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A Woven World: On Fashion, Fishermen, and the Sardine Dress

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Part memoir, part elegy, part cultural history, A Woven World reflects upon and celebrates the fading crafts, cottage industries, and artisans that have defined communities for generations. The desire to create is the cornerstone of civilization. But as we move into a world where machine manufacturing has nearly usurped craft, Alison Hawthorne Deming resists the erasure Part memoir, part elegy, part cultural history, A Woven World reflects upon and celebrates the fading crafts, cottage industries, and artisans that have defined communities for generations. The desire to create is the cornerstone of civilization. But as we move into a world where machine manufacturing has nearly usurped craft, Alison Hawthorne Deming resists the erasure of our shared history of handiwork with this appeal for embracing continuity and belonging in a time of destabilizing change. Sensing a need to preserve the crafts and stories of our founding communities, and inspired by an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute featuring Yves St. Laurent’s “sardine” dress, Deming turned to the industries of her ancestors, both the dressmakers and designers in Manhattan in the nineteenth century and the fishermen on Grand Manan Island, a community of 2,500 residents, where the dignity of work and the bounty of the sea ruled for hundreds of years. Reweaving the fabric of those lives, A Woven World gives presence on the page to the people, places, and practices, uncovering and preserving a record of the ingenuity and dignity that comes with such work. In this way the lament becomes a song of praise and a testament to the beauty and fragility of human making.


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Part memoir, part elegy, part cultural history, A Woven World reflects upon and celebrates the fading crafts, cottage industries, and artisans that have defined communities for generations. The desire to create is the cornerstone of civilization. But as we move into a world where machine manufacturing has nearly usurped craft, Alison Hawthorne Deming resists the erasure Part memoir, part elegy, part cultural history, A Woven World reflects upon and celebrates the fading crafts, cottage industries, and artisans that have defined communities for generations. The desire to create is the cornerstone of civilization. But as we move into a world where machine manufacturing has nearly usurped craft, Alison Hawthorne Deming resists the erasure of our shared history of handiwork with this appeal for embracing continuity and belonging in a time of destabilizing change. Sensing a need to preserve the crafts and stories of our founding communities, and inspired by an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute featuring Yves St. Laurent’s “sardine” dress, Deming turned to the industries of her ancestors, both the dressmakers and designers in Manhattan in the nineteenth century and the fishermen on Grand Manan Island, a community of 2,500 residents, where the dignity of work and the bounty of the sea ruled for hundreds of years. Reweaving the fabric of those lives, A Woven World gives presence on the page to the people, places, and practices, uncovering and preserving a record of the ingenuity and dignity that comes with such work. In this way the lament becomes a song of praise and a testament to the beauty and fragility of human making.

44 review for A Woven World: On Fashion, Fishermen, and the Sardine Dress

  1. 4 out of 5

    christine liu

    The premise of this book sounded fascinating to me — a meditation on craftsmanship inspired by the Yves Saint Laurent “sardine dress” featured in a 2016 exhibit at the Met and by herring fishermen on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick. But the execution of this book left me mostly confused. For one thing, the sardine dress on the cover and in the title is only mentioned once. What unfolds in this book is instead a disjointed memoir. Deming writes about a lot of things. Sometimes she writes about The premise of this book sounded fascinating to me — a meditation on craftsmanship inspired by the Yves Saint Laurent “sardine dress” featured in a 2016 exhibit at the Met and by herring fishermen on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick. But the execution of this book left me mostly confused. For one thing, the sardine dress on the cover and in the title is only mentioned once. What unfolds in this book is instead a disjointed memoir. Deming writes about a lot of things. Sometimes she writes about searching fruitlessly for historical records of her dressmaker grandmother. Sometimes she writes about herring weirs (long, circular underwater fences) used on Grand Manan Island where she spent time as a child. The second half of the book mostly talks about a trip she took to Paris with her daughter. In 235 pages, she also touches on 19th century maritime stories, various articles of clothing she remembers owning as a child, Gilded Age fashion, climate change, herring recipes, Louis-Napoleon and Empress Eugenie, a history of the crinoline, terrorism, the AIDS epidemic in Somalia, the ethics of wearing seal fur, Iceland’s volcanos, Bowlby’s attachment theory, Heloise and Abelard, Viognier grapes, and the invention of silk. It’s just too much. I don’t know. Maybe I missed the point of this book, but I was hard-pressed to uncover anything resembling a thesis either in the individual chapters or in the book as a whole. Deming’s prose is elegant and absolutely poetic at certain moments, but I wish there was more cohesiveness. Many thanks to Catapult for sending me a free copy of this book!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tai

    This was not what I was expecting. When I went in I was expecting a linear look at both the fish trade and fashion/clothing trade. This was a bit more jumbled than that. I feel like, in the way it is presented, it could have been three separate books easily. The writing was beautiful and I didn't know this author at all before "A Woven World" but I could tell she was a poet. I did enjoy my time reading this but it was just a bit too random feeling at times. You'll be talking about her great gran This was not what I was expecting. When I went in I was expecting a linear look at both the fish trade and fashion/clothing trade. This was a bit more jumbled than that. I feel like, in the way it is presented, it could have been three separate books easily. The writing was beautiful and I didn't know this author at all before "A Woven World" but I could tell she was a poet. I did enjoy my time reading this but it was just a bit too random feeling at times. You'll be talking about her great grandmother and Empress Eugenie and then you are in Iceland learning about the volcano and then you are talking about herring and then you are watching her make a dress for prom and now we're in a plane over the fisherman. It was a lot to comprehend and process occasionally. There were also parts where things were overly described, think Tolkien, and I skimmed the rest of the paragraph to get to the next relevant information. Overall, It wasn't bad but it isn't something I'd ever go back too.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dominique

    This book was deeply interesting. It combines fashion and a herring fishery, two topics that rarely intersect. The author examines her family history, attempting to backtrack her grandmother's life. Decades of family discord have left her with more questions than answers, so she sets out on a Transatlantic quest to find her roots. Somewhere between official records and family lore is the truth, and getting there isn't always easy. This book was deeply interesting. It combines fashion and a herring fishery, two topics that rarely intersect. The author examines her family history, attempting to backtrack her grandmother's life. Decades of family discord have left her with more questions than answers, so she sets out on a Transatlantic quest to find her roots. Somewhere between official records and family lore is the truth, and getting there isn't always easy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Emi Bevacqua

    This book is very hard to categorize. I certainly learned a lot about fashion, fishing, and various dresses; the author is a quality writer. But she writes so indiscriminately I had a hard time staying focused. I'm sure to Deming everything she covers in this book relates to a theme that is central to her family's story, but there is so much ambiguity about her family, and so much detail afforded to so very many disparate topics, settings and ideas, that I found this to be a challenging read. I This book is very hard to categorize. I certainly learned a lot about fashion, fishing, and various dresses; the author is a quality writer. But she writes so indiscriminately I had a hard time staying focused. I'm sure to Deming everything she covers in this book relates to a theme that is central to her family's story, but there is so much ambiguity about her family, and so much detail afforded to so very many disparate topics, settings and ideas, that I found this to be a challenging read. I wanted to understand the mysteries of her mother and her mother's mother's strained relationship, and of her grandmother's unmarked grave in Valhalla; I wanted to hear what her work as a para-professional sex educator consisted of, but Deming didn't deliver. If the subtitle On Fashion, Fishermen, and the Sardine Dress were expanded to include My Matrilineage, Porcelain, Grand Manan Island, Camels, Gentrification, Carmen, Emotional Contradiction, Empress Eugénie, Women's Work, Periwinkles, Makers, Cormorants, the Paris Attacks, Buffon, Moral Ugliness, and Babbage's Calculator, it still wouldn't cover the half of it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shreya Arekar

  6. 5 out of 5

    Audra Teel

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pat Lively

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carina

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

  11. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Flynn

  12. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

  13. 4 out of 5

    mary garrett

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elissa

  15. 5 out of 5

    Concinnous

  16. 5 out of 5

    Molly

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jaime Nason

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sasha Jones

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Simmons

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jon Nguyen

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gabe Isman

  23. 4 out of 5

    Krista Burns

  24. 5 out of 5

    C

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jennie Ziegler

  26. 4 out of 5

    Krista Soltis

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kara Lance

  28. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

  29. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  30. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

  31. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  32. 5 out of 5

    Kim Martin

  33. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  34. 4 out of 5

    Kendyle

  35. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer AM

  36. 4 out of 5

    Laura Jane

  37. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  38. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

  39. 5 out of 5

    Auroch

  40. 5 out of 5

    Han Hoang

  41. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

  42. 4 out of 5

    Sandra T.

  43. 5 out of 5

    Praggya

  44. 5 out of 5

    Rose

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