Two weeks ago we had a holiday in the North Yorkshire Moors and took the opportunity to travel to Farsley, near Leeds to visit the 62 Group’s exhibition at Sunny Bank Mills.
The exhibition, which ended July 2nd, was called ‘Tailored’ and I was particularly interested in seeing how each artist had interpreted the title, and like an EAST exhibition, the ideas were various and wide ranging in scope.
In this blog I will show the work of only three of the artists and let their own words describe the pieces.
Tailored suits have long been seen as signifiers of wealth and are predominantly worn by those in control of ‘big business’, finance and the establishment. And they were also a traditionally male preserve – perhaps they still are to some degree. Suits, along with other clothing symbolising ‘male’ work and careers weren’t part of the narrative for young girls growing up in the 1960s. Young girls at this time were consistently fed images of ‘pretty’ dresses and bouncy blonde hair. It didn’t feel like there was an option for girls to aspire to break into male dominated careers. Most young women were given advice to pursue nursing, becoming a secretary or a hairdresser.
Conditioning starts young and being fed these images through comics for girls, like ‘Bunty’, didn’t provide the impetus for change. They are more likely to have enabled the status quo. To inspire young girls they needed to see images that showed them the potential of what they could be in their tailored outfit or boilersuit. Why won’t they told that they could be anything they wanted? Thank goodness for change. We’ve come a long way since the1960s but the journey certainly isn’t over yet.
The piece explores the term Tailor-Made which means to make or adapt something for a particular purpose or person. Inspiration was drawn from two examples of tailoring: bespoke clothing crafted by Master Tailors and the skill of tailorbirds, who stitched leaves together to conceal their nests.
Both examples of tailoring produce outputs that are adapted to fit into their very different surroundings. A business suit is designed to fit into a formal or professional setting, while the tailorbird’s stitched nest serves as camouflage to help it blend into its natural environment.
The materials used were selected for their association to the theme. The separate units were constructed using pockets cut from a man’s bespoke suit. The number of units was determined by the number of pockets in the suit. The suiting fabric features a pin strip pattern similar to ones woven at Sunny Bank Mills. The suit that was used to make this piece was made by Master Tailor Beno Dorn, who also created the first suits worn by the Beatles. The natural abaca fibres and the shape of the units were chosen to reference the tailorbird nests.
Ideas for the piece emerged from casual conversations with fellow post-menopausal women friends who find themselves with changed body shapes. The interpretation of the word tailored a reversal of the familiar usage in garment making, to reflect instead the desire to tailor the body to fit a well-loved garment rather than adjusting the garment to fit the body.
The story is of a particular occasion where there was a realisation this tailoring was an impossibility and so a humorous solution is proposed instead. Her friend Nicola admitted that she was finally giving away her favourite dresses, hung hopefully for decades. knowing she would never fit them again.
Confessing that her own wardrobe contained 39 ‘too small’ items, she responded with the suggestion of trimming off a bit of themselves to squeeze in and dance.
The work is screen printed with figures placed as though they had been cut out, but have come to life, dancing on the cotton sheeting, pattern markings describing body contours. It is designed to be a light-hearted narrative of the diet obsessions of women who oscillate between dress sizes in a constant battle against a naturally occurring body shape.