An adventure in women’s domestic needlecraft
In 2017, the year of History, Heritage & Archaeology, our small social enterprise, Mrs Magooty led by Sarah Longfield and Katrina Caldwell, embarked on an adventure.
Our mission was to scour the archives for examples of women’s domestic needlecraft in Scotland through the ages. We wanted images of normal women sewing, knitting and stitching. We also wanted to see examples of their work. Our intention was to then create a video collage of all these images and film snippets and share them in practical textile art workshops to inspire making and sharing of stories about our personal craft heritages.
As you might suspect, we had to search hard. Women’s domestic needlecraft is not the priority for documentation in times past. However, after many enjoyable hours trawling through a wealth of search terms on Scran, we had a long list of 180 images. Gulp! We also rambled through the Moving Image Archive on a similar quest for films. The shortlisting process was both enjoyable and painful. Choosing between these examples of people’s exquisite work and between wonderful images capturing everyday life for women through the ages was no easy task, but eventually 7 film clips and 30 images were selected and licences applied for. Hand-Me-Down was ready to roll!
The response to the video we made was fabulous. For some participants it jogged memories of their school days or of granny, for other participants it was a new window into a past that they hadn’t experienced or had little access to discovering. Each individual in the workshops created a small piece of textile art and we gathered all in to mount our first exhibition at the Project Café in Glasgow. It was so popular we extended the exhibition and it ran through all of January and into February 2018.
“Shrigley Sun” by Katrina Caldwell is inspired by “Festival of Britain 1951” a cushion cover by Kathleen Whyte which was part of The Needlework Development Scheme which ran from 1934 – 1961. The scheme began in Scotland and was a collaborative project between art and design education and industry, commissioning some really beautiful pieces to encourage embroidery and good design. The scheme was financed by JP Coates of Paisley the thread manufacturer. This cushion currently resides at the National Museum of Scotland. Katrina was drawn to this record and inspired to create “Shrigley Sun” because she loves mid-century design and we wanted to acknowledge the Needlework Development Scheme in our project.
“Mauchline Memories” by Sarah Longfield takes its inspiration from a Mauchline ware box for cotton reels which is in the Nithsdale museum. Thread boxes or places to keep those all-important buttons and bits & bobs are an instant attraction to most crafters and Sarah shares this passion for boxes and tins to put things in. Instead of the portraits of Burns on the original box, this piece incorporates little things from Sarah’s past: a crystal from the necklace worn on her wedding day, a button from her first school jumper and other mementos physically demonstrating her own heritage. It is worked in Miyuki seed and bugle beads, incorporating beadwork stitches: dutch spiral and spiral staircase, plus bead embroidery techniques.
You can see all the ‘Hand-me-down’ work on Mrs Magooty’s social media too.
Images © The Herald, Leadhills Reading Society, Dumfries & Galloway Council, National Museums Scotland | Licensor Scran