Textiles and Dress from Below – Criminal Clothing Research

In June I will be presenting my research on the clothing worn by women in the Stafford Prison photo albums 1877-1916 (from my Criminal Quilts project) at an academic workshop at Wolverhampton University on Thursday 7th June.

The event  Textiles and Dress from Below: Ordinary and Everyday Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses looks at every day clothing and textiles across a broad spectrum. The event is open to all and tickets are £20

 

The photographs provide an unique resource for the study of working class women’s clothing and prison issue clothing in the period. Although there are numerous collections of similar photographs very little has been published focussing on women and their clothing. The Staffordshire collections are unusually abundant with nearly 500 images, including some women who appear several times over a couple of decades. Alongside extensive research and the creation of art works inspired by these images and records, I am researching further into the details of clothing and hats which can be seen in the images. Research shows that most of the photographs were taken a few days before release from prison so it is unclear if they would be wearing their own garments or prison-issue.

A considerable number of women are shown wearing woven wool shawls, particularly in the 19th century images, which is fairly common for working women but it is still unclear how many of these are their own clothes or if the shawls were prison issue. Later photographs seem to show standard prison issue garments comprising a gingham apron, high neck collarless bodice and checked neckerchief. In many of the remaining images the women are wearing some kind of dark jacket or coat which may be prison uniform – certainly one or two images show the typical convict arrows on the garment.

Headwear is also intriguing – most of the women are wearing hats and the period range of the photos shows the fashionable development from the 1870s to the First World War.
As part of this research I am looking at comparable images from other collections, including those taken by police, which having been taken at arrest, must show women’s own clothes. There is also a possible connection between certain types of particularly showy clothing which may indicate prostitution. This paper presents the work in progress in analysing the images and comparable collections and draws connections to surviving clothing in museum collections and other resources as well as introducing my own textile work inspired by the photographs.

 

This research will also be presented in the Criminal Quilts book to be published in August 2018

 

Criminal Quilts research blog : photo albums. 

The photographs which have formed the source material for Criminal Quilts are held in bound albums in Staffordshire Record Office. The albums are part of a large collection of archives from Stafford Prison and I’ve been working my way through each one in the last couple of weeks. The images I am working with date from 1878-1915.

As well as the intriguing photographs of women, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the albums themselves. They are large bound books with hundreds of pages. Some have damaged spines showing the binding. Some covers are badly damaged too, showing layers of leather and board.

The albums have marbled endpapers and indexed pages, buckled pages and damaged corners. The materiality and weight of these albums adds another dimension to the stories of the women whose images are contained within. 

I am hoping to bring in the physicality of the albums into the new work in make as the project develops, in the form of artist-made books with hand printed and stitched pages.

 

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Criminal Quilts on the Radio

Yesterday I went into the Radio Leicester studio to talk about my Criminal Quilts project and the new work I am starting to develop for exhibitions next year.

You can listen to me on the programme at about 51 minutes in.

I’m working on new partnerships and projects for 2018 which will be announced in full at a launch event in Stafford on Friday 8th September. Full details coming soon.