Collecting Memories

Material Memories: Session 6 @ The Islington Museum.

As we are being hosted by the lovely Islington museum collecting seemed an obvious topic to explore. We humans are known to collect ‘stuff’ as physical personal identity markers, and everyone has collected something at one time or another, so the platform was set to discuss how the things we collect help us remember people, places and specific times in our lives.

We started with lunch, as usual, and a catch up with our now new friends. Lunch was a far more animated affair given last weeks food topic and there was discussion of recipes and thanks given from husbands and friends who had benefitted from the leftovers!

The group were invited to bring in a personal collection or share a memory of collecting and we shared objects and discussed our experiences of collecting and collecting through different epochs.

sense uk arts & wellbeing material memoires
Wig collection memory.
sense uk arts community quilting
Childhood badge collection.
material memories community quilting
Discussing badge collections. Why are badges traditionally circular?
community quilting material memories
Limited edition Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup tins. An iconic British brand reworked for special occasions. Also a powerful memory object for one of our group.
material memory community quilting project
Part of an old postcard collection. Many a fridge has had this depiction of Spain stuck to it. A true material memory!

There were some overlapping of collections with several group members having collected postcards, erasers, tins, boxes, stamps, wigs, aprons, saris, badges, beermats and marbles. Most of the collections are now boxed and stored..’erm somewhere’ but nearly all have been kept for sentimental value.

We had booked in for a handling session with Alex from the Islington Museum with privileged access to some of the museums objects from the archives. The handling session proved extremely popular, allowing our group to have a feel of the objects and discuss the material they were made from, their historic importance to Islington and how they had come to be in the possession of the museum.

community quilting material memories sense uk
Museum artefacts included: a hat collection, a bowling ball, a extensive private badge collection, some gorgeous dresses, drinking vessels and a prized porcelain statue of ‘The Grandfather of Clowning’ Grimaldi the clown.
material memories a community quilting project
A private badge collection on exhibit at The Islington Museum.
material memories a community quilting project
An extensive and fragile lace colleciton. We have been using quite a lot of lace in the making of our quilt panels so this was a big hit.

All the objects were fantastic but none caught the imagination as much as the hat collection…as we stepped back in time, in considerable style. IMG_4802IMG_4801IMG_4816 IMG_4805

Some more reluctantly than others…

material memories a community quilting project
No, no I insist…

After much laughing , messing about and general silliness we got down to making and the group, inspired by their own collections, their friends collections and those in the museum, were straight to task.

We were a hive of activity; music on, glue out, lace and ribbon spaghettied all over the table, scissors at the ready, needles threaded and beads & sequins, well pretty much everywhere. We worked like women on a quilting mission, producing at least one panel each and in many cases two or three!Stopping only for an occasional energy boosting cuppa and an inspirational chocolate biscuit of reflection.

material memories community quilting project
A messy table of creative activity.
material memories a community quilting project
Careful attention to detail.


material memories community quilting project
Sometimes choosing the right texture is the hardest part…
material memories community quilting project
Helping each other with the tricker tasks, such as needle threading. The group are very supportive of each other.

And here are some of the results….

material memories a community quilting project
An adorned piece of apron. The fabric was brought in by one of our group members who has put a little bit of her own material into our quilt.
material memories a community quilting project
Inspired by a postcard from her personal collection.
communit project material memories
Tea dance dresses. Inspired by a previous session.
material mémories community quilting project
A textural piece.
material memories community quilting project
A personal response to the museums badge collection.
Material memories community quilting project
Hands in a flurry – animated discussion of museum collections and handling sessions, which allow history to come alive for those with sensory impairment.

A really inspiring and productive session which left the whole group questioning; Why don’t more museums open up their collection for handling session to those with sensory impairments?


Next week… personal books of influence and the legacy of infamous Islingtonians Joe Orton & Kenneth Halliwell.


Author: Alex McEwan

Alex is an artist who specialises in inclusive and accessible community arts projects, such as Sense's TEXTtile and Quilt Tales.

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