Workshops at Sutton Library

Over the next couple of months I will be running regular workshops at Sutton Library where you can begin to stitch your own duster to join the collection. You can book beforehand or simply drop in. All materials and plenty of help/inspiration provided. No previous skills required but expert embroiders are also welcome – it’s what you stitch that counts. A selection of dusters from the collection will also be on display.

I’ll be there between 11am and 4pm. The dates are as follows:

Tuesday 12th June
Tuesday 26th June
Tuesday 3rd July
Saturday 14th July
Tuesday 17th July
Saturday 21st July

I do hope you can join me!


Workshop today at Sutton Library

Come on down to Sutton library today and join me for a drop-in workshop where I am on hand to offer support in starting to stitch your own duster. Several more dates are planned here during June and July. Check their website

or contact me for more details

Marks Make Meaning Exhibition & Workshop at University of Brighton

I’m delighted to have a duster stitched by myself in the Marks Make Meaning drawing exhibition at the University of Brighton, which runs until the end of next week. The piece I created was inspired by the Drawing/Phenomenology conference I attended at Loughborough University last year.

Over the course of one month (January 2018), I engaged daily with a duster, embellishing it with intuitive marks that responded to the materiality of the cloth and its significance as a mundane domestic object. The result is an expression of the experience as well as a personal voice. Sometimes the day’s efforts resulted in areas of intense stitching, others in sparse marks, depending largely on other activities or commitments. Sometimes I felt inclined to make no more than a few stitches, other times I lost myself in the process and embroidered intensively.

The repetitive process of sewing in this way mimicked patterns of behaviour experienced when completing domestic tasks – motions such as wiping that repeat without conscious thought. Tasks begun and forgotten; a few quick wipes in comparison with intense scrubbing. The marks made like this with a needle and thread reference those created through drawing, leaving a trace if unpicked and permanence through application and style.

As a designer by training it was a challenge to embroider without a plan and without focus on the aesthetic qualities or ultimate outcome. Inevitably a pattern emerged, but it is one that I feel represents my domestic life; moments of focus interspersed with light touches to ‘keep things going’ through the working week.

In addition to to this I ran a workshop, inviting students and staff to join me in contemplating the materiality of the duster and all it stands for. We had a wonderful afternoon sharing  stories, academic texts and experiences alike. The most notable outcome was that as we touched, scrunched and simultaneously drew the duster, first in pencil then embellishing with stitch, a number of 3D forms emerged for the first time. Thank you to all who attended and for your invaluable input.

MA Inclusive Arts Practice ‘Bright Talk’

I was delighted to be invited to speak at one of the University of Brighton’s MA Inclusive Arts Practice ‘Bright Talks’. This is a student led initiative, which invites a selection of different artists and practitioners to share their knowledge.

One student in particular had seen the duster exhibition at the University’s Grand Parade site earlier this year and since then our paths have crossed several times. It was a pleasure to meet the group and to share ideas. We’d planned a workshop, but following my talk the questions flowed until our time was up, so dusters were taken away for contemplation and embroidery in their own time. I can’t wait to see their ideas!

They also filmed my talk, so watch this space…

vanessa marr pic 2vanessa marr pic 5

Drawing & Phenomenology – Meditating the Materiality of the Duster

I was delighted to be invited to run a practical workshop inviting drawing based additions and responses to the growing duster collection at the recent drawing and phenomenology conference at Loughborough University, which focused on tracing lived experience through drawing. I invited participants to consider and then to respond to the domestic theme by drawing with thread upon the duster, with the duster itself positioned as a domestic object for contemplation and focus. Drawings could be applied directly to the duster as an aide to meditating the materiality of the cloth but could also be drawn and then applied to the duster afterwards if people preferred. Conscious investigation of the duster through drawing remained a focus in each instance.


The results were inspiring. Stitching began earlier than I’d anticipated with participants keen to begin to engage with the cloth this way. There was also destruction of the duster underway with holes created, sometimes darned, and dusters slashed or rendered useless. Ultimately it lead to a new way of exploring the cloth, changing the focus from embellishment towards transformation instead. Below are a few examples from the day.

WOFFF Workshop

Last weekend I was invited to run a duster workshop as part of the WOFFFWomen Over Fifty Film Festival) by it’s organiser Nuala O’Sullivan who had seen the dusters at the University of Brighton Grand Parade exhibition. It was an exciting opportunity to explore the dusters in a new context.

It was a relaxed afternoon, with lots of interest from people popping in the see the dusters displayed during the workshop and a chance to meet new women with similar interests. I hope this is something we can continue to explore.

Cinderella Conference with University of Bedfordshire

It’s been a busy and excited week for the dusters! Yesterday (Saturday 10th June) I attended the Reimagining Cinderella Conference at their Luton campus, where I had been invited to present an academic paper entitled ‘Cinderella – The Ultimate Domestic Narrative. The dusters came too and a selection were exhibited during the event, including my original seven, as they dealt specifically with the fairy tale theme. I was excited to attract some new participants to the project too as I took some duster packs along with me to distribute to anyone how showed an interest in joining in .

It was a really stimulating event, with papers presented from many different backgrounds, but with a strong literary element running through. I’ve included the abstract below, details on the publishing of the paper to follow.


Cinderella – the Ultimate Domestic Narrative
Vanessa 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. Subversively the main 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. And this is my point: female domesticity is at the heart of the Cinderella tale, completed with a smile because no-ones likes sulking and a woman’s work is never done.

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. Marina Warner writes: ‘the matter of fairy tale reflects… lived experience, with a slant towards the tribulations of women…’ [These stories are] ‘a historical source, or a fantasy of origin [that] gains credibility as a witness record of lives lived, of characters known’ (Warner xix).

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. Let 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 back in the 1950’s 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 – what better way to sell the domestic dream than through the oldest tales of all?

Warner, Marina. From the Beast to the Blond. London: Vintage. 1995

Into-Art Workshop with Justlife

I was delighted to be invited to run a duster workshop with the Justlife ‘Into-Art’ group this week, in response to several members of the group visiting the recent duster exhibition in the University of Brighton’s Grand Parade site back in April. They meet each Thursday in Brighton, with leader Sarah Bennett offering art based workshop to adults who are ‘close to the streets’, so either homeless or in temporary living accommodation. Exploring domesticity in this context was a humbling and inspiring experience.

After a short introduction everyone got stuck straight in, with several others joining us as the morning progressed. I’ll be collecting the finished dusters next week, but in the meantime here are some of their wonderful works in progress.


P.O.V Opening in St Leonards

The opening of the P.O.V exhibition at Project 78 Gallery in St Leonards was a great success with a steady flow of visitors all evening. A selection of dusters from the collection took centre stage on a plinth with an invitation to touch and explore them (with gloves provided to keep them clean). It was really interesting to see the different ways that people explored them – some folding them like the pages of a book and others smoothing them into a neat pile.

The exhibition runs until the 17th April with the gallery is open from Wednesday until Saturday.