Monday, 26 August 2013

Primary research

I have been very fortunate to receive help with my primary research on the Dungeness project from a fellow blogger and student Sheila, who has introduce me to someone who was born in Lydd, a nearby town, and brought up on the Dungeness peninsular.

Thanks to her wonderful stories of times spent in her childhood, which often read like one of Enid Blyton's Famous Five stories, I now have a unique view of life as it was lived on this strange and isolated place from the turn of the century to almost the preset day.

The community was very close as one would expect of somewhere, that people inhabited, that was still receiving their grocery and coal supplies by horse and cart at the end of the shingle beach until WW2, when the road was built that led to the lighthouse. Walking on the shingle was such a job that the residents had to wear special shoes strapped to their feet, called backstays.

How on earth could you drag a pram across the shingle and then walk about 4 miles to nearby Lydd (and back) just to see if the shop had anything different to eat from fish.

These women were living in such a hostile environment that every day must have presented a new challenge. But from the wonderful accounts I have received from Shiela's friend I have gained an insight into  a caring supportive community, where children were taught to respect their neighbours and relatives and the environment in which they lived.

With this knowledge and respect they were able to enjoy such pleasures as shrimp netting, swimming and picnics on the beach which was right on their on their doorstep.

One story that has resonated with my historic textile interest is the acquisition of a sewing machine  by Sheila's friend's grandmother. She was already knitting and hand sewing clothes for the family, and must have been delighted with this new labour saving device.

However her husband, a fisherman, was very quick to realise it had far greater potential in the making of sails. This required the furniture being removed from the living room in order to make room for the cloth, which was so thick that he had to pull it through the machine while she sewed it.

I cannot imagine having to relinquish my lovely new sewing machine for such a job, these days it would never have worked again.  Apparently the sails "...lasted longer than any you could buy." It would have been wonderful to see some of this fisherman's hand sewing on the sails as he was renowned for his very neat stitchery.

I have also received a comprehensive breakdown of the major families who have made up the fishing population for at the last 200 years. This will help me to frame the research and give it a solid foundation.

On the next field trip in september I will be able to match the names and families with the houses they lived in, which will give me a greater sense of the community and how it was laid out.
I have also discovered that from it's early beginnings as a small insular group of families,  it slowly developed into a larger mixed community, with the coming of coastguards, lighthouse men, and the addition of local MOD units garrisoned nearby. Also as with most small communities, children grew up and moved away to work, often returning to settle and bring up families of their own.

With regard to my research on the women who launched the lifeboats, I have had help there too in identifying the ladies in the photographs I have been working with, so this has helped to create an interesting inspirational connection. As a final piece of the story, I was delighted to discover that Shiela's friend had helped to launch the lifeboat "....on a few occasions in the early 1970's." Her job was to to pull the "woods", (large pieces of wood laid over the shingle for the boat to run over smoothly), and "a shoreman would put them under the prow." 

I am extremely grateful  to Sheila, for introducing me to her friend, who has so generously given her time to provide me with such a rich source of information, which is priceless in this type of in depth  research.  

During the collation of the above research I have been working on a series of digital portraits in an effort to find a loose approach to the artwork that will be involved in this piece.

It is my intention to fuse digital imagery and digital embroidery with hand craft for this project as I feel we are now beginning to integrate these two major technical advances into artwork, creating a highly sophisticated and symbiotic relationship.


  1. Delighted to have introduced to my friend - I didn't know she'd helped to launch the lifeboat. I am going to really enjoy this project as it progresses.

  2. once again your depth of research leaves me gasping....this will be a fantastic piece of work. How could it not be?

  3. A comment from Karen

    fishing nets......I see them as gorgeous sculptural textiles. Have I told you already that my brother earns his living as a Fisherman? West Coast...Irish Sea....

  4. What luck, Sharon! It's great how things fall into place like this sometimes. I see from the exchange of comments above that it is Kentish Maid who introduced you to her friend. I sometimes find it hard, when reading factual material, to imagine myself into the scene, and see what life was really like. We have a tendency to look at things from the perspective of where we are now, and what are expectations are. But when you have someone to speak with, who can answer your questions, it must really help bring the whole thing to life for you. Although I imagine she is now just as eager to see your end results as anyone! To see her own history recreated in art. And thinking back to that quote I had on my recent post, about what art is - you will be recreating the bits of her history that have resonated with you. Fascinating!