This weekend the dusters are enjoying their first outing since January 2020 in the beautiful gardens at Sussex Prairies in Sussex, in the south of England as part of their annual Handmade Craft Fair. The sun has been shining all day and it’s been amazing to meet so many interesting people. The duster collection has grown considerably since it’s last outing, now featuring dusters made in response to lockdown, from recent a online workshop with Eastbourne Girl Guides, plus new additions from the ongoing open call. I’m also excited to share international submissions from South Africa, Australia, Germany and Belgium.
All proceeds from today’s sales of duster packs will go to Women’s Aid, which is charity we’ve supported from the start. More to follow on that soon. In the meantime, here are a few highlights. There are more pictures and videoes on the @domesticdusters Instagram site
I was recently contacted by art student Tracey Bainbridge, who is in her second year studying BA Textiles with the Open College of the Arts. She has been inspired by this project to create a duster-themed installation constructed from household dusters and embroidered in crimson, which is in tune with the aesthetic of this project. It includes a sewing basket depicting female gender stereotypes associated with the home and textiles crafts basket, which contains a crocheted granny square to suggest a duster, an embroidery hoop, pin cushion, a homemade mask and yarns. Additional embroidered dusters feature sewing paraphernalia, covering a chair and a 3D stitch mug. This alludes to the idea that chores must be completed to earn a cup of tea, along with the sewing basket that even while sat and supposedly resting the occupant will be knitting crocheting, sewing or mending, continuously working.
It has been so exciting to see the project grow and develop in new ways through the imaginative responses of different artists. I caught up with Tracey to find out some more about her relationship with domesticity as a means of inspiring artistic practice:
What does ‘domestic’ mean to you?
Quite simply being at home. Stereotypes of housekeeping, homemaking; cooking, cleaning and child raising.
Which women have been most influential in your life and/or upon your artwork?
Ultimately my mum, she taught me all my basic textiles skills as I grew up, sewing, knitting, dressmaking. We share our makes regularly exploring and experimenting new craft ideas. Despite her crafts being based in home making, she has always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, enabling me to develop these traditional skills as I studied art and textiles at college (its not a proper subject apparently)and then much later, currently at university, continuing to do so. My Nan, went into service as a scullery maid having left school at 14. Even in her 90s as we visited her in her care home the 3 of us would crochet together, chatting and reminiscing as we did so.
Artists That have been most influential
Ai wei wei, I was completely overwhelmed by the exhibit at the Royal Academy, Grayson Perry, even more so since the Art Club series and Tracey Emin, especially her carthartic textiles pieces (and the shared name).More textiles based, Micheal Brennand- Wood and Mister Finch (especially as he said I didn’t need a sketchbook when I met him at a book signing at YSP.) However I feel I am more influenced by what I see around me, my environment, and personal experience, objects which evoke memory.
What are the key messages/stories your artwork seeks to portray and what inspires you to tell them?
Art work has often been related to my studies and it is only recently that I realised what it is that I want to show within it. I have a growing passion that my work uses traditional textiles techniques exploring themes that raise awareness of societal injustice, exploring stereotypes, misconceptions about textiles as a craft, its perceived lesser status than the fine arts, and the theme of memory.
Have the Covid-19 lockdowns had any affect your creative process?
At the height of the pandemic, shielding from family and friends I found it hard to focus on my studies. I became much more a stereotypical house wife, baking weekly, cleaning and housework were much more regular. Chores which had previously been shared I now took ownership of, despite working from home. I felt I needed to be practical, making face coverings with ear protectors, and scrubs bags, for a local care home. I’d crocheted for a couple of years, mainly granny square blankets, but taught myself to make 3D crocheted animals for my granddaughter along with summer dresses and a fully refurbished dolls house. At the time my textiles needed a purpose other than that of decoration but I was prolific in my making and doing, just that I could not manifest this in study.
About the work
Written in Dust- a narrative exploring traditional textiles techniques and their associations with female gender stereotypes and the home. Embracing textiles skills taught to me as a child by my mother and grandmother, constructed from household dusters, a recognisable symbol of domesticity and embroidered in crimson. Written in dust comprises of a sewing basket containing a crocheted granny square to suggest a duster, an embroidery hoop, pin cushion, a homemade mask and duster created yarns. Additional embroidered panels feature sewing paraphernalia, illustrations of mending, these cover a chair. The head rest is protected with EARNED this alludes to the idea that chores must be completed to earn a cup of tea, (also formed from dusters on a stained tablecloth) that even while sat and supposedly resting the occupant will be knitting crocheting, sewing or mending, continously working. The cushion, an object that I associate with first sewing projects, has PREPATELLAR BURSITIS stitched on one side this is the medical term for house maids knee, the other side ELBOW GREASE, again reflecting on the physicality of housework. BUDGET is a purse, I remember Nan hiding hers behind her cushion, Mum having a separate purse for housekeeping. The front panel of the chair emblazoned with DOMESTIC GODDESS, a way of glamourising housework,crossed out and replaced with ENGINEER comments on the need to “man up” (a phrase that I find extremely uncomfortable! )to make certain activities more masculine to make them supposedly more acceptable. Finally the housewife uniform, an apron, the bib depicting an anatomical heart, as the cliche home is where the heart is! The skirt made up of three dusters featuring a peg, dust pan and brush with cleaning supplies, and a stack of saucepans; cook, clean, wash. The pieces combine as an archive influenced by childhood memories of both my mother and grandmother; Nan ironed everything..even dusters, there was always one in her apron pocket. That and a couple of golden wrapped butterscotch sweets and a tissue. I can’t remember her not wearing an apron. Both my Mum and Nan rarely sat down, there was always another job to be done.
Tracey hopes to continue to develop the theme of domesticity incorporating other traditional textiles techniques onto the dusters as part of her third year studies.
Just a quick share as I just had to! This Guardian article by Natasha Walker sums it all up so well and it’s statistics like this from the first lockdown that prompted the launch of the Instagram call.
This is something we need to keep talking about, both in solidarity and in terms of demanding change. It’s been such a hard slog to get where we are today, we’ve not come this far to lose all now. So in the spirit of International Women’s Day and coincidentally the day the schools reopen here in England – let’s get stitching and show them what we’re made of!
Picture below: Vanessa stitching her Covid experiences in a lockdown quilt
Right back at the very beginning of this project, I explored the domestic origins of fairy tales as stories that women shared whist working – usually with thread or cloth, and usually in a domestic setting. Since then the project has gone in many directions, but fairy tales remain a relevant and inspiring theme.
I’m excited to announce that a selection of dusters from the project now accompany my chapter: Cinderella – The Ultimate Domestic Narrative‘ in a new book published by Cambridge Scholars: Retelling Cinderella- Cultural and Creative Transformations.
Edited by Nicola Darwood and Alexis Weedon from the University of Bedfordshire, it explores Cinderella’s transformation from a lowly, overlooked servant into a princess who attracts everyone’s gaze has become a powerful trope within many cultures. Inspired by the Cinderella archive of books and collectables at the University of Bedfordshire, the essays in this collection demonstrate how the story remains active in various different societies where social and family relationships are adapting to modern culture. The volume explores the social arenas of dating apps and prom nights, as well as contemporary issues about women’s roles in the home, and gender identity.
Cinderella: The Ultimate Domestic Narrative by Vanesa Marr
The Cinderella story has it all; birth, death, jealous siblings, wicked stepmothers, Prince Charming, a fairy tale ending, and the curse of women the world over – domestic drudgery. The underlying messages in this tale are pretty clear: don’t trust your stepfamily, you apparently need a man to be truly fulfilled, and crucially, hard work without complaint makes for a good girl. Female domestic labour is at the heart of the Cinderella tale, completed with a smile for the promise of fulfilment. This needs to change. For too long girls have consumed narratives that position domesticity as the route to happiness. My artwork, which will be discussed within this chapter, claims dusters and embroidery as means of challenging this, supported by my associated collaborative research project, which invites perspectives and experiences on the relationship between women and domesticity to be embroidered upon a duster. Through embroidery mundane household objects are transformed into a route to empowerment and catalyst for change, providing an outlet for women to voice their personal domestic experiences and claim a fairy tale ending of their own choosing.
The myth of happy domesticity still persists; according to social standards presented by popular media culture a woman’s fairy tale dreams of happy ever after are no less relevant today. They would have us all be like Cinderella, never complaining and ever happy with a broom in our hand! Yes, the tale saves her from the wicked stepmother and her kin, but why give up on all that domestic bliss? This idea was embraced by the advertising industry in the middle of the last century when post-war policies encouraged women back into the home, but it is still very much in evidence today. Modern women are seen daily, happily dancing across our TV screens with mop in hand around a sparkling kitchen floor. Fairy tales were originally told to women, by women, often while they worked. The original Old Wives Tale. They provided a narrative means of making sense of the world around them and reflected the moral codes and social expectations of the day – what better way to sell the domestic dream than through the oldest tales of all?
I’m super excited to share that the dusters have a mention in this months issue of Stitch magazine!
I really hope this will reach out to even more women to join the project, to stitch and share their domestic experiences upon a duster. The Instagram site @domesticdusters is buzzing with regular submissions and comments, so if you’re discovering this project for the first time do pop over and take a look. The call for submissions is always open. We have a particular focus on the domestic stresses and strains of lockdown at the moment, but essentially it’s all about sharing our stories, finding support in solidarity and hopefully enticing change by challenging the balance of roles within the home. Celebrations, rants, comments, images, poems – all are welcome.
Stitch Magazine have a great set of projects for embroidery enthusiasts to work on, all with a Spring theme. It’s bursting with colour and new life to explore with your needle and thread. Enjoy fantastic floral projects designed to restore order – inside and out. Taking your embroidery to the next level couldn’t be easier. If you’d like to read more, just head over to: www.stitchmag.co.uk
I’m happy to report that the online workshop venture is a success, so I’ll definitely be exploring this more next year. Hopefully it will be a really positive way to keen sane and connected during the dark winter months ahead.
The workshop advertised on this blog was with The Virtual Thread – a seriously good natter and stitch where we put the world to rights!
The second, I ran today as part of the School of Art Research Week at the University of Brighton, which is an internal event where we staff staff share our research with other staff and students. Over 40 people signed up (my biggest turn out yet!) We explored some guided creative research techniques, contemplating the duster as a cloth that acts as a catalyst for the expression of our unique domestic experiences.
It was so lovely to meet new people and catch up with some familiar faces too, in each of these events. Thank you to everyone as always for your generous sharing and stitching.
Are you fed up with housework and the never-ending list of domestic tasks that somehow seem to land in your lap? Would you like to take part in a craftivist-inspired workshop that lets you have your say, using stitch to change the world (or just your home)? Then join me, Vanessa, for a fun evening of domestic ranting, celebration and stitchery, hosted by the wonderful Virtual Thread.
You will need a yellow duster (or closest equivalent if you’re not UK based), embroidery thread (ideally red), needle and scissors. A soft pencil or erasable fabric pen is also useful. (I recommend Sainsbury’s dusters – not their value range).
The embroidered duster you complete (or start) in this workshop can be treasured and displayed in your own home, or sent to me to join the touring exhibition collection. I’d also love to share all contributions on the Instagram page @domesticdusters
I was excited to be invited by Betsey Greer (whom I think I must cite in almost every paper I write, I’m a bit of a fan!) to contribute to her new project, which invites letters to textiles and their meaning in our lives. Naturally I wrote to my duster! She’s looking for contributors so do check out her site: http://www.deartextiles.com
Wow, this is an exciting month! Today I’m excited to be the featured artist on the popular textileartist.org site, which you can read here. I’m so pleased with this interview, which reflects my work and ethos so well, a huge thank you to their editors for making it happen.
Duster submissions are always ongoing so if you’d like to take part in the project please get involved and also visit our instagram site @domesticdusters to view some of the lockdown focused contributions. You can also find me on instagram.
Doll from a collection of seven, made from dusters, featuring archetypal female fairy tale characters and my own poetry.