Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.
You can put silk on a monkey, but it’s still a monkey.
It’s the Spanish expression for ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’.
Chapter one: on fitting and context
It’s impossible to separate the history of industries and the history of migration.
And Jewish people, like so many other ethnicities or cultures, were bound to move around the world searching for a job. And where was the job? The job IS where the money is, and the demand for services are. Another question might be… And why is the money there? As the end of a lost thread in a piece of fabric, just keep pulling it and you’ll discover its inner structure (with a more than possible destruction of the fabric).
Textiles were in demand in London, so that attracted immigration. Even some migrants had to change their original craft just to adapt themselves to the market. The industry marked their jobs. Because that’s what immigrants must do, adapt. Or fit in.
During our visit to the Jewish Museum, we could see the amazing Yiddish-English dictionary with loads of random sentences in English, translated to Yiddish. Literally and phonetically (with accents showing the stress syllables at some tricky words).
A big part of the Jewish community was involved in the east end tailoring trade, but during the dawn of the twentieth century, some could afford to move out to Hackney. The reason: more spaces, better houses and the cheap rents around the Lea Valley.
We also know that Lebus Furniture moved to the Lea Valley in 1903 and that that was the trigger for other factories to move around the area, including textiles.
Also, the introduction of the singer sewing machine made it more affordable for immigrants to set up their own workshops.
Chapter two: wolves in sheep’s clothing, the wedding dress and the Battle of Cable Street
Something caught my attention in the exhibition: In the migration area, there was a panel with some little boards with quotes on them. If you lifted the boards you could discover who said the quote and when it was said.
All the quotes referred to comments made by politicians or powerful members of the media regarding immigration. Some of them with harsh words against it.
The clever thing of the display was that before lifting and revealing ‘the when’ and ‘the who’, one could think that those quotes were (of course) said back in the day, before the Second World War, in the environment of the Jewish hunting that led to the Holocaust. Surprise! Some of them were delivered in the 21st century.
The same wolves in sheep’s clothing?
We now see the Battle of Cable Street as a historical moment against fascism, frequently invoked in contemporary British politics. But again, it was the working-class people, the unknown, the immigrants, not the Establishment who faced fascism in the streets.
(as well as the terrible working conditions and pay that was improved after several strikes and demonstrations of the East Tailors)
The wedding dress.
Kathrin Pieren from the Jewish Museum Archives was showing us a wedding gown. It was an incredible piece of clothing. But what was more incredible was that Kathrin showed us a picture of the wedding where the gown was used. We could see the bride, wearing it. She said that soon, that dress was going to be exhibited in the main collection, because of different reasons: the importance of the dress itself, the importance of showing how was a wedding back in the day and because apparently the couple was involved in the Battle of Cable Street.
We underlined how important was to show people that, although humans always want to create heroes from events or leaders with specific faces, it is the ordinary people involved that changed society. As that ordinary couple enjoying their wedding day. As all of us admiring that dress.
As the Yiddish – English dictionary might have said: I should prefer to drink something, coffee or tea, it is all the same to me
Chapter three: on patterns
To commence the draft mark point 0 and square both ways from it.
1 from 0 = ½ scale; 2 from 0 = ¼ scale; 3 from 0 = scale.
4 from 0 = natural waist length
Gertrude Stein might have said: a star, is a star, is a star.
Here I say: A pattern, is a pattern, is a pattern.
Years, centuries! of cloth designing and there are patterns that are timeless.
The piece of clothing that covers our body from the waist to the ankles has been reproduced, revisited and reformulated throughout the centuries (even before we can imagine) to finally arrive at the most efficient solution: trousers. Imagine, layer after layer of experimentation, of stitching of transmitting the experience, the sewing traditions… by anonymous people, again. Trousers could have different shapes, but their internal structure will remain the same. Trousers, are trousers, are trousers.
Unfortunately, patterns are not only textiles’ property. And so, what’s applied to crafts shouldn’t be always applied to humans. Because it’s not the outfit what makes the difference it’s the human wearing that outfit, wearing that pattern.
Again, in the name of tradition, our contemporary world needs to revisit some old patterns.
Again, we could see how, during the boom of tailoring in London back in the day, women had to stay in their homes sewing, not being allowed to go to the factories.
And again, a textile related Spanish expression pops up in my mind: ‘Unos tienen la fama y otros tejen la lana’ (some have the fame, some card the wool). Translated: ‘Some do all the work and others take the credit’
Designers vs executors.
We all see how the textile world (that leads to the fashion world) might have changed in the shape but not in the pattern.
Can you afford that piece of clothing? It’s yours.
Will that piece of clothing give you status? Power?
Why designers get the credit?
Why do we see, again, all those gorgeous mainstream bodies telling us how are we supposed to look like? How we must follow the pattern.
Trousers, are trousers, are trousers.
Why is it commonly accepted that women are supposed to be in charge of the design, the patterns and the sewing in domestic contexts (at the service of the family and the men) but when it comes to the fashion world and the money and the prestige, mostly men are the commanders-in-chief and the ones that get the credit?
There are now more renowned female textile creatives but still, the balance is outrageous.
We sometimes forget how damaging some patterns are in the name of tradition.
And we also sometimes forget all the work made by the unknown women or the unknown immigrants that worked in the factories, that fought for OUR rights.
We salute you.