Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All washed and ready to go!

Whilst studying for my MA Textiles some years ago, I concentrated on conceptual textile art. Since then my day job has been as a designer for functional items, bags and cases for all types of products. I am also a tutor on all the OCA Textiles degree courses. When my dear auntie Frances died last year, I was lucky enough to inherit a large collection of her dressmaking remnants, hidden away for many years. Most are from the 1960s, some from the 70s and a few are even from the 50s.  Looking through them is  like a snapshot of the past, a rummage through time and space and memory. I was actually with her when she bought many of them and the memories came flooding back.  Some were pieces left over from dresses I made for her in my spare time whilst at secondary school (she was single, a CEO, a successful career woman ahead of her time). The dresses have long gone; I wish I had some still, as its strangely often these personal items without financial value which have so much meaning in life. For an excellant discussion on just this subject I would direct you to My Mother's Wedding Dress - The Fabric of Our Lives by Justine Picardie. This book was recommended to me by Sarah Braddock-Clarke, a fellow OCA Textiles tutor earlier this year. You might in turn be familiar with her wondeful book, Techno Textiles which is a standard book for students nowadays.

 But what to do with all those wondeful remnants?  I was taught in art school to let the design process dictate the choice of materials and not the other way around. When I'm commissioned to a case for a medical product (to be worn on a patient in hospital) it needs to pass the necessary safety standards, be hygenically wipeable and to look appropriate. Handbags on the other hand, can be  made out of almost anything- beautiful exotic fabrics for evening, strong cotton for summer, plastics, recycled packaging even. So the starting point to me suggests bags again, even if taking a more conceptual approach. I have to add that Auntie was also a handbag fanatic ahead of her time. We used to get the train from Ely to London on many a Saturday for a rummage around Libertys sale. The few I have also inherited are all in lavender, her favourite colour. I also found one very tatty dress pattern from the mid 60s, some now vintage cotton reels, some packs of bias binding and a few other notions which fell out of the remnants. Again this suggests a return to my textile roots in perhaps a more conceptual way than I would have used them whilst at secondary school. In the meantime if you've made any creative textiles from  fabric personal to you, I would love to hear from you.


  1. Hi Trisha. What a great problem to have, but also rather daunting. I've used smaller pieces in crazy quilt designs (not actual quilts) before and added photos and personal embellishments, but that's not going to help with the big pieces. I'll give it some thought!. Cheers, di

  2. Snap, as you know my Mum passed away recently and I've inherited a large box crammed full of lengths of fabric she accumulated over 40-50 years. There is also a box of patterns that include baby clothes that she would have made for my brother and I 50 years ago and a box full of buttons. She was a tailoress and I've recently discovered while doing some research into my family tree that Mum's grandmother was also a seamstress in the late 1800's perhaps we both inherited a rogue gene to account for our love of sewing/textiles :)

    We found Mum's wedding dress a few years back when we where having a clear out and still have the pattern she used to make it back in 1957.

    Thanks for helping me to remember the happy times we had in various fabric shops here in Liverpool.

  3. Trisha Your blog made me reflect on how evocative fabrics are and how they can suddenly catapult you into a past memory. Also the dress patterns reminded me of afternoons spent looking through the old pattern books in department stores. I still have some very old Vogue patterns that I can't bear to part with though I have never used them (though why I'm not sure). My mother taught me to use a sewing machine but that was more or less it. I have no other memories of her using it. However I have an aunt (still alive, whose job was home sewing, churning out items of clothing by the dozen. She made my sister's wedding dress and the two bridesmaids' dresses (I wore one). Colour lilac so your aunt would possibly have approved! Thanks for mentioning Justine Picardie. I remember her articles and would love to read the book.

  4. This is very inspiring! I did not realise you had such a rich background in textiles and inspiration. It also made me think, whether I have any sentimental fabrics myself ... which I am not sure I do, comes with moving I suppose, and re-using what one can instead of saving it all up. I have piles of bits and pieces, what I managed to get here and there but nothing of a very great value. I will definitely try to get a hold of those two mentioned books, they sound a great starting point of a possible research.

  5. Hi Trish - I can see I'm going to have to start getting my stash of fabrics on my blog - your's are so mouth watering to look at. Interesting what you say about "let the design process dictate the choice of materials and not the other way around" it always seemed like it swung both ways working in the garment industry. And as the textile base was developed then garment design would evolve and it would swing back and forth in development until the perfect (hopefully) combo resulted.