Who’s That Girl?

Commissioned by Est 1761, I explored the hidden and neglected stories of the women in the Bridgewater Archive Collections.

I focused on specific themes in response to my research and collaborated with fellow Salford Makers to create an exclusive range of products for Salford Museum & Art Gallery.  We also delivered an accompanying series of workshops inspired by the different processes used in the making: printing with nature, knotting techniques for jewellery, textile screen printing and cushion making.  These community workshops gave local people the opportunity to learn new skills and continue the making tradition of Salford to create something truly unique and bespoke inspired by the heritage of the Bridgewater Canal.

Products from the collection were available to buy from Salford Museum and Art Gallery and were displayed using beautiful props and furniture curated and supplied by Stockyard North Salvage.

The designs reflected themes as detailed below: 

Flower Parties

Women would organise gatherings on the canal, which were referred to as “flower parties”.  These occasions were in fact a cover for women to come together and drink alcohol.  The public consumption of alcohol by women was considered socially unacceptable and laws were even passed in court to try and prevent women from drinking in public houses.  Sally collaborated with Natalie Linney to create textile pieces in response to this by taking plants used in the alcohol making process such as hops, barley and sorgum to create designs using natural dye, gelatin printing and screen printing. Together they have produced a range of silk scarves with screen printed detail. 

Jennifer Reid & <Thread{ } Collective

Jennifer Reid, preeminent broadside balladress of the Manchester region, has composed a ballad in response to Sally’s research as part of this commission. Her vocals have been captured and translated into print designs using code and generative code with <Thread{ } collective of which Sally is one third and who also form part of Salford Makers.

The collective have processed Jennifer’s vocals with software called Ableton Live, then have visualised them by exploring video synthesis and data visualisation through changes in frequency, attack and timbre. These visuals were then re-created using hand screen printed processes and turned into digital print designs.

Pit Brow Lasses

Pit brow Lasses were women that worked in the mines until 1842 when they were forbidden by law to go underground, but could be employed in equally heavy industry on the pit face such as loading wagons, sorting coal on conveyor belts and hauling heavy tubs up from the mine.

These women were considered the first women to wear trousers, which was the source of huge controversy.  In addition to trousers they also wore harness-style belts with chains so they were able to pull coal carts. These belts wore holes into their clothing and the women were often demonised for their appearance.

Sally has collaborated with Julia Roy-Williams to create a range of silver jewellery to explore the symbolism of the belt fastenings – something which illustrates the expectation of how women are expected behave and look versus how in reality they needed to posses strength and resilience.  The materials and processes they have used to create the jewellery also reflect the industrial making on the canal. Their work also features hidden messages and acid-etched surface pattern taken from Sally’s screen prints of Jennifer Reid’s vocals.

Sanctions on Women 

Although there are few detailed accounts, there is one specific moment that Sally wanted to highlight as she felt it is representative of the unrealistic sanctions and expectations placed onto women.  

There was an occasion of a female worker passing by the Duke of Bridgewater on the bridge in the Delph at Worsley.  Some of the fluff from her dress transferred onto the Duke’s clothing as they passed (she must have been working with cotton on the industrial yard) from which he then banned all women from using the bridge.

Collaborating with Eva Elliot, they have created a collection of porcelain jewellery which references this moment – the infliction of power – over gender and class – for something so menial.  Sally has created surface print designs from fluff and screen printed designs which have been transferred onto porcelain and fabric.  Some of the porcelain also has fluff imprinted into the surface to create textures and pattern.  This detailing along with the shapes of the pieces reflects the movement and fluidity of the canal and waterways.  The fabric has been made into a selection of products for this commission.

Cartes des Vistes 

The pit brow lasses were photographed and their portraits where turned into “Cartes des Vistes” which were sold and mostly purchased by middle and upper class men.

Sally’s concept for this theme references the objectification of the women through the production and sale of these postcards – the pleasure that men gained from looking and the Victorian ideologies of feminism and moral supremacy.  This work was also inspired by “The power to fix the gaze: Gender and class in Victorian photographs of pit‐brow women” written by Sarah Edge*.

Linking to her existing collaborative work with scientists from the Wellcome Centre for Cell Matrix Research, Sally has created a print design which originates from a microscopic cellular image of a retina.  She has turned this microscopic image of the eye into a large scale print to emphasise the weight of the male gaze.

Women’s Craft on the Canal

There is a strong tradition of women crafting on the canals, specifically crochet.  These intricate designs adorned the interior of boat cabins. Spaces inside the cabins were cramped therefore there were limitations of what interior décor could be used so an easy and affordable way for women to personalise spaces and create their own individual sense of style would be to create crochet curtains, porthole covers, table cloths, event bonnets and clothing – anything! The action of crochet is that of a stark contrast in comparison to the hard, laborious work that the women had to endure working on the canals so perhaps this was a welcome therapeutic antidote.

Sally created an original motif by making gelatin prints from actual crochet lace pieces. These original prints were then transformed into digital print designs by Cheryl O’Meara.

Collaborating artists:

Cheryl O’Meara

Vicky Clarke

Jessie Fewtrill

Julia Roy-Williams

Natalie Linney 

Eva Elliot

Jennifer Reid 

Art Illuminated

Visit the Est 1761 website to find out more about the themes, ideas & processes behind the work and the makers involved.