first fall

I've just returned from a trip to Dunedin where I presented a paper about Pania Press in the Art+Book symposium organised by Peter Stupples at the Dunedin School of Art. It was a lovely occasion and I met some wonderful makers and designers, and listened to a range of fascinating presentations about the many aspects of book production and publication. Best of all, I saw that publishing (in its many guises) is alive and well in New Zealand. One of the highlights for me was a presentation by Lesley Kaiser on the pop-up books she has produced over the years. She is truly inspirational! If you are interested, you can see an animation of one of Lesley's pop-ups by clicking here.

I took the opportunity to discuss two new Pania Press publications, which were displayed in an exhibition of contemporary book art in the adjoining gallery space at the Dunedin School of Art, beautifully curated by Natalie Poland and Peter Stupples. The images above are installation shots of the Pania Press display.

Four quilted needle case books for Frances Kelly's short story 'First Fall 
Materials: vintage silk kimonos, cotton, wool, bias binding ties, and embroidered fabric labels

First Fall 

Auckland writer and academic Frances Kelly specialises in neo-Victorian literature and wrote her PhD on A.S Byatt’s novel Possession. Fran’s own creative writing is firmly located in this genre. Her interest in the theme of maternity and in the experiences of women in the 19th century feeds into a good deal of her writing. The fact that Fran is related by blood through her maternal line to notorious baby killer Minnie Dean, who was sentenced to death and hanged in 1895, is also tied to her interest in this historical period.

Fran’s story ‘First Fall’ is set in Dunedin in 1866 and tells the story of Sarah Gallagher, a young woman lately arrived from Edinburgh, who is employed to help single women gain suitable work. As the story develops, Sarah, a gifted seamstress, teaches needlework skills to a group of unmarried pregnant women (described as ‘First Falls’) in the care of Mary Magdalene House. The narrative hints that Sarah herself had a baby out of wedlock, which she gave away before departing for New Zealand.

The theme of the story, with its emphasis on needlework as a suitable female accomplishment, determined the design of the book as a quilted needle-case.

In the process of making the edition of 50 needle-case books, Fran told me about an exhibition she’d seen in London in 2010 at The Foundling Museum, formerly The London Foundling Hospital. 

The Threads of Feeling exhibition, curated by John Styles, displayed textile tokens drawn from the 5000 items in the Museum’s collection. The tokens (fabric swatches, small pieces of embroidery, ribbon cockades, wool hearts, pieces of lace and ribbon), were left by destitute mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital during the 18th century. 

Many of the pieces were cut in two and one half was given to the mother as a means of correctly identifying her child if she was ever in a position to be able to reclaim her baby. The online exhibition Threads of Feeling can be viewed here. Here are some images of a selection of foundling tokens in the exhibition catalogue:

Of course, very few mothers were ever reunited with their children. A great many of the babies died in infancy and it is very likely that the mothers, poor and malnourished, did not survive long either. The last image above represents a rare exception though. It is a patchwork needlecase, cut in two, which accompanied Foundling 16516, a boy named Charles, who was admitted to the institution's care in 1767. The catalogue notes that the child was reclaimed by his mother Sarah Bender on 10 June 1775, eight years later. 

Although the time period of Fran's story takes place a century later than the foundling token tradition, I liked the idea that Fran’s character Sarah Gallagher might have left such a token with her child, so I hosted a little sewing bee in my studio to make foundling tokens to go inside each copy of the book.

 Here's Fran with her gorgeous satin-lined wicker sewing box

 Libby Brickell [left], Fran Kelly and Kate Davis busily sewing tokens

The group of tokens we made

The idea is that each copy of 'First Fall' will have a unique textile token pinned to the inside cover, like these:

At the launch for 'First Fall' at my home in Auckland on 9 November people will be able to choose a token to go with their copy of the book.


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