I believe that a textile that has touched our own bodies, or the body of someone we knew or loved, has great power.
My sister and I were expected to wear white lace gloves to Synagogue. We sat with our Grandmother in the front row of the Ladies’ section, just behind a bronze screen. It comprised an open framework with a few Stars of David built into the design.
What I remember most clearly was the sensation of the nylon lace catching on the rough metal of the screen as I brushed my hands across it.
There was a smell of warm wood and old books, accompanied by the fragrance of the ladies’ powdery floral scents, mingled with a hint of mothball.
Coloured light fell through the stained glass windows that depicted the twelve tribes. It enriched the demure glamour of “best” hats and coats, gloves and scarves.
The service was mostly unintelligible, in muttered Hebrew with a few tuneless songs. The sermon, in English, was a masterclass in pomposity. In particularly dull moments some of the ladies liked to whisper to each other. “Have you seen her new hair colour?” “Julie’s girls are both engaged, thank God.”
The men were at the front, joining in the service in a much more active way. Some swayed as they prayed. They wore suits, prayer shawls, and kippahs. I wondered who decided that men were worthier of God’s attention than women? At that time I was quite serious about religion.
I realise now that I felt bored and sullen because I was aware of being excluded.
Helen David is a London-based visual artist, textile designer and film-maker. She founded the ground-breaking design house English Eccentrics. Having established her earlier career in fashion-textiles, with her garments worn by the likes of Prince and Mick Jagger, she now works predominantly in fine art.
Textiles remain Helen’s central medium, but taking a critical step back from producing clothing, she now interrogates the role of textiles in our social fabric.