Blankets and Suits – Katya Robin

Katya Robin, one of the artists exhibiting in Shoddy, writes about developing one of her pieces.

In preparation for the Shoddy exhibition, I did a test run of my new project Rag Tales. For this I am collecting utility textiles and personal stories associated with them.

The trial run was held with a supportive group of women artists at Sue’s studio. I brought along a bag of fabrics including a blanket. I’ve been collecting utility textiles for the project. As it’s the name and theme of the show as a whole, I wanted to include some shoddy, but had difficulty finding a source. I wondered if it’s still made, maybe now loom sheddings are merely discarded or reprocessed in another way.

Then one day I passed a removal truck with a neatly folded stack of shoddy blankets, ready for packing and protecting people’s possessions when moving house. I looked online and found shoddy blankets, and at a good prices, except they are no longer called shoddy but described as Premium Packing Blankets for Furniture Transit. Priced at slightly more £20 for 10 blankets, with cheaper unit prices for greater qualities. The sales blurb says they have “whipping around the perimeter to stop the risk of fraying…”; some might say this sounds perfect for people in fuel poverty, rough sleepers, and the Calais Jungle.

We shook out the shoddy blanket. It is rather nice, in a kind of dour aesthetic, made from thousands of colourful flecks and shiny shards steamed and mashed together with grey mushy base material, all held together by an interlaced web of machine stitching. Everyone in the group were intrigued and reached forward to inspect and touch it. Unconsciously we found ourselves sat in a circle, with the shared blanket draped over all our knees, and conversation flowing.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_de_Marie-Antoinette_-_Ruotte_1791.jpg
Marie Antoinette à la paysan

We spoke of the appropriation of the culture of poor people. How the stuff done to make ends meet is seen as both quaint and authentic by those who have more money. Sue said that traditional babies’ white muslin squares, used for catching baby vomit splatters, are now sold in an array of twee patterns and vibrant colours, rather defeating their function and ease of use. It reminded us of us of Marie Antoinette’s rustic retreat Hameau de la Reine where she played at peasantry and poverty.

Indulging our own Marie Antoinette fantasies, we thought of sewing our own shoddy garments, smart fitted woolen suits, a bit retro, a bit uniform, but nicer to wear than Joseph Beuys’ felt suits.

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