An installation at the Memphis College of Art
March 26th - March 30th, 2001


Sewing for home and family has long been the heritage of women all over the world. Generations of American girls learned needle skills.

These skills made clothing construction a ready occupation that attracted young American and immigrant women to garment factories in the early 1900's.


Three Capes, 43" x 76" each
Click an individual cape to see detail



Shifts frequently lasted 10 to 12 hours each day, 6 days a week. Factory doors were locked to discourage stealing and unauthorized work breaks. As a result many women died in factory fires.

Garment workers formed some of the first labor unions, and today American clothing companies must conform to labor and safety laws. Many companies have production contracts with factories in China, Mexico, India, Thailand and other countries where work conditions have not improved. Thousands of women still die in factory fires every year.



Trimmed with hundreds of keys, these capes stand in memorial to the women who died in those fires. Sumptuous velvet fabric, once worked by their hands for others, is here embossed with images of bread loaves and rose buds.


Emanating from one cape we hear Utah Phillips telling stories and singing Bread and Roses, a protest song in which bread symbolizes a fair living wage, and roses represent safe and pleasant working conditions. From another comes the voice of Mrs. Pauline Pepe, survivor of the famous New York Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.

From Nimble Fingers a Fist
, banner, 27" x 109".
Cotton, buttons, pins, clothing labels, quilt batting.

The black armband and banner display the names of American designers whose clothing lines are produced in other countries.

In Protest, armband, 4" x 14". Seed beads, labels, needles, cotton batting, buttons.


As a woman, sewing is my heritage. Moreover it is my art, that is my freedom and my choice. Fabric and thread both sustained and destroyed the women of the past, and in this work serve to venerate them. Our history in cloth continues.



Copyright © Thomasin Durgin 2001. All rights reserved.