Cloth and textiles have forever held importance at all of our major life events and our deaths are the same. There is significance in the clothes we wear to funerals, the shrouds and clothes that we choose to bury our dead loved ones in, as well as the ceremonial textiles used to mark their passing. All nationalities have their own traditions but cloth and textiles play a major part the world over.
The Victorians did this in an elaborate way, they made woven and plated hair from a loved one into jewellery as a way to remember them, mourning women wore black clothing for up to four years to mark the passing of their husband. Mourning handkerchiefs were used at funerals and stitched samplers were sometimes made to commemorate the the date as as a cathartic reminder.
In America quilts were often made by groups of women, as a way to talk through memories together and immortalize the memory of someone special. Often these “death watch quilts” were made using fabrics from clothes that the person wore or that helped bring back memories of the person who had passed.
Artists continue to explore modern ways of expressing these issues:
Soft urns for cremated remains where explored by artists in the exhibition The softer side of death in 2013.
A recent exhibition ‘Things we do in bed’ at Danson House in Kent explored quilts that reference all the things we do in bed. Birth, Sex, Illness, Death each category in a different room. Michelle Walker’s Memoriam 2002 was in the death room, made from plastic with wire wool edging. This quilt portrays the death of the artist mother from Alzheimer’s by using twisted sections of wire wool as a reference her mothers hair twisting during the last sages of the illness, the wire wool also degrades with age and exposure to air. Sadly I only found out about this exhibition a day before it ended so couldn’t see it.