onward and.. onward

i met with my advisors last week about my new topic and figuring out some logistics. it turns out that they are going to *both* be chairs of my committee, at least for the time being, and we can see how that goes. i'm happy with it. the one who has been my advisor for the last few years is great, but very hands-off, which i've appreciated most of the time, but if i'm ever going to finish, i think some tough love is in order. i'm hoping that will be provided by the new co-advisor, the one who reminds me a bit of mum.

they gave me some incredibly useful feedback. i've been a bit stumped about a couple of things though... first, they were very adamant that i shouldn't look for examples of memory and mourning in craft work... that i should be asking *why people engage in hand work/craft/fiber work (have to refine that still, i think)* rather than presupposing my answer. that makes a lot of sense. it's always better to have questions and let the answers open up. so that's good, *except* that to me, memory and mourning was a way of narrowing such a massive topic. i suppose it could be something of a working hypothesis that helps me choose where to look, but doesn't direct any investigation once i begin. which kind of leads me to the next bit...

they suggested picking three communities for case studies - communities built around a certain technique and/or material. another friend said this too, and i like it. a huge advantage is that it will provide the structure of the whole diss. three chapters, and then some kind of meta argument/introduction. plus, specifics are always more interesting (and easier to write on) than huge generalities. i should choose each community based on how rich they seem, and they should all be different, drawing on different literatures and theories. each section will position the community historically and culturally, but focus on their contemporary work. so far i am pretty clear that there should be one on spinning, and one on quilting, but the third one hasn't crystallized yet... it's gonna sound strange, but i'm thinking about taxidermy as something that would add a whole 'nother dimension. there is something else in the back of my mind working out an organising principle, but i can't put my finger on it just yet..

also, and this is because we are a weird interdisciplinary program, each case study should lend itself to a different journal, field, and employment trajectory. not hugely and widely different fields really, but all the same ones that i am kind of swirling around in... american studies, gender studies, even material culture are just vast. so they suggested memory studies, visual anthropology, and maybe animal studies. that's all good advice, but kind of hard to plan here on the front end. it sounds so weird to read this, that i don't even really have a field... but academia *is* weird, it just is.

some great discoveries that came out of this meeting... they are fine with me not choosing specific geographic boundaries. just have three good case studies. i think it would be best and easiest to defend if they were all American, but they are leaving that open for me to figure out. also, no need for a new prospectus. they freed me up to quit talking about what i am going to do and get started doing it. it'll all get figured out in the writing itself.. i think this will help immensely.

so here i am, trying to get going, and committed to sharing a rough chapter draft with the memory studies reading group on march 25. i'm starting with spinning, and trying to figure out parameters for a spinning "community." there are a number of groups of spinners i've come in contact with online, and then there's also a local guild. at least it is a fairly small world compared to other types of fiber work. i've considered narrowing it to the people who are spinning pet hair - that's a very interesting phenomenon, but it might almost be too small of a world. it is actually helping me to try to share this here and organise my thoughts enough to articulate them... so i hope you're not bored to death out there.

the last problem for now, which is really only short-term, is that i can't start interviewing real people until i get through the IRB process, so until that's finished i have to focus on stuff that's already in print.. y'all can still give me suggestions in the meantime!


  1. Wow. I confess I got lost in some of your jargon but I get the gist. Not sure I can help but I can listen if you need ears.

  2. I'm reminded of mourning embroideries, the Aids quilt, the shrines people put up on accident sites, Victorian hairwork, WWII war effort knitting and bandage rolling, commemorative graffiti/murals. Betty Ring's "Girlhood Embroidery" volumes are good for mourning embroidery. You'd probably find quite a bit out there talking about craft work among veterans for dealing with their experiences...
    The mourning/craft/handwork idea is certainly rich. Recently I've started stitching on quilt blocks my great-grandmother never finished assembling, and I catch myself stroking the fabrics lost in memories of her.
    Good luck with your research!

  3. How exciting it must be to embark on this quest! Your advisor's comments do make sense to me (I wrote a master's thesis once) since they will help narrow things down and conform to academic standards. And the taxidermy idea is not so weird - there is a series of exhibitions on at the Kohler called Animal Magnetism, about our relationships to animals, and I believe some taxidermy is involved. Link at http://www.jmkac.org/
    If you're not familiar with the Kohler Arts Centre, it's an amazing institution focusing on outsider art.

  4. https://www.jmkac.org/Artist-EnvironmentBuilders
    This link might be useful as well. Their collection of artist environments is worth a visit to Wisconsin, really!

  5. thank you all so much! great suggestions, too!

  6. One tradition you may want to research is Decoration Day. I think it started in the 1800’s and morphed into Memorial Day. On this holiday small towns would spend the day cleaning their local graveyard. People would decorate the graves with wax dipped crepe flowers that they had labored over. I think there was a picnic at the graveyard involved in this holiday too. I read about all of this when I was making the black crepe paper work you may have seen on flickr. Some links on decoration day: http://www.josephinesjournal.com/crepe.htm


    As for why the connection between hand work and mourning, this too I wrote about in grad school. Mostly this involved research into Victorian hair work. Some of my conclusions were:

    Handwork is a memorial on a small (human) scale (like hair work) as opposed to a large scale memorial that requires equipment and machines (The Lincoln Memorial).
    The act of making, mourning handwork, is the result of the desire for that which is no longer there. The object created is a souvenir of the lost (person, time) even though the souvenir is always incomplete because it can never be the original. I think the sense of incompleteness drives this handwork, a never ending labor to recreate something that no longer exists. Somehow transformation through repetition fits in here somewhere too. I can see the connection between transforming human hair into jewelry and transforming your pet's hair into yarn.
    Books you might like: On Longing by Susan Stewart, Death in the Dining Room by Kenneth Ames and the essay “Craft, Creativity and Critical Practice” by Sue Rowley.

  7. elide, thank you so much! i love this part of blogging, being able to get such amazing feedback! i've been drooling over your garters on etsy... tell me more about your work in grad school?

  8. i think taxidermy is definitely a way that you can move, it is certainly informed by some of the current topics you are discussing. i think I got desensitized to the strange-i-ties of taxidermy having a roommate who was learning and still is quite into it. :D it all sounds terribly interesting dru! <3

  9. Wow, this sounds like it's going to be so interesting albeit challenging. Taxidermy has always fascinated me since I was a child and growing up seeing a lot of it in Victorian memorabilia sections in museums and old manor houses in the UK. Seems there is a renewed interest in it. Have you ever seen the Taxidermy Sparrows with Knitted Sweaters by Annette Messager

    Hope you like the link :)