Embarking on a much anticipated leave from work, with the intention of reviving my creative life, I have instead been plunged into the reality of supporting my husband through surgery for cancer. Coincidentally I had promised to do some work for ‘The Great Apron Show’ planned by Carol Ruff at Gallery East, and had procured a new (old) sewing machine that I was keen to try out (an ancient Bernina!). Having not sewn anything from scratch for many years, this has been a therapeutic exercise, replete with dusting off old embroidery skills (ok, not that skilful!). For the aprons I used vintage tea towels and other old fabric scraps sourced in op shops, and added some pithy and flippant feminist quotes.
The idea of women’s domestic work as Art seems a dated feminist trope for those like me who went to art school in the seventies. The development of women’s voices was a distinct movement in the 70s and 80s in Australia, with Vivienne Binns as matriarch. I recall that in 1974, my first year at art school, I made patchwork clothes as an artwork on the theme of ‘the space where I live’. The patchwork fabric used pieces of curtains and other soft furnishings, made into items that I could wear (skirt and jacket). Goodness knows how my mother felt about me taking scissors to my bedroom furnishings, but at art school they felt that the work was terribly mundane and it was not approved. In retrospect my problem was that at 18 I did not have the words or the confidence to describe my intentions, but my feelings about the importance and invisibility of women’s work were central. I can’t help thinking that a few years later they may have seen the work differently.
Working on my aprons has been wonderfully therapeutic – keeping my hands and mind busy without the pressure of producing ‘serious’ art. Also reviving some erstwhile skills – in the 70s and 80s I made many of my own clothes, as girls did back before the days of cheap Bangladeshi labour. It is heartening to see ‘handmade’ touted as a key value for the young and hip, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the great apron show!
As for conflating my stitching with Chris’s very painful stitches … No, I won’t go there.