Spinning Stories


More about the project

I began working with the Women’s library’s collections in November 2008 with a view to developing an art project. Beginning with keywords drawn from my existing research interests I explored artifacts from the museum and archive collections alongside printed material ranging from Hairdressing manuals to photographs of women’s work during the first world war, from suffragette campaign notes on Bethnal Green to instruction manuals for housework.

In January 2009 I was invited, separately from this project, to create work on a handkerchief for a group show at the English Folk Song and Dance Society. This led me to further explore the Women’s Library’s resources relating to handkerchiefs – including commemorative handkerchiefs and napkins, and specific laundering instructions. Through this process I became increasingly interested in the language of instruction – old and new. I live and work in the East-End and was interested from the beginning to try to link the project to this location, so exploring contemporary launderettes with their overload of information, prolific signs, warnings and guides became a way to link these inspirations.

The Women’s Library’s artifacts document the transformation of laundry work from a home-based domestic activity in the late 19th Century to an commercial service based industry in the early 20th Century. My observations in the contemporary East End reveal disappearing launderettes, municipal closures, and the mass return to the home of laundry work that has taken place over the last 25 years.

Launderettes are social spaces – occupying a place between public and private, providing interaction in common activity, they are sites of gossip that are rapidly being lost. I would like to document and commemorate these sites before they completely disappear, exploring and collecting memories of launderettes and laundry – stories, gossip, tips.

This aspect of the project has led to my collaboration with Emily Butterworth, an academic from King’s College London, a sixteenth-century specialist working on notions of gossip and babble in the French Renaissance, with an interest in how and where these activities were practised. Our partnership proposes the identification of contemporary parallels and inspirations relating to locations and practices of conversation, language and storytelling.

Clare Qualmann

April 2009


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: