What might you know of your family if you had few facts to go on?
When I set out to explore my maternal line, I had very little indeed. My mother died when I was young and her mother had lost her mother while still a baby. There were no stories, no photos, no mementoes – I have to admit I didn’t even know my grandmother’s name.
But using the basic tools of ancestry search, I came to discover hundreds of relatives and was surprised to find so many had lived just roads from where I was born and grew up.
The bald facts of census documentation revealed a string of laundresses and char women, along with sad, recurring tales of loss and hardship. Many were dead, widowed or institutionalised while still in their 30s – no wonder the family ties unraveled.
But I can see admirable strength and resilience here too, and my project Trousseau tells their stories through hand-stitching – a repetitive and labour-intensive process so often derided as women’s work.
Stitches make repairs and heal wounds. They are both nurture and pain. They are instilled with the hope that they might reunite that which has fallen apart.
It was a privilege to sit and spend time with them as I stitched and I hope I have inherited some of their strength and character.
Stain attempts to communicate with my lost grandmother through shadow puppetry and childish rhyme. I have used domestic substances to create these pieces including bleach, tea, fire grate polish and iron burn – they are volatile and unknown quantities which are liable to fade.
These are challenging subjects to tackle but this is my family, my story and all these works were made with love.
‘Unsettling, superbly-crafted work that is intensely personal, at the same time unearthing an atmospheric sense of “otherness” that will resonate with many people.’ Sadie Lee, Artist