13th June 2019: CHORD workshop: Private Textiles and Dress: Domestic and Intimate Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses

Just a few notes on some of the themes that emerged from today’s conference and some very interesting responses to my paper.

Many of the papers explored the tensions between social history and design history. We need to bear in mind who the authors of a collection are and what stories they are trying to tell. One thing I did note with interest – the curators and art historians at this event seem to have no problem with the use of replicas in order to tell a story. It was also interesting to note how dress was used in many institutions to establish a narrative, the aim is to evoke a personal, emotive response and there was general agreement that the clothing offered a way to make that connection, people are able to identify with clothing.

Rachel Neal’s paper, Resonating the Narrative of Human Presence Through Everyday Dress, was particularly enlightening. She talked about biographical narratives through objects and how the human presence can be a evoked through the display of objects in a casual historical context (Mr Straw’s House, Nottinghamshire) the garments left hanging up or draped on the backs of chairs, giving the impression that the owner had just left the room. Used in this way, the clothing becomes a stand in for the absent person “the material remnants of a life lived”. I wondered how much this effect is due to familiarity with the garments? We can identify a cardigan or jacket and then I wondered if the clothing objects I was working with would have the same sort of effect, the clothes being so ‘alien’? I then wondered if, instead of embodying narrative through the objects, I am instead trying to embody a narrative through the acts of remaking? I then further wondered if (as the position of replicas seems to be irrelevant here) there might be some sort of argument as to why digital or interactive reconstructions is an appropriate response – the clothes might be ‘alien’ but the interactive digital environment is not.

With regards to my own paper, I have been writing and researching it for the last week and I’m happy that I’ve established a rough stylistic chronology. However, one major question has started to emerge, and it really came to the fore today – where are the edges of Blackwork?

It is not in the geometric patterns, because it can be freeform.

It is not in the colour of the threads, as it can be stitched in other colours.

It is not in the types of stitch, because I am discovering the variety of stitches used is vast.

I think it might be the use of line, but perhaps it is just a fuzzy concept – there are objects that are distinctly Blackwork but also objects that could be considered Blackwork even though they don’t fit exactly, this is something I really need to think about.

The last two papers of the day (Textiles, Care and Access at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (Rosalyn Sklar and Nic Fulcher), At Home with Textiles: Furnishing Textiles and Upholstery in the Geffrye Museum’s Period Rooms (Emma Hardy)) also gave me some thoughts and approaches to the need for access vs preservation. One interesting idea that I had not considered – that an original object and might not be appropriate for the narrative because of its condition. Do we want to display as is (including some notions of the objects history – think of faded colour or tarnished spangles) or do we replicate in order to highlight its original qualities? Perhaps a digital version might be able to offer both?

I was particularly struck by the plain white clothing models at Shakespeare’s Birthplace – a perfect surface for projection?!

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