Wearable map clothes

Jolene wearing my personal history map-clothes

Jolene wearing my personal history map-clothes

Family history collar round my neck

Family history collar round my neck

Bolero in progress

Bolero in progress

What to wear to the opening? People have been encouraging me to make map clothes to wear since I blogged about it earlier. As usual there is the idea and then the practical limitations.

I have discovered about 95 ancestors in my family circle – rather than doing a family tree I have put myself at the centre and worked backwards and outwards, to get 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and so on. I have connections to the south of England (Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire), south east Scotland, Orkney, Ireland, Nigeria and Jamaica. One grandfather was born in Nigeria to missionary parents and grew up in Jamaica. A 3 greats grandmother, illegitimate but recognised daughter of a young army officer, got married in Jamaica at the age of 14 in 1800. These affiliations are rather outside my comfort zone, so I decided to make a huge collar for Nigeria and Jamaica – symbolic strangling perhaps.

I used maps of all the other areas as panels of a wrap-around skirt, and filled in family information as it related to each place. Sometimes it was hard to decide what to put in and what to leave out – the closer I get to the present the more family stories I know. It is still not finished as I can’t decide what map to use for the waist band.

Finally I thought about mapping me, my partner and our son. I did not map everywhere I have lived, just the most important; the various communities I have lived in, and the decade in Lancaster. This turned into a bolero. This was the hardest to make fit me, because I was not using a pattern, and I was trying to fit it to my body – using masking tape since I could not use pins as I would with material. Eventually I had to get help and have other people stick me in.

What is interesting about this piece of work in the context of the exhibition is the movement of people between the different countries within the UK and the mixing of people from different classes.
Among my ancestors I have a groom, a gamekeeper, farm labourers, a coal miner, factory workers, milliners, shoemakers, even a smuggler, members of the professional class and also  members of the owning class from esquires and lords to factory owners. I have various religious people from the Dean of Down, to vicars and missionaries. I have an MP (who is another skeleton in the cupboard). I have a pacifist who was imprisoned, and one of the early women doctors – the second wave rather than the first. And I have someone who lived in a Quaker community – my mum always comforted herself when I started living in communes by saying it was in my genes.