Threads of Feeling, Textiles and Writing

Wasn't sure whether to post this on my writing blog or my textiles blog so will probably put something about it on both! It's an online exhibition called Threads of Feeling. It was flagged up by the excellent Amanda Vickery, on Twitter and I find it moving and beautiful. It could be the source of a million stories.

I have always found textiles inspirational for my writing. It's not just that I love researching costume history and finding out exactly what people would have worn. I've acquired dozens and dozens of books about textiles, costume and so on over the years - many of them from charity shops or (more inexplicably) from academic library sales where I have managed to buy quite rare books for a song, volumes which I now treasure and refer to all the time.

Getting the details right is important, (although there's a fine line between getting the details right and feeling the need to fling all your research into the story, just because you know about it!)  But I also find that textiles of all kinds inspire the actual subject matter and content of my novels and plays. Many writers, but I suspect especially female writers, are fascinated by these 'made' items which are so closely related to how we live our lives, so necessary for us. There is some interlinking between beauty and utility that we love to write and to read about.

I don't think men quite 'get' this fascination but I'm willing to be proved wrong.  I'm sometimes asked to talk about the textiles I write about and whenever I take - for example - pieces of Ayrshire Whitework, and allow people to handle them and look at them while they hear about their history, I do find the men become as fascinated as the women, although they may have come along to the session somewhat reluctantly, dragged there by the women in their lives!

We all know that there is something uniquely personal about items of clothing. Shoes take on the personality of the wearer. Sorting out clothes after a bereavement is always sad, but it can also be obscurely comforting. In fact I wrote about just this feeling in my novel The Curiosity Cabinet, albeit in a historical context. I'm writing about antique textiles and needlework again in a new novel called The Physic Garden where a piece of embroidery is an integral part of the story. And costume, dress, items of clothing, all figure largely in my new Polish historical novel, The Amber Heart. Researching this aspect of fiction and drama is always a pleasure for me. And because I collect antique and vintage textiles and sometimes deal in them, I find that the ideas come thick and fast. There's always something new waiting to be discovered.