzara method of ‘How to make a Dadaist Poem’ – and although this uses a very basic system to produce a narrative, I didn’t like the methodology or outcomes that it generated.

dada sound poem

However, I was interested in the idea of applying a system, which is something that began recurring in our work during the Windham Papers. I began by looking and analysing the texts, noting similarities, highlighting pronouns, and isolating specific aspects of the narrative until I developed a system that enabled me to produce a new text. The finished piece doesn’t use all the words as the task required, but I could keep going through the text and apply different systems until they are all used up!

 

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.

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 5: Measurement and Line

Completion of Instruction 2 enabled first investigation of the locations from which Windham wrote his letters within Volume 1. Of the 49 letters he wrote, 25 included listed addresses from 10 different locations, 4 of which were from his home of Felbrigg Hall in Norwich. Taking the idea that Windham would have departed and returned from his home at Felbrigg Hall, I used this as the starting point, and began by listing the distance of each town recorded from the Hall. When only streets were listed, I used known information about the life of Windham to determine which town the street may be from the list of options provided on Google Maps! This resulted in addresses in Glasgow, where Windham was a student, the Netherlands, and a further 2 in London, including one of the oldest Gentleman clubs in London!

Utalising this system of distance, I constructed a network of lines radiating from and back to the library windows at Felbrigg Hall to catalogue additional places of writing. The original library stamp from Christ Church, Oxford provided an opportunity to present a key to each location and record the number of times that a letter was written from each address.

Instruction 4: Similarities & Differences

Taking an idea from the given word connection, I began by exploring potential links with previous responses and reflected upon the similarities and differences within this instruction and the last. I considered how I might draw upon making practices employed within my response to instruction 3 to undertake instruction 4. The similarity of scale and placement of the portraits enabled a returning to the idea of the Oxford frame. Within this response I chose to remove the shape of the frame to amplify a lack of connection to Windham. I also returned to the idea of printing multiple initials to decorate the back of the portrait pages embellishing these with gold leaf to further illuminate the gaps in between the individual letters which I had previously filled with the initials of William Windham in instruction 3. With a further reference to the notion of illuminating, and historical illuminated letters, I made use of the paper removed from the book in cutting out the Oxford frame and embellished these with emerging connections with Windham’s life, loves and letters. These are placed decoratively within the original portrait and will be made use of again to embellish the list of illustrations at the front of Vol.1