Buttons: Mary Morris

On recently starting to sort out some of the sewing paraphernalia* that I have accumulated over the years I was struck how like an archive these items are. They plot changes in taste, materials and priorities and projects finished or abandoned. There are many little treasures like packets of satin blanket-binding ribbon and stocking mending thread, poppers, skirt hooks, button-hole scissors, bodkins, braids, mechanical needle threaders, needle cases, mending sets, zips, heavy button thread, ultra-fine stocking mending thread, thimbles, handy gadgets whose purpose I can only guess at, and a great many packets of bias binding in a wide range of colours and widths.

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The most striking items in this collection have been the button tins and boxes. Bringing back for me, as they do for many people, memories of childhood – time spent exploring their colourful depths, the sound and smells of old Bakelite, glass, wood, metal and plastic rustling against the sides of an aging toffee or biscuit tin and the feeling of the scale-like buttons slipping through your fingers. The tins of buttons cover a period of at least a hundred years and are from family members who sewed and knitted: a distant “aunt”, my grandmother, mother, aunt, mother-in-law. My own too, I notice, has gathered it’s own patina of time.

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The contents of these tins range from the most prosaic shirt and trouser buttons to beautiful glass and enamel buttons, far too fragile now to be attached to a garment. There are innumerable mother-of-pearl buttons from the most tiny usable size to undulating, sheeny, shiny discs, there are huge, brightly coloured statement coat buttons from the post-war period, edelweiss buttons, wooden floral patterned buttons. Mostly though, they are useful workaday items kept because they might come in handy. These tins also contain memories too, prompted by individual buttons such as a little white daisy-shaped button left over from my first school frock.

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* According to Chambers Dictionary the origin of this word is from the mid 17th century and denotes property owned by a married woman – how appropriate!

 

The Signalman: Debbie Lyddon

Charles Thomas Sewell was a Leading Signalman on the Light Cruiser, HMS Southampton, during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Charlie survived the battle and left a concise, but personal, account of the events of 31 May and 1 June in a hand-written memoir that was the starting point for this body of work.

The main events of the battle are told using key words and phrases that have been taken either from Charlie’s memoir or from the record of Naval signals that were sent during the battle. During WW1 signalling methods in battle were a mixture of flag, semaphore and Morse code: both wireless telegraphy and searchlight. Flags would have been part of the Navy’s core skills since the Napoleonic Wars and a signalman would be able to read and transcribe messages with ease. It is therefore appropriate that The Signalman takes the form of three ‘flags’ where the narrative of each is notated with a different method of signal communication.

Debbie Lyddon transcribed the memoir of Leading Signalman, Charlie Sewell, who was her paternal grandfather.

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Flag 1: The beginning

The sea was very calm with a light haze.

Signal method: Morse Code

Linen, wire, cotton, brass

‘On Tuesday afternoon May 30th 1916 the Battle Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (in his flagship HMS Iron Duke) and the Battle Cruiser Squadron under Sir David Beatty (in the fleet flagship HMS Lion) put to sea on customary sweeps…. my job was as a Leading Signalman, acting foreman of the Action Watch and my place on Monkey’s Island was the passing of orders to make signals.’

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Flag 2: Day action

Urgent. Have sighted enemy battle fleet.

Wed 31 May 1916, 16.38 GMT

Signal Method: Semaphore

Linen, felt, cotton, brass

 ‘Incidents in the action were taking place very rapidly; we in HMS Southampton with our squadron ahead of HMS Lion had a close view of most events, some discouraging. At about 4.30pm we sighted the enemy battle fleet and reported the fact to Admiral Jellicoe in HMS Iron Duke…. In order to obtain the disposition and composition of the enemy battle fleet Commodore Goodenough led his Light Cruiser Squadron in between the lines and it was for all the staff on the upper bridge a very thrilling experience.’

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 Flag 3: Night action

Fires started. Flames engulfed the forebridge.

Signal method: Flags

Linen, cotton duck, cotton, brass

‘… at 10.20pm the roar of the claxon sounded and action stations were manned again. I took my place on the upper bridge and as soon as I could accustom myself to the darkness it was clear that a line of light cruisers was just before us on the starboard beam, steering, what appeared almost a parallel course, gradually closing upon us …. finally, both seemed to challenge at the same time and immediately there were exchanges of gunfire and torpedoes, an action which historians state lasted 15 minutes, but to me five minutes….’

 

Images of work in progress: Denise Jones

Here are three images of work that have been inspired by my research at The Museum of London and the Women’s Library at LSE, into embroidered cloths made by suffragettes in Holloway Prison 1911-1912.
They will be exhibited at the next exhibition at The Cello Factory at Waterloo in May 2107. Please come and see.

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Cloth of Dreams (2017)
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The Spirit Level (2017)
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Entangled (2017)

New exhibition

The Archive Project artists: Denise Jones, Debbie Lyddon, Mary Morris and Poppy Szaybo, are preparing for a new exhibition that explores ideas through responses to archives and collections, using textile and mixed media. Each artist is creating a new body of work based on an archive that is personal to them.

The Archive Project @ The Cello Factory

33-34 Cornwall Road

Waterloo London SE1 8TJ

Thursday 4 May 2017 – Friday 12 May 2017

Open daily 11.00 – 17.30 (16.00 on last day)

Meet the artists all day on Saturday 6th May

More information coming soon

 

The exhibition is up

The first ‘Archive Exhibition’ has been put up and is ready to open on February 4 2016 at The Haslemere Educational Museum.

Here are some pictures.

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An empty space …. ready to go.

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The exhibition is up!

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Mary Morris, Inventory (1913-2016)

From Mary’s statement

‘On setting out on this voyage, however, I paused to assess my drawing materials. I delved into family boxes and found sketchbooks going back to my grandfather’s day, pens, pencils, paints, paper and drawing instruments belonging to my parents. The more I looked at these items it became apparent that here too was a collection, and that it told stories of lives lived and places travelled spanning over a century – and one that is still continuing.’

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Poppy Szaybo, Three of her mixed-media collages

From Poppy’s statement

‘‘The Archive Project’ explores the entomological insect collections of Major A.S. Buckle and Robert Long – a visual response to the wooden cabinets containing drawers of categorised, ordered, numbered butterflies and moths. Laid out in rows by species, type and colour, the static fragile insects are pinned and labelled, nothing out of place. Pulling each drawer to reveal another line of wings and bodies, boxed in with glass and offering the faint smell of moth balls – a Victorian obsession with travelling, collecting, gathering, containing, ordering. Using thread, stitch, colour, texture, surface and pattern, each textile piece an interpretation of the collection – framed, contained, ordered, revealed.’

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Denise Jones, A Curious Unlocking

From Denise’s statement

‘For this project I reflected on the idea of a personal archive, a collection of material objects, which evoke and store experiences, memories and potential within our selves, and which thread working, embroidering, has a curious gift of unlocking.’

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Debbie Lyddon, Liminal Objects: Molluscs

From Debbie’s statement

‘Looking around the museum I was attracted to the Natural History collection and in particular the coral and shells. I particularly liked the sign next to the Razor Shells (Ensis Siliqua) that tells us that these creatures ‘burrow in the sand’. This prompted me to look more closely at the objects I find lying around as I walk on the beaches of the North Norfolk coast (many of which are indeed buried in the sand). I have created two series of work for this exhibition: one is based on a real collection and one is imaginary.’

 

Haslemere Museum Exhibition

The Archive Project originates from an idea conceived by four artists using textile and mixed media: Mary Morris, Debbie Lyddon, Poppy Szaybo and Denise Jones.

Thoughts about collecting, selecting, ordering and classifying have been collaboratively discussed and explored for this project, and are evidenced in this first exhibition of their work.

The project begins at Haslemere Educational Museum and will transfer to small museums and galleries in the South East.

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