REEL LIVES, 2013
Held in the permanent collection at Salts Mill, Saltaire
This site-specific artwork was created in memory of, and in recognition of, the real women of Saltaire drawn from the 1891 census. Women who were born in the parish, worked in the textile industry, married and had children there. Each woman has her own ‘memory plaque’ with her name, year of birth, age, marital status and occupation.
In-depth study of the census has produced evidence that 160 single women were mill workers, and a further 42 had other occupations, e.g. dressmakers, milliners, etc. Fifty-one married women were entered of whom one-fifth were working. Of the latter, only three were employed in the mill, and none of these had children.
One-quarter of the reels were placed into a storage area in the wall of the spinning room in Salts Mill. These reels were a metaphor for those women who, once they married, were discarded as mill workers.
Tied by the Apron Strings illustrates the inequalities in occupational choices between males and females in the 19th century. Women’s occupations are hand sewn in pink onto one of the apron ties, and side labels give figures of how many women worked in particular jobs in the mid-1800s. On the second tie, the wide varieties of employment open to men, taken from the 1891 census, are sewn in blue.
Photo credit: Susan Crowe