Textile, Gender and Art Connections

My inspirations for Runaway Explorer
by Kerstin Jakobsson

Cheap Clothes for Everyone

I am now in an age where I can say, when I was young... Yes, let's see, 30 years ago I made a big part of my own clothes much because it was fun but, even more important, it was definitely cheaper. If I bought a fabric and made something out of it, it cost me about half the price as if I would had bought it. Hopefully it also made me looking a bit different compared to everyone else, which is an important part of the lust to create. Today, it is the opposite. Making your own clothes costs you more than if you would have bought them. The focus is all about creating a look for yourself, "looking like a designer". All young people that make their own clothes want to become designers. Am I old and grumpy?
If knowledge to create is the knowledge to produce, most people today are loosing the capability to be Creators. This is not only valid for textile techniques, but for all types of products. The persons with "know-how" will be in short supply. Think of it, what will that do to our view upon crafts ?

back to top

The Spinster Jenny

Early in the eighteenth century, the Englishman John Kay (1704-1764) invented the flying shuttle so that weavers could produce material much faster than ever before. But whilst it solved one problem, it also created another one. Spinning yarn was still done by hand, one thread at a time, and the increasing demand for yarn could not keep pace with the demand caused by Kay's new loom. As an answer to this problem, the Royal Society of Arts offered cash prizes to anyone who invented a faster spinning machine. The first to do so was James Hargreaves, who invented the "spinning Jenny" in 1764. In the beginning, only eight threads at a time could be spun, but gradually the machine developed to spin up to 100 threads at once. The name of Spinning Jenny comes from the word "spinster", meaning maiden or lady because it was mostly young girls who had to sit and spin threads. The development of the machine "Spinning Jenny" led to protests and blows from hand spinners, who felt that their future was threatened. Same kind of protests went through the whole textile industry where the machines took over the whole area of time consuming production of all, and I mean all, parts of textile production. The Industrial revolution started 250 years ago, and is still going on. The capability of textile production continues to grow, which means the price for the consumers goes down. It also creates a widened competition between the producers, which gives a wider range of prints, designs, techniques, materials..... It is about 250 years ago since the Textile Revolution started, but a big part of the worlds textile production is still made by young spinsters. In Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and China.

"Bangladesh's textile industry has contributed to its development."
Read the article attached to the picture (in Swedish)

back to top

Potholder Art

To learn the skill of a craft - that means a long way of doing "almost lovely things". When I was six years old, I started to make embroideries. I still remember the knots the thread did all by itself and all the time, the sweaty fingers and the crooked stitches. But I also remember all the wonderful colors I could choose from, which where laying in the box with rest materials. I think I found the creation process more interesting than the possibility to use the result. I still do, as an artist. The art of "to do". When I see all the crafts that earlier generations have produced, now thrown away, I see the high quality in the making. And I think, before all of these made products I can see now, there must have been a mountain of all the learning stuffs that were made before them. Those things that were done by sweaty fingers and of which turned out to be both awful and crooked. The textiles we find today in attics or flee markets must be the tip of the iceberg of all the things done. And what about all the things that were made? Things of use and joy? I only know that one of the first things I created by my own "design" was a potholder to my aunt Ellen. It is 10x10 cm and absolutely of no worth, if used to hold anything hot. But it was made as a Christmas gift.
Who could resist that?

back to top

Cookies and Sewing Parties

I grew up with sewing parties. My mother and most of the women in the neighborhood took part in those clubs. During the winter seasons, they met once in a while in someone's home to work with decorative textile for the club's annual auction. I remember those afternoons as filled with female chatting and a lot of really good cookies. Sometimes there were also a cake with homemade jam and whipped cream. The coffee and the chatting might have been a good reason to meet, but officially the afternoons were production meetings. The women mainly worked with embroidery and they really made a lot of things. There were pieces for TV-set's, dining tables or sofa's, big cushions and small tablecloths. The designs were modern in both color and patterns to enlighten every season of the year. There were crocuses and daffodils for Easter, gnomes and spruce twigs for Christmas and flowers in abundance for the summers. Every single piece meant many hours of stitching. Today, most of these decorative textiles are frowned at as things done by women who had nothing better to do. I'll come back to that. There's another story to it to tell.

Swedish sewing clubs during the 40-ies
back to top

Aunt Ellen, farmer and embroiderer

My fathers aunt never married. She lived alone on her small farm until she died in the 80-ies. It was at many times hard work being a farmer and every day cows, pigs, hens, pigeons, dogs and cats needed her attention. But she was in many ways a strong woman that no one could bully. On her spare time, she was occupied with her two passions in life; romantic novels and embroideries. She must have made a hundred embroideries. When she was old, she needed to use three pairs of glasses on top of each other if she wanted to make embroideries because of her faiding eyesight. Nevertheless, she never quit making them.

Ellen was the chairwoman of the local sewing circle and always had an embroidery going on, often big table cloths with cross stitches of flowers. Most of her embroideries were sold on the annual charity auctions, where they were highly priced. Ellen was also my godmother and she taught me how to make stitches when I was only a small child. I could use her rest materials and she encouraged me to make my own small designs. But she was also a hard teacher. The backside of the embroidery should be as good looking as the front!

Experiences from the early childhood is important. Someone taught a small child techniques of craft and encouraged the combination of creativity in both mind and hands. How to create things.

How satisfying that was, and still are.

The former artist, six weeks old in the knee of Aunt Ellen, Midsummer 1958.
Notice the handwoven rag rugs on the floor, typical of Sweden. 
The rugs on the photo were woven by my grandmother Olga, Ellen's sister.
back to top

Backgrounds and Possibilities

The more or less antique textiles I have in my attic are only a little part of my inherited female history. All these women have created much more textiles than they ever could use and were proud of it. I can remember as a child how my aunts opened the doors to the linen cabinets when they visited each other and talked about the wonderful works elder family members had created. There was an interest in the techniques, but even more in the womens histories. Now I see upon these moments as history lessons, where a family passed over stories about earlier womens life through the textiles they created.
The Runaway explorers art project continues these storytellings, but in our own time through artists. When the old textiles are reborn in the shapes of dolls, they take with them their creators. The original textiles creators and the artists oftoday meet in this project and share statements through mind and hand of skills, beauty and creativity.

My mothers pillow, handmade in a traditional Scanian technique. The patterns goes thousands of years back and show inspiration from Persian carpets

My fathers aunt, "Aunt Ellen"

My fathers grandma, Johanna

back to top