DUSTERS JOIN THE BRIGHTON FRINGE!

I’m excited to announce that dusters from the ever growing touring collection will be on display during the Celebration of Arts & Wellbeing that is part of Brighton Fringe 2022.

The University of Brighton’s Centre for Arts and Wellbeing hosts a showcase event, celebrating the centre’s innovative work on how the arts can support and inform well-being for the public good. 

The showcase includes creative research stories, spoken word, art-works, discussion, hands-on activities, and live performance. This uplifting and inclusive event is open to all at no cost.

Tickets re available here

I’ll also be there as part of a round table discussion and other duster related activities.

If you ‘d like to stitch a duster to be included and to joint touring collection, please get in touch

Norfolk Makers Festival March 2022

The dusters are now on display at the Norfolk Makers Festival in the Norwich Forum, which runs until 20th March. I spent last weekend there delivering a talk and workshops, plus time in the gallery when I had the pleasure of meetings so many interesting people.

This has a been a wonderful opportunity to bring discussions about women and domesticity, and the lingering gendered legacy of these tasks, to a new community. The call for dusters for this event yielded an amazing 50 new contributions! It keeps on growing and including more and more perspectives. Thank you to everyone for making me feel so welcome. Here are a few highlights:

Dusters strung across the atrium at the Norwich Forum

Preparing for the NORFOLK Makers Fair

Not long now until the Norfolk Makers Festival in Norwich, which will feature the entire duster collection. I’ve been inundated with new submissions following a call out via the @domesticdusters project Instagram.

I’ll be at the fair during its first weekend, giving a talk about the project on the evening of Thursday 10th, then running two workshops on the 11th and 12th March. Details for booking etc can be found on their website. I’ll also be in the gallery space on the afternoons of the 11th and 12th, so do drop in and say hi.

Here are just a few of the new dusters for you to enjoy!

Cinderella emerging from the dust motes by Barbara Powell Jones
“I am becoming the kitchen’ by Wendy Gilchrist
A selection of dusters stitched especially for the fair by members of the Norwich City Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers
Detail of a duster by The Radical Embroiderer

Call for dusters!

I’m excited to announce that the full collection of dusters included in the physical touring collection will be on display during the Norfolk Makers Fair in March!

I’ll be delivering a talk on the project and two workshops as part of their itinerary, but in the meantime I’d like to invite further duster submissions, which can be included in the display.

If, like me, you love a deadline and you’re looking at that half finished duster winking at you from your sewing box, then this is great motivator to finish it. New contributions are also welcome.
Submissions that have previously only been shared digitally, including lockdown dusters, are very welcome.

Please contact me directly once your duster is complete and I’ll reply with my address details.

All dusters must be received no later than 28th February

Looking back at 2021

As we move into 2022 I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on 2021 and the opportunities that the dusters have enjoyed this year. In some ways they have got out and about more than me, thanks to the lengthly lockdown in the UK, visiting Belgium in the Spring of 21 and welcoming participants from across the globe thanks to the success of the project Instagram, @domesticdusters.

The dusters had their first post lockdown outing at Sussex Prairies over a beautiful hot summer weekend in July and I’m excited to say that we’ve been invited back next year too.

I also made the most of online opportunities, running workshops with the Virtual Thread and also with two groups of Girl Guides for their Craftivist badges. This was such a privilege and I was so impressed with the way the Guides engaged with the duster as a means of holding their emerging feminist voices.

There have also been various invites to exhibit the dusters physically in the coming year, which I hope will become more frequent as we begin emerge from the Covid restrictions. Watch this space for more info.

I’m starting this year with a Domestic Story Cloths workshop for Textile Artist Stitch Club, which I hope will yield some more dusters for the collection too. The participants are certainly a talented bunch and the associated reflections on our domestic roles and influences, particularly mothers and grandmothers, have been insightful.

Thank you to everyone for your ongoing stitching and support!

Here is a picture of the duster quilt the I made to record my personal Covid lockdown experience, which was exhibited at the University of Brighton Grand Parade campus last month.

Lockdown Duster Quilt, Vanessa Marr. 2020- 21
Lockdown Duster Quilt, Vanessa Marr. On display at University of Brighton December 2021

We’re touring again – exhibition at Sussex Prairie gardens

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

Artist Feature – Installing the duster

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.

You can enjoy some examples of Tracey’s work below , via the @domesticdusters Instagram page and via Tracey’s Instagram page too.

Covid takes it’s toll on Women

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

Retelling Cinderella – book launch

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.

You can order a copy here: https://www.cambridgescholars.com/product/978-1-5275-5943-1

Cinderella: The Ultimate Domestic Narrative by Vanesa Marr

Abstract:

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?