A linen sheet, smooth with age. A box of buttons, mother-of-pearl and plastic, metal and glass, rattling and untethered. A hundred-year-old pin, forgotten in a hem. Fragile silks and fugitive dyes, fans and crinolines, and the faint mark on leather from a buckle now lost. Claire Wilcox has worked as a curator in Fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum for most of her working life. Down cool, dark corridors and in quiet store rooms, she and her colleagues care for, catalogue and conserve clothes centuries old, the inscrutable remnants of lives long lost to history; the commonplace or remarkable things that survive the bodies they once encircled or adorned. In Patch Work, Wilcox deftly stitches together her dedicated study of fashion with the story of her own life lived in and through clothes. From her mother’s black wedding suit to the swirling patterns of her own silk kimono, her memoir unfolds in luminous prose the spellbinding power of the things we wear: their stories, their secrets, their power to transform and disguise and acts as portals to our pasts; the ways in which they measure out our lives, our gains and losses, and the ways we use them to write our stories.
A beautiful memoir but quite frustrating at times. It is a mixture of the author’s life working at the museum, mainly in Fashion at the V & A, interspersed with short vignettes about her family and life. Some of these were very moving and I must confess I found these more interesting than the museum stories, (though I particularly liked the part about Freda Kahlo which was quite heart-breaking). It’s very strange because I studied Fashion at The London College of Fashion in the 1970s so these extracts should have resonated more with me than they did.
The reason I found the book frustrating is because the family stories are not in chronological order and her friends and family members are not named. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what was happening.
But I think for me the main problem was that I am very busy at work and with Christmas, so I was a bit rushed. If I was reading on a sunny day in the garden, sipping a cocktail and listening to Classic FM, I would have enjoyed it more. However it is a beautifully written book, the language is poetic and descriptive. I think I may read it again one day when I have more time.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.