Sunday, February 3, 2019

Weekend Review: Threads of Time, the Fabric of History

Threads of Time, the Fabric of History / Rosemary E. Reed Miller (3rd ed)
T & S Press, c2011
152 p.

Over on Instagram, @OneSewSweet & @NaturalDane are hosting a Black History Month Pattern Designers sewing challenge this month -- find it at #BHMPatternDesigners. How marvellous!

They've been starting things off by featuring various black designers throughout January, and I've been discovering many new options through their profiles. But then I remembered this book -- and was able to find it via Interlibrary Loan.

So to celebrate the beginning of #BHMPatternDesigners, here are some of my thoughts on Threads of Time, the Fabric of History.

This is a book put together by Rosemary Reed Miller based on a presentation she shares locally and with community groups across the US. As she says in the intro, one day someone from a Friends of the Library Group asked her if she could have a book available to sell after the presentation, and the seeds of this book were sown.

It is a series of vignettes about black designers and activists of all kinds -- from seamstresses to fashion designers, milliners, quilters and more. There isn't actually as much info on the sewing side of things as I had expected from the subtitle; it's more about women who happened to be seamstresses to support their social justice work, mostly. It's all extremely interesting, and I learned a lot of new names to research, as their lives were briefly sketched out here and now I want to know more.

There are also a number of photographs included, though they are all black & white images. The book is self-published (T & S Press stands for Toast & Strawberries, the Washington DC boutique that Miller has run for decades). Because of Miller's long-standing residence in Washington, there is a fair amount of focus on that region and politics & history. The origins of the book as a presentation are clear both through this regional focus and in the very casual style, which sounds like someone speaking. This is both engaging and confusing; at times a little more explanation or detail would have added a lot to a story, and I'm sure that's the kind of thing that would come up when talking to people and responding to questions.

The self-publication route also shows in the lack of an editor's eye: there are many typos, misspellings of names, and the layout is not optimal. However, the level of interest of the content makes this a worthwhile book to look for. It's a series of brief encounters of women's lives, women who have often been overlooked yet played a big part in the development of black life through fashion and design.

I really enjoyed learning from this book and appreciated the wide variety of lives profiled, from traditional seamstresses to beauty entrepreneurs to social activists to contemporary fashion designers like Tracy Reese. If you are looking just for sewing history, this isn't it. But if you're looking for a wider view of how sewing has been rolled into so many women's lives for so many different purposes, give this one a try.

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