Books, rhubarb, shoddy #InternationalArtistsBookFair

Shoddy had a great time at the 20th International Contemporary Artists Book Fair at the Tetley in Leeds last weekend. You can see the list of exhibitors here:

As well as the Shoddy publication, our stall showed work by two of the artists who took part in the exhibition. Carrie Scott Huby and Vickie Orton are both local and have artists’ books plus some other text-based work. This variety meant the stall encompassed all of Shoddy’s main themes: shoddy fibres and fabric, re-purposed and reclaimed materials, disability rights. Carrie uses felted wool from local fleeces to create Shoddy Utility Nests and prints on reclaimed pages from discarded books. Vickie had reproduced her felted Maze of Life from the exhibition in pop-up book form. Other concertina books presented poems about the experience of being a disabled person, such as Blue Badge.

We had many, many conversations with visitors and other stallholders, about the project and the publication, but also about people’s knowledge of shoddy. This included people who had worked in mills in Batley and Dewsbury who “know full well” what shoddy is, children or grandchildren of millworkers or manufacturers, and a man who currently owns a mill in Batley that had been a shoddy mill. He described to us how he could tell where the rags were sorted by indentations in the floor and how some of the machinery remained in the building from the 1960’s, towards the end of the shoddy trade in the UK.
We heard about shoddy being used to stuff mattresses and to damp speaker cabinets, which meant that factories making these items proliferated in this area.

Then there were three separate people who said that bags of shoddy had been available to buy as fertiliser at the Rhubarb Festival in Wakefield a couple of weeks ago. Shoddy has long been used a fertiliser, so of course it would be used to enrich the soil of West Yorkshire’s Rhubarb Triangle.

In 1860, Samuel Jubb wrote in the History of the Shoddy Trade about the use of shoddy in farming:

Shoddy dust too, which is the dirt emitted from rags and shoddy in their processes, is useful as tillage, in like manner with the waste which falls under scribbling engines; the latter is saturated with oil, in which consists mainly the fertilizing property. Waste is of more value than dust, even for farming purposes.

We also talked to people about our rejection of words like shoddy or inferior being applied to disabled people. And about the political message of the project, highlighting the government’s shoddy – shameful – treatment of disabled people. The idea of an exhibition of work by disabled artists was new to some people, but the majority saw the value of visibility.


3 thoughts on “Books, rhubarb, shoddy #InternationalArtistsBookFair

  1. 1.Jonathan Westwood – one of the few remaining big rhubarb growers at Loftouse – swears by shoddy as THE fertiliser for rhubarb
    2. There’s a nice connection to your work and rhubarb – Hollybush House at Kirkstall/Bramley now an organic garden centre for the differently abled was (1870-1890) the biggest rhubarb producer anywhere under Joseph Whitwell.
    3. I think the word shoddy derives from a Middle Eastern language meaning ‘shreds’ or ‘a tangled mass’ – see Fanny Blank’s website


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