This episode features:
Christine Checinska Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum. instagram.com/Checinskachristine/
Ashley Gray, Director of Gray MCA – an expert in mid-century textiles and co-curator of the recent exhibition on Modern British Female Designers at Messums, Wiltshire. instagram.com/GrayMCA/
Rebecca Devaney – an embroiderer and expert guide to Paris’ textile history. Textile Tours of Paris. www.instagram.com/textile_tours_of_paris/
Janet Phillips, weaver, author and teacher. Find details of her weaving, her classes and her new book here. instagram.com/janetphillipsweaver
Deep thanks to them all for their expertise and their time.
Here is the transcript of this episode.
There’s an old joke in broadcasting that radio has much better pictures than Television –as it asks listeners to take an active part in imagining what’s being described.
The Haptic and Hue podcasts are a real test of that as they are about textiles – which do not talk to us in words of any kind but use another form of communication altogether – touch and colour.
And because they are silent, this kind of messaging, in our articulate and literate societies, tends to be down-graded and overlooked – often we understand instinctively that they are important to us, but we can’t quite put it into words. These Tales of Textiles tries to do exactly that – put into words what cloth means to us.
Textiles have an enormous power in our lives: they comfort and console us, create memories, help us define who we are and what we want to say about ourselves and tell us a great deal about other people, who they are and where they come from. From the day we are born until the day we die we are surrounded by cloth. From the moment we are swaddled as newborns, until we are shrouded in death, cloth is central to much of what it means to be human.
Soledad Twombly – who is a fashion designer born in Argentina – says “Fabrics have an incredible power to talk to us, to tell us who made this cloth, where they came from, what they knew and what they might believe in. Textiles are a detective story that you can hold.”
These podcasts are an invitation to come with me to explore this world of colour and touch and bring the experience of cloth and the role it plays in our lives and communities back into the light – along with the, often, hidden hands that shape it.
I’m Jo Andrews and I’m a handweaver and a broadcaster. And yes Haptic means the feel of something and Hue describes the pure spectrum colours.
Our histories have been full of the sound of spindles and the clatter of mills, the reek of dye baths and the long hard-won knowledge of how to make cloth. How far back does this go? no-one quite knows but in the caves at Lascaux in France some of humanity’s earliest art has danced across the walls for over 17,000 years. These wonderful paintings have been given their critical place in the story of human creativity. But in the dust at the feet of the paintings a ghost has been found that is of equal importance in that same tale, a piece of fossilized twine, a heavy cord twisted from three fibre strings. The actual fibre degenerated long ago, but the fossil survives as a remnant, a clue that tells us that these people had worked out how to make string or thread and opened the door to one of the most important pieces of technology crafted by the human mind.
Hold a length of string taut and you will hear the murmuring of history along it. The sound of Penelope weaving and unweaving to keep her suitors at bay, the swish of a Roman toga in imperial purple, the wind in the woven sails of the Viking raiders, bales of fabric passing along the Silk Road from China and the sound of Robin Hood’s bowstring avenging injustice.
It’s not just history, today we are surrounded by cloth – it would be much harder for us to live a day without fabric of any kind than it would be to live without food. No bedding, no clothes, curtains, blankets, carpets, towels…in many senses we live in the ultimate age of textiles. 40 million people work in cloth production and it’s the world’s second biggest polluter.
But textiles don’t talk, don’t last long, and both their history and modern production has largely female hands behind them. No wonder it’s a hidden story.
Haptic and Hue’s first series of podcasts will uncover some of these buried tales of textiles that have contributed to this long chronicle of discovery.
This is not, though, about the how of cloth. I’m not qualified to tell you how to make a ballgown, knit so much as a tea cosy, fit together a quilt or embroider anything, and there are plenty of other really talented people who can do that. Instead these podcasts are about the WHY – why do we find this joyful and comforting, why is it important, what does it tell us about ourselves and others.
In the first episode – “Colour is Mine” – we look at a Britain’s first black designer of international standing and her genius in using colour.
Christine Checinska: “She always wore her own prints and she always had beautiful colours and they would sort of be clashing colours, but they, they somehow worked, you know, somehow, worked so she might have an orange print with a red cardigan and a headscarf in another bright shade, fuchsia pink. And she had these fabulously long and elegant hands and she sort of spoke with her hands. So, she was just like this wonderful vision of, of creativity and always told fabulous stories. And she had this power to, I would say sort of engage a person and to light up a room. She really did”
Material Women explores how the first cohort of women to dominate any field of design achieved that and looks at the extraordinary talent of British post war textile designers like Lucienne Day and Marian Mahler and the impact they had on our lives.
Ashley Gray “It was almost as if the cork had popped out of the champagne! They didn’t know at the time, of course, that they were at the forefront of cultural change and they were really leading it.”
We travel to Paris to unravel some of the secrets of the skills that lie behind that engine of profit and productivity that is the French couture industry. It looks lovely but who are the embroiderers, weavers, and manufacturers who make it possible?
Rebecca Devaney: “And Saint Catherine was taken on as the patron Saint of Haute Couture. And she was particularly cherished by the Midinettes, and the Midinettes were a new group of women who came from Montmatre and Belleville, socially the working class areas of France, and they came into this area, the Grand Boulevards, which was much more upper class, and they started to work in the Haute Couture Ateliers. So these Midinettes were very, very controversial because they had access, which hadn’t really been seen before, to a much higher social class. So social reformers became very concerned for the Midianites and thinking that they would try and marry above their stations.”
And we look at what it takes to make your living for over half a century from handwoven cloth in A Weaver’s Tale:
Janet Phillips: “A craftsman they say, has to be a master of their materials and master of their tools, you mustn’t let the tools or the materials rule you and then you will produce individual things that are beautiful that will work and that people will want in their homes.”
I hope you will join me for this and more. In this first series, episodes will be issued every two weeks and you’ll be able to find them under the name Haptic and Hue on Apple, Spotify or where-ever you get your podcasts. if you would like to sign up for your own link to these podcasts as they are issued, as well as for the textile gifts I’ll be giving away with each episode, then please go to www.hapticandhue.com/listen and fill in the short form.
You’ll also find show notes, pictures, and a full transcript of each podcast, as well as blogs and other information about textiles and Haptic and Hue there.
And I hope that however fabric and cloth forms part of your life that you will join me to uncover these wonderful Tales of Textiles.
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