Woman's Work

Woman’s Work is a glimpse of a new life, a narrative of the journey which is undertaken for a family to form.

My idea stemmed from the hexagon pattern first sewn onto an earlier quilt The Dance of Life. It suggested to me medical diagrams where hexagons are used to describe the bonding of molecular chemical components. DNA diagrams make use of these patterns in a specific way, describing as they do the footprint of our ancestors for which we can now send a sample of saliva away for testing and from this our family DNA is revealed. Out of this first glimmer of an idea, I sought a way to use this template to develop my narrative of family and life’s journey.

Carbon is one of six key chemical elements that comprise ninety-nine percent of the mass of a human body. Linked carbon atoms form a hexagon. Carbon, as a series of hexagon chains, is found throughout the body in an almost innumerable amount.

A quilt gives comfort and warmth. It is associated with home, family and traditional women’s work.  A man and a woman meet; drawn together, they unite and consummate. An expectant mother will construct a nest, a cocoon, a safe place to give those that dwell within to flourish. Linked hexagons are a traditional British quilt pattern. By combining the DNA structure pattern with the hexagon shape, a connection is made not only to home and family but to the biological nature of what makes life, life. Added to this there are several hexagons at the top of each panel that are fraying, suggesting the aging process within the ‘parent’ strands of DNA. At the bottom, each single ‘child’ DNA loop still has its paper piece backing and the basting stitches intact, representing the newly-formed developing ‘life’.

​The DNA chain is long and narrow. Each of the three panels consists of two strands of DNA, gradually twisting and combining to make a single “offspring” strand. All three quilt panels are similar to each other; they are secured by embroidery thread at the top, looping through a Perspex disc which hangs from a knotted rope at the top.


There is a loop of embroidery thread stitched inside the panels, linking them at the narrowest point where the new ‘life’ forms. This binds all three elements together and the whole cocoon-like composition is intended to impart a perilous feeling as if the whole structure teeters on the brink of change.

A monochrome palette was chosen in order to simplify and unify the quilt pattern as in a diagram. Once enough hexagons of each colour were prepared, the formation of the design began by laying them out and develop the DNA twisting shape. At the widest point each hexagon measures five centimetres and each loop of DNA measures between fifty and seventy centimetres. To demonstrate the twists and turns of life’s journey and the age of each family member there are three loops of adult DNA measuring approximately one hundred and seventy centimetres each and the child loop being younger, newly-formed and therefore shorter, measuring seventy centimetres each.


Once the first panel was complete the twists suggested it might benefit from being three dimensional. There are hours of labour involved in hand stitching each panel, which is a daunting workload. With this in mind, a call for assistance in this venture went out and several friends who enjoy sewing kindly agreed to lend a hand.


The original stand design to display the three quilts together was initially free standing. The work was intended to be shown in The South London Gallery, where the ceilings are many metres high; therefore a hanging structure was ruled out. Several prototypes later, a  maquette was built to test its overall appearance and stability.


When all the panels had been assembled they were backed  with iron-on fabric stiffener. At this point the initial freestanding structure was modified to work within the boundaries of a web folio and virtual gallery. Having the full-size Perspex disc and now not being bound by the ceiling height restriction, the work was assembled to hang loose from a loop from the ceiling.


Should the opportunity arise to exhibit this work suspended from the ceiling, there is potential to attach the whole thing to a heavy duty motor, usually used for a mirror ball, which would emulate the turntable effect used on the maquette. This would enhance the idea of impermanence and risk as the DNA dangles and twists freely.


Woman's Work Maquette scale: 1:3

Clockwise from left:

The first quilt panel.

Diagram indicating how two strands of DNA might link together to form a new strand or offspring.

Working out the shape of each panel piece by piece.

Detail of an 'aging' hexagon, frayed and dissipating, towards the top of the DNA strands.