This work is the result of the 2015/16 challenge for the exhibiting textile group as a Studio 21. The aim was to research an element of the sewing machine: from sewing machine mechanics, decoration and operation to personal and social histories, and to produce relevant pieces responding to this research.

As the first domestic appliance, the sewing machine required ingenious marketing to become successful. Key to the success was to ensure that the position of the woman was not challenged. As such it was important to maintain the social pretence that women should not, indeed could not, use machines. The mechanics of using the sewing machine were wrapped up in how to sew books such as the one by Mary Brooks Picken which contain directives which are laughably inappropriate in today’s context.

I created two main pieces

L’Enigma

As the first domestic appliance, the sewing machine required ingenious marketing to become successful. It was important to maintain the social pretence that women should not, indeed could not, use machines. As such the mechanics were hidden beneath beautifully ornate casing. Many women who sew actually find the mechanics intriguing and when contemplating this, the intrigue and weight of Man Ray’s L’Enigma d’Isodore Ducasse came to mind and L’Enigma evolved.

A Beauty Ritual of Orderliness

An extract by Mary Brooks Picken’s is available as an example of 50’s sexism. Reading the original text one realises that the basic tenet is actually sound: to ensure that your sewing time is rewarding, make sure that you give it time and space. The specific directives however are laughable in today’s context. This piece is worked on a simple apron, required to protect your best dress worn so that you were not “constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband come home” finding you “not look neatly put together”.

I have had an enjoyable time looking at the wide range of images of the sewing machine and its marketing, building up a diverse Pinterest board which you can see here. The research for this project resulted in some fun images and facts which you can see here in my accompanying booklet.

I also created some smaller pieces from my reactions to the Mary Brooks Picken book.

The work appeared at a preview of the exhibition at the SIT showcase in Cheltenham before the main exhibition at the end of October. Followed by a week at the The Bracknell Gallery, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell RG12 7PA and a month’s residency at the Lansdown Gallery, Stroud as part of the SIT Select textile festival in May 2016 where it won the annual best in show prize for the festival. The following year it travelled with the Knitting and Stitching Shows to London, Dublin and Harrogate.

 


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