Tagged: fashion fast

Apr 14

How I gave up clothing

 

 

Six Items Challenge

My Six Items Challenge

 

A really big thank-you to all who sponsored me to give up most of my wardrobe for the Six Items Challenge, a ‘fashion fast’ for Lent. You raised a rather wonderful £114.31 for Labour Behind the Label, an organisation working hard to highlight the perils of fast fashion. So thank you. Over on my Instagram feed I’ve posted a few rather monotonous pictures charting what I wore: @Scrapianagram. If you thought about sponsoring me but didn’t get around to it, there’s still time.  And it’s for a tremendous cause. Here’s the link.

 

What is fast fashion?

The Six Items Challenge is an annual event organised by Labour Behind the Label to highlight the problem of ‘fast fashion‘. And what a problem it is. Our increasing reliance on cheap clothing makes it almost a disposable commodity – we can afford to wear this stuff once and pitch it, not even bothering to to give it a wash. One of the hidden impacts of such cheap clothing is the meagre earnings of many garment workers worldwide, living on so little (£1.50 a day isn’t unusual) that they don’t have sufficient money even to eat properly, let alone clothe themselves – oh, the irony. Organisations such as Labour Behind the Label help garment workers worldwide gain fair conditions and a living wage.

 

Why did I take on this fashion fast?

Well, it was the least I could do, really. Coping with a pared-down wardrobe from Ash Wednesday till Easter isn’t a major deprivation. It wasn’t as if I was committing to working a 100-hour week. Or earning £1.50 a day. Or starving. I hoped to challenge myself, and to help raise a little awareness, maybe.

 

How did I feel about this before I began?

Honestly? As a relatively pampered Westerner, I was quite daunted by the prospect of limiting my wardrobe to just six essential pieces, excluding underwear, accessories, sleepwear, performance sportswear etc. It seemed so restrictive. I anticipated feeling hemmed in. I expected to find it difficult, to fantasise about what else I might be wearing. I thought I’d miss my jeans. I imagined I’d run into personal hygiene problems. Yes, the prospect didn’t exactly fill me with joyful anticipation. Who on earth enjoys giving anything up anyway? We all want more, right? Why am I even doing this with problems of my own? Charity begins at home and all that. That’s pretty much how I felt.

 

So, what was it actually like?

Well, the 6 weeks were full of surprises.

( Read more )

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Apr 13

Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched!

 

 

The American Museum

The American Museum wakes up for another season

 

‘Hatches, matches and dispatches’ is old newspaper slang for the births, marriages and deaths columns. You’ll also hear it used to refer to baptisms, weddings and funerals, the corresponding services offered by the Church. Now the American Museum in Britain, located idyllically on the southern outskirts of Bath, has tweaked the term for its latest exhibition, Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched! This exhibition, which runs through the year until 1st November 2015, brings together textile artefacts interwoven with life’s great rites of passage. And, as plenty of those textile items have been created using patchwork (and the museum has a fine permanent quilt collection), that’s where the ‘patched’ comes in.

Some artefacts have also been borrowed from exhibition partners the Beamish Museum, Jersey Museum and Art Gallery, the Quilters’ Guild, and Jen Jones’ collection in Wales, and so the sourcing reflects a mixed provenance from both the United States and the British Isles. But it’s the cross-cultural universality of the human condition which draws them all together, and there are plenty of poignant human-interest stories behind these objects, as curator Kate Hebert explains: ‘the personal and sentimental connections, the stories of the individuals that are linked with these objects, are what I have found so moving.’

I went along for the press launch early last month when spring was still struggling to assert itself and the banks of daffodils were only just beginning to open outside in the beautiful grounds. But there was plenty of stitched brightness and vitality to view within the exhibition. Here’s a taste of what I saw.

 

Hatched, Matched, Dispatched - & Patched!

Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched! poster

Glad rags

Life’s big milestones are usually associated with looking your best,  so it makes sense that many of the textile objects featured in the exhibition are items of clothing (a subject I was possibly over-engaged with when I attended as I was in the middle of a ‘fashion fast’ – more of that in another post). Christening gowns, christening bonnets, baby slippers, bridal gowns and shoes, black clothes worn when an official period of mourning was enforced, even clothing worn by the dead to be buried in – modern day grave goods, you might call them – feature here.

The displays are subdivided into three grouped sections (‘Hatched’, ‘Matched’ and ‘Dispatched’), but I’ll dot back and forth between them for this post.

In the ‘Hatched’ section cascades of handmade broderie anglaise in a row of Christening gowns caught my eye. The christening gown took over when swaddling fell out of favour in the eighteenth century. Then gowns became longer and longer, an opportunity to display one’s wealth and status in the finest detail, all located at the front, of course, where it could be shown off. In a cabinet of baby bonnets, I spotted a cap with the tiniest imaginable white French knots – alas, my phone wasn’t up to capturing them. I was also drawn to a pair of 1930s silk baby slippers with padded soles worked very effectively in a hatched trapunto pattern of quilting, using coloured yarns which were just visible through the silk.

 

Christening robe, c. 1890 c/o Jersey Museum

Christening robe, c. 1890 c/o Jersey Museum

 

One of the wedding dresses on display was worn in 1887 by Agnes Lucy Hughes, the first mother-in-law of Wallis Simpson.  But most eye-catching is the daffodil dress (see below) embroidered by Henriette Leonard for inclusion in her bridal trousseau around 1892. Tragically, Henriette died before she was able to wear it; her brother persuaded her to take a tour of Europe shortly before her wedding, and during the trip she took ill with the flu allied with ‘nervous exhaustion’ and died. The pristine condition of the dress suggests that it was never worn and got packed away as a family memento.

Daffodil dress. Image c/o The American Museum

Daffodil dress. Photo credit: the American Museum

 

Sad rags

In the ‘Dispatched’ section there’s quite a bit of mourning garb, much of it nineteenth century and frequently featuring jet. As a Victorian female mourner observing a strict code of mourning etiquette, your yards of black crepe would be held together in part by ‘jet pins’ (actually ‘japanned’ or enamelled metal) so as not to allow the unseemly glint of frivolous silver caused by a regular steel pin.

Jet pins

Jet pins

 

Strict observance of an official mourning regime in Britain appears to have been relaxed during the Great War. Then the massive death toll in the trenches would have required so many to wear mourning garb that civilian morale would have been too sorely tested.

There’s a tradition in Wales of knitting stockings to be worn after death. Similarly, some women quilted skirts to be buried in. The late nineteenth century Welsh skirt below is a rare survival, made by two sisters who somehow left it behind when they moved house.

 

Welsh quilted burial skirt, nineteenth century, courtesy of Jen Jones

Welsh quilted burial skirt, nineteenth century, courtesy of Jen Jones

Quilts

Finely detailed items to adorn the home have often been made in response to a birth, stitched by a young woman in anticipation of her marriage, or by a mourning widow to mark the sorrowful departure of her life’s partner. The American Museum is justly famous for its quilt collection, and you get a chance to see a few of their gems showcased here in this exhibition.

 

Ellen Bryant's 1863 log cabin quilt

Ellen Bryant’s 1863 log cabin quilt

 

One of my favourites is the stunning log cabin top shown above, pieced around 1863 by Ellen Bryant in  preparation for her marriage in Londonderry, Vermont.  Over three hundred log cabin blocks (each 4 and a half inches square) have been arranged in a variation known as ‘barn raising’ or ‘sunshine and shadow’. This eye-popping quilt has an even more intricately pieced backing created by Ellen’s sister, not finished until 1886. Evidently the resulting quilt – a sororal labour of love – took over two decades to complete.

And another favourite from the permanent collection is the Christmas bride. The appliqued holly leaves have faded over the years, as greens tend to do, but the red berries and festoons remain surprisingly bright. Insider tip: you may still be able to find a tea towel bearing this design in the museum shop.

 

Christmas Bridge appliqued quilt

Christmas Bride appliqued quilt

 

With my interest in mending, I was glad to see Bertha Mitchell’s quilt, made from dress and furnishing fabrics to celebrate her sister’s wedding in 1899. Bertha worked as a seamstress, repairing clothes in Keswick Boarding School.  You’ll find a close-up picture of that quilt over on my Instagram feed.

A very special cot quilt is featured here, on loan from the Quilters’ Guild, but unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of it. It’s the earliest piece on display (1700-10) and is a white, whole-cloth quilt, densely quilted by hand.

There are also a few mourning or memorial quilts on display, a couple dating from the American Civil War era (see ‘Darts of Death’ on my Instagram feed).

 

Poignant needle

And then there was possibly the most moving item of all, a simple embroidered tablecloth – its very ordinariness adding to its poignancy. The signatures of female friends and American servicemen stationed at Cheltenham during the months leading up to D-Day are partly embroidered. But some remain in the pencil. Helen Slater, the embroiderer, was working them in a variety of bright colours, but she stopped part way through one signature, and her needle remains lodged in the fabric. She couldn’t bring herself to finish the project after she heard that her fiancé, Jack Carpenter (his name embroidered in red) had been killed in action. She put the cloth away with a book (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) that he’d given her just before he left for the D-Day landings, and she cherished them both for 70 years until her own death.

Embroidered tablecloth, World War II

Embroidered tablecloth, World War II

Postpartum pincushions

I like a nice pin or several and so made a beeline for a couple of exhibits featuring pins. For the diehard haberdashery enthusiast, besides the jet pins mentioned above there’s the museum’s own 1821 baby-welcoming pincushion made of silk and steel pins. This pincushion, which has just been restored (the silk had shredded and the stuffing been lost), reminded me of a couple in the 2010 V&A exhibition of quilts, though those were dated a little earlier. Pincushions with elaborate patterns and phrases marked out with pinheads were popular gifts for new mothers. However, it was considered bad luck to gift such a pincushion before the birth, as that might sharpen the pains of labour. The museum notes explain that in colonial New York, births were announced by hanging pincushions on door knockers – a practice which apparently fell out of favour after the safety pin was invented in 1878.

Welcome little stranger pin cushion

‘Welcome little stranger’ pin cushion

 

Tonsorial textiles

Grim though they might sound to us today, mourning rings made from the deceased’s hair were popular on both sides of the Atlantic during the nineteenth century. The eagle-eyed visitor to this exhibition will spot fascinatingly intricate rings and brooches delicately woven from human hair. I didn’t get a good shot of them, sadly, as that part of the exhibition was dark, but do look out for the rings ingeniously formed to resemble tiny buckled belts.

There’s a lot more to see than I can show you here, but you can find a few more images over on my Instagram feed. And let’s not forget the person who put it all together: Kate Hebert, new in post as the American Museum’s curator. Congratulations, Kate!

Curator Kate Hebert

Curator Kate Hebert

 

Finally, a quick update on last year’s immensely popular Kaffe Fassett exhibition. I’m reliably informed that there is now a permanent Kaffe boutique at the museum, so whenever you time your visit you can always get your fix.

 

Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched! runs till 1st November 2015 at the American Museum in Britain, Claverton Manor.  There will be a talk by Edwina Ehrman, Curator of Fashion & Textiles at  the Victoria & Albert Museum, this Thursday 16th April 2015. Check out the museum’s website for other associated events.

Running alongside this exhibition is Spirit Hawk Eye, a celebration of American native culture through the portraits of Heidi Laughton.

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Feb 18

Giving things up

 

 

 

Today is Ash Wednesday and I’m fully embracing the give-something-up for Lent concept this year. As a slightly rusty Anglican, I really appreciate this opportunity afforded by the Church calendar for a period of quiet reflection. So, to cut to the chase, I’ve decided to give up two things: most of my wardrobe, and social media for the next 40-odd days.

Six Items Challenge

From today, I’ll be on Labour Behind the Label‘s Six Items Challenge for the next six weeks. This is a ‘fashion fast’ to draw attention to the perils of fast fashion. I certainly have plenty of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t wear. How much clothing do we all really need anyway? What does ‘fashion’ mean to me? Is the 4-6 week fashion cycle one that I care about or have any relationship at all with? Do I like or care for what’s ‘bang on trend’? Do I want people to live and work in terrible conditions to supply me with cheap, disposable clothing that’s ‘bang on trend’? All these questions are ones that I’ll be thinking about over the next few weeks while on the Six Items Challenge.

Taking part means that I’ll have to stick to a basic wardrobe of just six garments, not including underwear, accessories, or high-performance sportswear. I’ve found simply preparing for the challenge challenging enough; picking out my essential wardrobe has been tricky. I somehow resisted the sartorial advice of my 15-year-old son to purchase myself six onesies and have instead selected:-

  • 3 cashmere tops, one grey, one black, one red (all bought secondhand a while back)
  • 2 wool pinafore-type tunic over-dresses, both black (both sourced secondhand a while back, again), and
  • a wool cardigan (bought new several years ago), grey with giant comedy buttons
My only six garments for the next six weeks

Only six garments for the next six weeks

 

I’ll be going without, but all that cashmere is hardly hair-shirt. It should feel soft and non-irritating against my skin and hopefully keep me warm enough (I was warned by a previous year’s challengee that things can get chilly). The pinafore-type dresses mean that I can layer up, and wear a variety of tights underneath, hopefully allowing me to dress up or down to suit the occasion. I can ring the changes and jazz up a rather neutral palette with various accessories too. And the cardigan will hopefully keep making me smile – those buttons are enormous and very silly. The laundry element of the challenge scares me more than slightly; if you happen to see me IRL over the next few weeks, please approach with caution, and possibly with a fragrant nosegay to hand. I can well imagine quite rapidly resorting to this kind of thing. But let’s hope not.

If you’re intrigued, would like to know more, and possibly join me (which would be wonderful), here’s the link to challenge page. You don’t have to do it for the entire six weeks. Adjust to fit.

If you’re feeling flush, then it would be great if you’d sponsor me. I didn’t realise until I’d already signed up that there’s a sponsorship element to the challenge. I don’t anticipate getting anywhere near my £500 target, but it would be really good to be able to help Labour Behind the Label with their sterling work empowering garment workers around the globe – standing up for the victims of not just Rana Plaza but so many other appallingly exploitative situations. I’m hugely grateful to those who have already stepped up to the mark and helped me to help them. Thank you so much.

I must flag up online friends taking part, particularly Catherine Hopkins who’ll be reporting on her progress throughout.  You can keep tabs on the challenge on social media by looking out for the hashtags #sixitemschallenge and #labourbehindthelabel. You’ll also find things posted on the Six Items Challenge Facebook page.

And Labour Behind the Label’s Fundraising Director, Rebecca Cork, will be joining us at the next meet-up of the Big Mend at the Museum of Bath at Work next week, Wednesday 25th February from 7pm. So if you’re in Bath, please come along to hear a little about what Labour Behind the Label does. Then we’ll be mending, as usual. No need to book and no charge, though a small donation to help towards museum costs is welcomed.

Sponsorship page

My sponsorship page

 

 

Farewell, Social Media

After a discussion with some Christian friends the other night about what we’d all be giving up (or possibly taking up, or doing differently) for Lent, it occurred to me that the thing that would really give me withdrawal symptoms was probably not abstinence from tea, coffee, alcohol or chocolate but social media. And so, with not a little irony (as we are just entering the Chinese Year of the Sheep), I’ve decided that from today I will cease from public bleating. I will not be blogging, micro-blogging, posting, reposting, tweeting, retweeting, sharing, over-sharing, tagging, hashtagging, rehashtagging, artfully filtering photos, liking, linking, commenting, hearting, poking, pinning or replying for the next six weeks. Instead, I’ll be doing everything IRL and one-to-one, mostly in the flesh: meeting up with friends and family in person, catching up on the phone (remember that?), having proper conversations, reading books, doing any necessary shopping in bricks-and-mortar shops, watching movies, attending services, mending (including at the Museum of Bath at Work on 25th February – do join me if you happen to be around), gardening, engaging, exploring, planting, thinking, meditating, walking, contemplating, writing and working very, very hard. But no more of the Penn Broadcasting Company. No more glib narcissism. I hope to be more generally on receive than transmit. In short, I shall be hunkering down and keeping mum. Enjoying the quiet. I’m just sorry that this coincides with when I might be tweeting etc in support of Labour Behind the Label’s challenge, but I’m sure they’ll understand. I’m happy to engage in email correspondence, so if you have reason to get in touch then please do so.

Roll on Saturday 4th April. And wish me luck.

Buttoning up for the foreseeable

Buttoning up for the foreseeable

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