Sunday, 20 March 2011

Hand Made Tales

When we were in London last month, I went to the Women's Library in the East End, partly to register to use the library, and to spend a few happy hours reading old womens' magazines from the 1970s, and partly to see an exhibition, Hand Made Tales, that runs until April 20th.

The exhibition aims to "explore the changing motivations behind making objects for home and family"  and covers a wider range of crafts than you might expect - gardening and cookery as well as knitting, crochet and sewing.  There are some wonderful objects in the exhibition, as well as tools and books.   Several items have been lent by the children or grandchildren of women who had immigrated to the UK and continued to practise the crafts they had learnt at home. For instance, there is some incredibly fine crochet work made by a grandmother from Cyprus, and a very exuberant crocheted traycloth made by a woman originally from the Caribbean, as far as I remember. The lenders described what they felt themselves about these objects, and what they thought they had meant to their mothers and grandmothers.

There are some larger items,  including a Pearly Queen dress, based on a 1920s black drop-waist dress, with mother-of-pearl buttons sewn all over it in complicated patterns.  Also a wonderfully opulent patchwork coat made from  samples of Macclesfield silk - the maker had intended it as a dressing gown for her daughter, but the daughter quite rightly thought that it was too grand for that, and wore it as an evening coat. You can find a blog post that has photos of the Pearly Queen outfit and the patchwork coat here. Another beautiful garment is a crocheted short-sleeved white cardigan, made in the 1950s and lent by the Fashion Museum in Bath - very shapely and elegant. But it was made for the original owner by a customer of her newsagents shop - I guess for payment, which seemed rather outside the terms of reference of the exhibition.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the caption to a Stitchcraft magazine from March 1965 (photo to follow some time).  The front cover of Stitchcraft always showed a knitting pattern featured  in the magazine.   This one was by a designer called Eve Sandford and the caption said that her ambition  was to have one of her designs on the cover of Stitchcraft. One of her patterns (for a salmon-pink boucle jacket) was offered to Daily Telegraph readers in 1961, and the newspaper had more than 3000 orders for it in a week.   I had not heard of Eve Sandford, but I have since learnt that she was a prolific knitwear designer who sold her designs to spinners like Patons & Baldwins, as well as to magazines. I've said before that I think it is sad that knitwear designers were mostly anonymous back then, so it was nice to find one identified.  And her design albums are now held in the Victoria & Albert Museum archives - good to know that her work has been preserved.

1 comment:

  1. Souns like a very interesting exhibition - I really like the logo!


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