You are here

The Text in Textile by Elspeth Walker

Great-Aunty Ruth was head of the sewing shop floor

Image Credit: 

I am the granddaughter of a haberdasher, daughter of a haberdasher’s assistant and great-niece to a head of sewing. I was raised in a handmade world: from clothes to cushion covers, toys to ipod socks, my mother’s hands had made them. I am also a Library Assistant here at the NPL. Discovering in the library an expansive collection of works showing many other lives influenced by thread felt like finding a slice of home. These works allow a space where sewing or weaving is more than just a practical outlet; it's the foundation of communication between others and our inner selves. As our 'Poets in Vogue' exhibition explores how fashion & textiles have shaped some of the greatest names in poetry, I want to spotlight some of the wonderful material on the shelf, that takes fabric and reveals something new. 

Enclosures by Susie Campbell

Enclosures by Susie Campbell, published at Osmosis Press, works in conversation with the La Dame a La Licorne tapestries. The introduction is a great step into the world of thread and words, as Campbell states: “Threads not words are the earliest transmitters of meaning”. The collection uses the tapestries to highlight not only the narrative depicted within but how poetry can engage with the formal and physical process of making a tapestry. This pamphlet also offers a fresh form of typography and presentation, furthering how we might sew words and meanings together. 




Image Credit: 

Outfitting by Kate Fletcher & Helen Mort

Writing together, Fletcher and Mort focus upon the North of England in this collection of poetry and prose. Using lived experiences of these geographies they explore connections to clothes; from industry and environment to the practical needs met by the clothes we make. Rather than allowing a disconnect to form between the fashion industry and our daily routines, both writers bring to life different items of clothing — from pockets that suggest when we can and can’t touch, to how to listen in windy weather wearing rustling hoods without ‘ear lids’ to block out certain noises. 

Walking the Block by Jane Weir

Looking at the textile works of artists Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, Weir puts a close lens up to the practice of hand-making cloth and the practice of writing poetry. The layout gives a feeling of a creative fabric swatch book, or poetic form of archive, as poetry is paired with handblock textile prints and photographs of the artists, occasionally intertwined with quotes from Barron or Larcher. This collection is an insightful ode to the world of handblock and textile design. 




Image Credit: 

Pulling Threads : Between Warp & Weft by Jennifer Sturrock

This collection looks at the idea of journeying between place and self, along the lines of the warp and weft that occurs in fabric. The x-ray-like images accompanying the poems seem to replicate elements of the writing, in the subtle gestures of the threads. Playing with rhyme and double meanings, and combining this with the vocabulary of cloth, this collection is an interesting browse, with a particular favourite being ‘Not Really’. 

Seams: Traces by Nina Mingya Powles
This small zine explores Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s relationship with textiles and how it influenced her work. Speaking in poetic conversation, Powles combines her own experiences with Cha’s multidisciplinary reflections on language and mother relationships. I particularly liked the exploration of Cha’s role working in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s textile department before she died, creating two accounts of the space from both poets, opening up the various realities of a singular space. The zine is also a beautiful object in itself, bearing the classic Powles Riso print flare.




Image Credit: 

Text on Textile by Isabella Ducrot

This pamphlet, part of The Cahiers Series, opens with a traditional styled poem in both translation and the original Italian. It goes on to explore the mythological and historical ties between thread and narratives through prose poems, alongside detailed images of cloth patterns. From the beginnings of the universe to Penelope's unravelling of her tapestries to put off marriage, this collection covers many narratives of thread. Exploring etymologies of weaving alongside art history, literary and social relevance, this beautifully written pamphlet collates a small world of thread that's not often unpicked.




Out of Fashion by Carol Ann Duffy

This anthology, curated by Carol Ann Duffy, collates works about fashion in its many guises. Modern poets respond to older poems along this theme, each of which they have specially chosen. In the introduction Duffy speaks about the poetical obsession with clothes, especially in relation to love and death. With poets such as John Agard, Jackie Kay and Fred D’Aguiar this collection embodies an interesting form of communication between both poets and fabric.