This chapter is an excerpt from A Woven World. Set in Paris and Lyon, it tracks my journey in search of my great-grandmother who was a dressmaker for Empress Eugenie in France’s “Second Empire” and my celebration of makers.
An excerpt from A WOVEN WORLD, this chapter was inspired by the magnificent Yves Saint Laurent “sardine dress” exhibited at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
“Made from black silk crepe, its surface is covered with an imbrication of black and pewter beads, the fish scale motif created with blue, gray, black, brown, silver, and opalescent gelatin sequins. The colors are so subtle that they bleed into one shimmer like the disappearing light a herring casts as it darts through the water.”
Tune in to our December 3, 2020 conversation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAW5UhKu9Hg
Adam and I talk discuss my forthcoming book A Woven World, fishermen, women forgotten in history, how and why I keep journals, and more.
Part memoir, part elegy, part cultural history, A Woven World celebrates the fading crafts, cottage industries, and artisans that have defined communities for generations.
Sensing a need to preserve the crafts and stories of our founding communities, and inspired by an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute featuring Yves St. Laurent’s “Sardine Dress,” Deming turned to the industries of her ancestors, on Grand Manan Island, a community of 2500 residents, and New York City, a metropolis of millions. Both offer stories of old ways of knowing and being perfectly suited to their time and place that are currently in danger of fading away. Resisting history’s erasure, Deming reweaves the fabric of those lives. A Woven World is a quest for continuity and belonging in a time of destabilizing change. One way to face loss is to give a presence on the page to beloved people, places, and practices, uncovering and preserving a record of the ingenuity and dignity that comes with such work. In this way the lament can become a praise song, a testament to the beauty and fragility of human making.
The book unearths wonders in its journey through family and environmental history to find: the unmarked grave of a grandmother, a fisherman lost at sea afloat for a week in his dory, a seal skin coat, flowers placed in bullet holes in glass after terrorist attacks in Paris, the humble herring underpinning civilization for centuries, Vermeer’s portrait of The Lacemaker, a seal rising up through the floor of an Icelandic cottager, the historic silk weavers of Lyon, prom dresses and crinolines, a Manhattan Subway sandwich shop where once a dressmaking business thrived, the bounty and beauty of a herring harvest, the silences of women lost to history, and so much more.
The author is grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation for a fellowship that supported the research and writing on this project. The book will be published by Counterpoint Press August 2021.
“With the skill and care of an artisan poet, Alison Hawthorne Deming’s “The Woven World” brings us the textures of nearly lost words and the craft that required them. Her tactile exploration of makers from fisherfolk to dressmakers makes me long for the embrace of a handsewn garment, stitched of relationships to land and history, embroidered with story.” Robin Wall Kimmerer