Image: Untitled illustration - caption: 'A woman reading under a punkah,' British Library.
As we stumble through another week of lockdown (in the UK at least) and restricted social lives everywhere, we wanted to share the books and films that keep the Selvedge team’s spirits up. Today we offer our reading list and tomorrow we offer our watching list. We hope you enjoy these too and find something new and diverting. Let us know of any book you think other textile lovers would enjoy via the comments.
A Perfect Red by Amy Butler (Pamela, Brand Collaborations). This book recounts the history of cochineal, a legendary red dye that was once one of the world's most precious commodities. Treasured by the ancient Mexicans, cochineal was sold in the great Aztec marketplaces, where it attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, producing the brightest, strongest red the world had ever seen.
Image: Baroque painters used cochineal red in works, such as The Musicians (1595) by Caravaggio (Credit: Alamy)
Frock Consciousness London Review of Books, Collection 6 (Laura, Features Editor). A slim and delightful volume offering slices of clever, funny and sharply insightful writing on clothes from people such as Joanna Biggs, Angela Carter, Rosemary Hill, and Anne Hollander. After reading this you never need doubt that one can be intelligent and interested in fashion.
Weaving: Contemporary Makers on the Loom by Katie Treggiden (Ronja, Special Projects). Weaving is a vast and complex subject about which many books have already been written from instructive how-to guides to seminal texts such as Anni Albers’ On Weaving. This book attempts to be neither, but perhaps something in between – a survey of the contemporary weaving scene and an exploration of some of themes that touch the lives of makers today.
Craft of Use by Kate Fletcher (Kate, Blog Editor). An accessible academic work, this book is a moving collection of personal stories about people’s favourite clothes - why they love them and keep wearing them, sometimes for many decades. “Kate Fletcher provides a broad imagining of sustainability in fashion that gives attention to tending and wearing garments; that favours their use as much as their creation”.
Image: Patina of Use from Craft of Use, Photographer Kerry Dean.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Minna, Orders). The famous and much-loved dystopian novel, set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian state, known as Gilead, is a complete world in which clothing plays a part in women’s subjugation. As companion reading, in Selvedge Issue 92: Comfort Marte Storbråten Ytterbøe writes for us about the role of clothing in Atwood’s novels, which with The Handmaid’s Tale, has spilled over into protest clothing in our real world.
Image: Embroidery illustration by Lauren DiCioccio.
A Golden Thread by Kassia St Clair (Catherine, Events). A best-selling history of fibres; from the woollen sails of the Vikings, via the linen wrappings beloved in Ancient Egypt, to the factories responsible for Michael Phelps’ swimsuit, ‘The Golden Thread’ shows you how and why fabric has changed history.
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (Polly, Founder). Chosen for its atmosphere and because I am a bit obsessed with India. Roy’s first novel is a story about the childhood experiences of fraternal twins whose lives are destroyed by the "Love Laws" that lay down "who should be loved, and how. And how much.
Image: Lady with Book, Julia Strachey by Laurence Gowing 1942. © estate of Sir Lawrence Gowing. Photo credit: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey (Polly, Founder). Published by the Hogarth Press in 1932 and reprinted by Persephone Books, it tells the story of a brisk March day in England, somewhere on the Dorset coast, during which Dolly is due to marry the Honourable Owen Bigham. The endpapers are a 1932 design for a printed dress fabric by Madeleine Lawrence. Watch Persephone Books founder Nicola Beauman discuss endpapers at a Selvedge event, Text and Textiles held in February.
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (Ronja, Special Projects). For its descriptions of needlepoint and for bringing the real-life embroiderer and designer, Louisa Pesel to a wider audience. Set in 1932, the heroine, Violet Speedwell seeks escape from her suffocating life by moving to a new city where she finds community in a cathedral and among its ‘broderers’. Tracy spoke about textiles in her novels at our February talk which you can watch online. You can buy A Single Thread from us, or receive it as a free gift when you spend £100 with Selvedge.
Visit the Selvedge book shop for more inspiring reading.