In between archive visits I have begun working on a sketchbook to gather my thoughts and ideas for the new work I intended to make for the Criminal Quilts exhibitions starting in summer 2018 – which is suddenly really quite soon!
I’ve created a sketchbook for sharing with people when I do talks about the project and during archive workshops starting in January. It is very much a working sketchbook; a gathering of ideas, inspiration, notes, thoughts, colours, textures and details but it is also intended to be shared, used and probably included in exhibitions so I have taken care to make it look really nice!
I’m working in a large format spiral bound sketchbook with brown kraft paper pages which is robust, easy to display, has capacity for expansion and the colour fits with the project. As I discussed in a previous post, I am finding the photo albums themselves very inspiring – the layers of papers, the damaged leather bindings and the marbled endpapers which feel like a little incongruous in their luxurious feel.
I’m also working on colour palettes to bring through the work, much of it inspired by sepia photos, cyanotype prints and my early pieces taking colours from the Shire Hall court buildings themselves and most recently I have been working on ways of creatively interpreting the data which the research is uncovering. My next post will explore the growing data collection in more detail.
You can keep up to date with the project on Twitter @criminalquilts or on my personal Instagram feed (which also includes a lot more besides!)
The research and development phase of Criminal Quilts is now well underway. I have been spending time in residence at Staffordshire Record Office exploring archives and finding out what resources I have to explore during this project and planning what the workshops for volunteers and participants will involve.
Stafford Prison photograph albums from the late 19th and early 20th century form the basis of the entire project. For several years I have been creating work around a handful of photographs of women with no additional information about them at all. One of the aims of this new funded research project is to explore the full collection of photograph albums and trace stories through the records.
There are 10 different albums dating from 1877 to 1915 which gives me a broad window of exploration beyond the Victorian and well into the 21st century. I have begun by cataloguing the women who appear in the photographs. The albums just contain photos, and in a couple of cases, indexed pages of named but very little detail. Each image is marked with the prisoner’s name, a date (of photograph, I assume) and a number. In this first phase I am making lists of all the women (about 10-15% of the total in each album I estimate) and noting name, date, number, approximate age and a detailed description of the photograph. I’ll then be able to cross reference between the albums to see who features more than once and then find out more about them via the written documents which I have yet to explore.
Already I can see women who appear several times over the years. I have identified prison uniforms and what I suspect is prison-issue clothing. There’s also a very clear timeline of fashion, particularly in hats which almost all of the women are wearing. These photographs are known to be a rare record of working class women’s clothing but I am already realising it is going to be difficult to be sure what is prison issue and what is personal property, particularly in the later images. There are also some really lovely shawls appearing which may well inspired new work.
I have a lot of additional research to do about the background to prison identification photography, about prison uniforms and a lot of cross referencing to fashion history in general before I can draw any conclusions about what their clothing says.
The albums themselves are impressive and inspiring objects with marbled endpapers, damaged spines and hand written text. I’ll be exploring the albums in more detail in the next post.
There are still spaces for volunteers to work with me on this project during 2018. Find out more here.
Criminal Quilts exhibition is available for touring in 2019 onwards.
Images of archive material courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office. Project funded by Arts Council England with Staffordshire County Council.
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.
I recently completed a small embroidery commission for my friend, the weaver Jan Garside, who I’ve collaborated with before. She asked me to make some pieces based on Elizabethan embroideries at Hardwick Hall for a commission she was working on.
Jan & her finished pieces. Find out more about Jan & her work here.
This was an interesting project. I’m not a traditional embroiderer and although I started my textile career making historical reproductions, it isn’t the way I work now. These embroideries are inspired by Elizabethan stitches, rather than being replicas. I know plenty about Elizabethan embroidery and already knew the Hardwick textiles so had a good idea what Jan wanted when she first asked me about the commission, but I also knew I couldn’t make a reproduction. Working on a commission like this is a challenge, trying to make my own interpretation of the source material but also work within the brief given me by Jan, as the embroideries formed part of her work, with her name on caption. Luckily Jan and I have similar ideas, although different ways of working, and it helped that we had collaborated before. I enjoyed making these pieces enormously and intend to develop the ideas further in my own work, from the stitches used to the idea of working with lettering.
Note added: Some of the linen fabric I used was kindly donated by Scrapiana and came from her handmade wedding outfit!