Enticing and enacting visual domestic narratives by drawing with thread upon a duster: An autoethnographic study

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


My area of study sits within creative arts practice-based research, underpinned by theories of drawing, narrative and autoethnography. I investigate female autoethnographic domestic biographies, both my own and that of other women, which are physically voiced through the embellishment of stitch upon a duster. Fundamental to this investigation is the prolonged and contemplative engagement with the duster through stitch, the collaborative sharing of stories and the exhibition of collected narratives.

This paper will discuss practice-based and critical work in progress from an ongoing collaborative research project that I’ve been running since 2014. It invites participants to commit through thread their own views and experiences on the relationship between women and domesticity. Members of the public from every walk of life, without prejudice towards skill or creative capabilities, nor age, social background are asked to embroider their perspectives on this theme. The invite has not been gender-specific but with the focus on women’s perspectives, overwhelmingly women have responded. The result is a growing collection of over 100 hand-embroidered dusters featuring personal reflections and insights that include poetic quotes, resentful statements, images and fond memories. It is regularly exhibited in the UK, ‘performing’ a collection of voices that call for acknowledgement (see fig.1), seeking reciprocal responses from their audiences through collaborative workshops and discussions that entice the discussion and sharing of personal experiences. This structure builds upon practices of autoethnographic, reflective story writing within which collaboration and sharing are key, inspired by the collective memory work of Frigga Haug (1983) and June Crawford et al (1992).
As a woman I speak with knowledge of this gendered, domestic experience, seeking to make sense of it through the process of stitching as writing, a method that ‘connect[s] the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political’ (Ellis, 2004) through discussion and exhibition. Personally speaking, this means that my experiences become not just my own but a voice amongst many, for domestic experience is common to us all and in the home, we can research the life we live. ‘Researchers are in some ways always part of the lives and world they are researching’ (Pink, 2012).

This paper will also present and critique research from my PhD study, which builds upon this project to join practices of autoethnography with phenomenology; storytelling with the embodied experience of drawing with thread, to question how these theories and practices can fit together to prompt uniquely informed and expressed narratives. For me, making is a process of storytelling and time spent engaged with an object that ‘speaks’ its own language. I interpret this act of stitch as drawing with thread as an embodiment of the experience that time spent with a particular object facilitates, underpinned by Merleau-Ponty’s theory that through drawing, ‘phenomenology can be practiced and identified as a manner of thinking’ (1945). As Sherry Turtle discuses in her book Evocative Objects: ‘objects are able to catalyse self-creation’ they also ‘bring together thought and feeling’ (2007, p.9). The embellished dusters tell autoethnographic stories, both in their making and their performance. Each cloth is a unique biography of domestic experience, framed within the social and cultural contexts of gendered female domestic expectations that persist in modern media (Greenhill et al, 2018) and the feminist ideals that seek to challenge them.

I selected dusters (cleaning cloths) because they are mundane and unadorned. I’ve chosen an object that is unacknowledged and kept under the kitchen sink as an aide to visualising the invisibility of domestic tasks. The traditional yellow duster I’ve selected is well recognised in the UK and has a sense of striking nostalgia with its vivid yellow and characteristic red stitched hem; it is pleasurable to embroider too, a reference to the comfort of domesticity. The combination of cloth and embroidery was selected as a means of expression and embellishment to form a relationship with the past as historically cloth-working has predominantly been defined as women’s work (Barber, 1995). Red thread was chosen to match the hems, and because of its historical representation of the feminine (Gordon, 2011).

Undoubtedly this craft practice provides a platform for narratives of active discussion (Greer, 2014) and quiet proclamation, which emancipates all participants, including myself, from the boundaries of our domestic expectations, giving voice to our experiences. My paper will discuss, share and celebrate these voices.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2020
EventDoing Autoethnography 2020 - Dolphin Beach Resort, Tampa, Florida, United States
Duration: 2 Jan 20205 Jan 2020


ConferenceDoing Autoethnography 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityTampa, Florida
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Enticing and enacting visual domestic narratives by drawing with thread upon a duster: An autoethnographic study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this