ContentsINDULGEtextilestobuy,collectorsimply admire 76 Object lesson Illustrator Laura Knight’s collection of folk art and Staffordshire figurines inspire her graphic art.SeemorefromherontheSelvedgedrygoodswebsite
CONCEPT textiles in fine art 56 COVER STORY Readymade redux Michael Brennand-Wood’s work is more than the sum of its parts Dr.JosephMcBrinn,LecturerinHistoryandTheoryofDesignandAppliedArtsattheUniversity ofUlster,digsbeneaththesurfaceofthework 60 COVER STORY Incy wincy spider How these gossamer threads were transformed in a tribute to ingenuity Corinne Julius unravels the story behind the Golden Spider Silk exhibit at London’s VictoriaandAlbertMuseum.
INDUSTRY from craft to commerce 38 Maverick mauveine William Perkin sparked ‘Mauve Mania’ by accident and changed textiles forever’ SarahJaneDowningdipsintothestoryofanilinedyes 36 Work shy Editor Beth Smith is introduced to some of the hidden heroes of everyday life ExhibitionHiddenHeroes–thegeniusofeverydaythingsisonnowatTheScienceMuseum,London 71 William C. Segal The man who created, published and edited some of the most influential textile magazines of the 1940s and 50s America RinneandLucyAllenrediscoverAmericanFabrics andGentry. 72 Obituary François Lesage, 1929-2011 AlastairMacleodofHandandLockremembersoneofthe lastgreatembroideryateliersinParis
GLOBAL 26 Soap opera Mumbai’s dhobi ghat where every day is wash day Avisit tooneoftheworld’s mostunusual‘touristattractions’ 62 Scarlet fever We take a tour of the textile highlights of Stroud: from industrial heritage to innovative new makers IllustratedbySusyPilgrimWaters
ANECDOTE textiles that touch our lives 33 COVER STORY Hang on It changes but endures; why people will always need the clothes peg WelookatthepoliticalcampaignofProjectLaundryListanddesignersGadCharnyandYoavZiv explainthepassionbehindtheirepicpegcollection... 75 Fabric swatch No.9: Crimplene Sarah Jane Downing reminisces about a one revolutionary but now forgotten fabric IllustratedbyAlicePattullo 96 String theory Solving a knotty problem Stringbagswerereplacedbyplasticbutthepopularity ofthenettedreceptacleisundergoingaresurgence.
COHABIT stunning interiors beautifully photographed 63 handmade haven Danish designer Rie Elise Larsen has created a cheerful summer holiday home ClareLewisdiscoversthatit’sallachievedonashoestring
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“Man Dead Over Clothesline Dispute!” As headlines go it’s got the perfect mix of sensation and surrealism. Did someone really die over one of life’s most mundane chores – drying the washing? Unfortunately they did: forty-one year old Keith Spears was shot and killed in 2008 in Verona, Mississippi in a dispute with neighbours over his clothesline. Not since the maid lost her nose while pegging out the clothes has the activity caused such strife.
It’s such a simple operation. A cord fixed between two static points, a few pegs and a slight breeze and you have the perfect arrangement for drying washing with minimal effort. Yet the process has aroused unfathomable passions; anger and desire that seem out of all proportion to the task.
While it might not hit the headlines every week, pegs and the use of them to hang out washing is a political issue. In North America the “Right to Dry movement” campaigns to reduce energy use by persuading individuals to wash their laundry in cold water and line dry. But in doing so they encourage civil disobedience.
While no US state or Canadian province bans clotheslines at state or provincial level, many Community Associations (a lower level of US government) have bans that prevent laundry being line dried outside – the penalty would be a civil fine or possible eviction. Founder of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility, Helen Caldicott explains: “Laundry offends the aesthetic sensibilities of some people. Where in Victorian times clotheslines were ubiquitous, Mrs Brown’s brassiere blowing in the breeze has apparently become scandalising to some modern Americans. A strange brand of prudery has made it impossible for some people to conserve energy and money by using a clothesline.”
In the Spring of 1996, inspired by Caldicott, Alexander Lee set up Project Laundry
List as the central organizing force of the “right to dry” movement. Lee is fighting for what many of us would see as a basic freedom but standing in opposition to him are community covenants,
landlord prohibitions and zoning laws, all of which are used to stop people from using clotheslines. Richard Monson,
President of the California Association of
Homeowners Associations, sees the problem in financial terms,
claiming a clothesline can lower property values by "15 percent".
For some a washing line represents the depression era before America’s post-war boom. The energy-draining tumble dryer embodies the American dream. In the US 92% of single family homes had a dryer in 2005. The 50’s housewife could order her “Lady Keymore” washer and dryer in “sage green, sunshine yellow or candy pink” from Sears, Roebuck and Co. Mr Monson would prefer it if they still did, insisting “Modern homeowners don't like people's underwear in public. It's just unsightly.” Ahh, the eye of the beholder... it’s such a revealing thing. Where Mr Monson sees an eyesore others are enchanted. Marian Dioguardi pointed out that in Venice, when one woman wants to compliment another it is said: “She hangs a beautiful line.” Lee also sees the appeal: “its Gestalt, its organic beauty, its simple functionality.” Laundry lines have inspired poets, song writers and artists. Bob Dylan sang his Clothes Line (Saga) and Amy Benedict’s poem Wood on cloth on cord captures the meditative quality of the task: “Finding just one edge to secure,
Wood on cloth on cord
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Forming a waving wall, a flag, a sail...” Claes Oldenburg’s giant urban Clothespin stands proudly in the centre of Philadelphia while Turkish artist Mehmet Ali Uysal’s version is set in parkland and pinches a fold of green lawn as if it were its fabric namesake.
If washing lines inspire artists it seems to be that designers prefer the mechanical precision of the peg itself – not that they don’t wax poetic. Ask Gad Charny and Yoav Ziv about the humble clothes peg and you’ll receive an ode to the “silent servants” that Keats might be proud of… “It is a daily, mundane, banal object, which we all seem to posses, though we rarely look at. An object so basic yet so useful, that it serves many functions in addition to its original one. It can be used to hang stuff, to hold, to fasten, endless number of uses, almost as versatile as the office clip.”
This is an object that crosses cultural and geographical boundaries: we all have the same need, and most of us solve the problem in a similar way. There are exceptions: in India clothes are often dried by laying them on bushes, or spreading them over the steps of the ghats.
One would have expected the pegs to disappear with the appearance of tumble dryers, but they have survived the technological change. Although there are no wooden clothes peg manufacturers left in the United States or the UK, the number of different clothes pegs seems only to be growing. The peg is a simple object – usually made of three parts – plain and with a clearly defined purpose. For that reason it is fascinating to observe the endless variations on such a simple basic concept. The whole issue of the relationship between form and function, user and use, style, shape, adornment,
engineering, production, technical and structural solutions – all can be observed, looking at clothes pegs. Numerous reasons can be observed for the different variations in form and functional interpretations. It is exciting to see how many variations can be generated for such a minimal structure – it is a lesson in the evolution of products, a lesson in change as inherent human need, as well as the need to interpret, to innovate, to say the same thing differently.
These men truly love the clothes peg and their affair with it culminated in an exhibition curated jointly with
Yaacov Kaufman in 2006. It explored what uses people put clothes pegs to. It’s a thought that breathes new life into their enthusiasm: “We have noted some of the categories of change or variations, such as visual typology, style and attempts to ‘uplift’ the product and its design. This is done through the structure or the mechanical principle, materials or visually. There are cultural reflections too such as the chinese bamboo peg, bearing the family name on it to distinguish it in a communal space, or the huge japanese carpet peg. It’s always refreshing to see new interpretations of the same theme, adopting a new point of view, a fresh approach.” The undefeatable clothes peg – same, same but different since the idea was first patented in 1853 by David M. Smith – is an unlikely object of affection and a still stranger catalyst for protest. But those who champion it are determined to make us revise our opinion (or at least form one). As American inventor, journalist, printer, diplomat, and statesman Benjamin Franklin once said, ““We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately." ••• Beth Smith National Hanging Out Day, 19 April 2012, Project Laundry List, www.laundrylist.org s e l v e d g e . o r g
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Work shy BETH SMITH DISCOVERS THE HIDDEN HEROES OF EVERYDAY LIFE
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You can’t get away from hierarchies even in the inanimate world of gadgets. The more entertaining, complicated and glamorous an invention is, the more likely we are to believe we simply can’t live without them. Think of the iPod, the iPhone the iPad (there’s a theme developing).... few would deny the impact they have made on the lives of millions. Surely they would top a list of vital innovations?
Dr Susan Mossman, materials science specialist at the Science Museum, would beg to differ; “the mundane is often remarkable,” she insists. And when asked by the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones which object people would still find useful a decade from now – an iPhone or a rubber band – she’s clear: “The rubber band, because by then the iPhone will be a dinosaur because it is not simple enough.”
The truth is it is the simplest devices that make our lives infinitely easier. They do their job without clamouring for attention. Unnoticed and often underappreciated, they streamline and refine our daily tasks in ways so obvious they are invisible – until now. Hidden Heroes, an exhibition by the Vitra Design Museum that has travelled to London’s Science Museum aims to shine a light on overlooked inventions and inventors.
Thirty-six everyday classics have been gathered together in a show that illuminates their history and demonstrates their significance. What’s striking is how many of the chosen objects have a link to textiles. Sometimes it is a material connection such as the paper tissue or the tea bag. The latter began life as a small silk packet. American tea trader Thomas Sullivan began offering his tea samples in the fabric pouches, he was surprised to see some of his customers dip the packets unopened into hot water to test the quality.
Other inventions link to textiles through their purpose. The coat hanger and clothes peg are both represented and these objects demonstrate the holy grail of design, the perfect marriage of form and function. Deviations from the original prototype may employ alternative materials or decoration – the clothes hanger may morph from wire to wood to technicolour plastic but the basic shape cannot alter. Similarly the modern clothes peg, invented in 1853 by David M. Smith, will always be two identical halves connected by a wire spring. It is not only the wheel that cannot be reinvented.
What this display of the everyday brings to light is how little we know about the things we rely on. Centuries ago our ancestors prayed to their household gods, holding them responsible for the daily miracles of fires that burned and bread that rose. Today we are supposedly enlightened. We’re scientific and rational but can you explain exactly how a zip works or why velco grips so strongly? Probably not – these days our ‘magic’ may take place in a workshop or laboratory but the inventors are still wizards to most of us...
The trick to the zip, patented by Gideon Sundback in 1917, lies in an opposing series of identical teeth that each have a convex top and concave bottom. Inside the slider these teeth are alternately pushed together so they lie in a vertical stack, like soup bowls. In a well-made zipper the interlocking structure forms an incredibly secure bond. It’s difficult to separate the teeth by pulling the two strips apart. But the slide can easily separate the teeth, using a simple plough-shaped wedge. The zipper is so effective and reliable that in less than a hundred years, it has become the fastener of choice for thousands of different products.
The snap fastener, which is over 100 years old, has an equally simple construction. The two discs interlock when force is applied. A circular lip under one disc fits into a groove on the top of the other, holding them fast until pulled apart. Hook and loop tape (Velcro), invented by George de Mestral in the middle of the 20th century, is an example of early biomimetics or learning from nature – the idea came from the observation of burrs sticking to a dog's fur.
These clothing solutions tell us about more than human ingenuity. Looking at the details can tell us about the bigger picture. The sheer number of snap fasteners produced (within a few years of their invention daily production figures were in the millions) point to the transformation of fashion, the rise of workwear and the increasing informality of clothes. Hidden Heroes demonstrates that satisfaction of a job well done is not always in prportion to the difficulty of the task. It’s the small things that can make us happiest and the simplest things that endure. ••• Hidden Heroes – the genius of everyday things, Until 5 June 2012, The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, T: 0870 870 4868, www.sciencemuseum.org.uk s e l v e d g e . o r g
industry selv edge .org in the water and a spate of deaths from arsenic laced wallpaper. And when The Times ran a letter in the hot summer of 1884 reporting that an increasing number of ladies were being treated for ghastly skin complaints, aniline dyes were suspected. Tests showed that although dry fabrics were safe, when exposed to rain or perspiration the cheaper dyes, oxidised by arsenic acid, were poisonous.
Fashion turned her back on bright aniline colours as soon as they became affordable to the middle and lower classes, but undoubtedly these fears contributed. William Morris experimented briefly with embroidery silks dyed with aniline colours, but like the Dress Reform movement, the Arts and Crafts movement rejected unnatural colours.
Sadly despite the impact of his discoveries Perkin is given little more than a footnote in most histories. His legacy though is far more prodigious; his work was the foundation for more than 2000 synthetic dyes, and more indirectly it is responsible for enormous advances in medicine, food, perfumery, photography and explosives.
His work to identify the molecular structure of pigments remains at the heart of the pharmaceutical industry today – the search for new colours stimulated the search for new drugs. In the 19th century scientists began selectively staining tissues with synthetic dye for histological examination. The line of research leads directly to Nobel Prize scientist Paul. Ehrlich’s ‘magic bullet’ theory based on isolating and targeting disease-causing organisms forms the basis for modern chemotherapy.
William Perkin has no Nobel Prize but he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and knighted in 1906. A blue plaque marks the site of his home laboratory - but surely a purple one would be more appropriate? ••• Sarah Jane Downing ine
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