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    Quilting the lesbian archive: quilt making as an affective methodology for re-visioning the lesbian archive

    Ford, Sarah-Joy (2023) Quilting the lesbian archive: quilt making as an affective methodology for re-visioning the lesbian archive. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    There is no lesbian archive in the UK; lesbian materials are clustered and dispersed in vastly divergent kinds of archives. In this context of fragmentation and loss this thesis uses practice-based research to establish quilt making as an affective methodology for revisioning the lesbian archive materials in Britain. Through the embodied methodology of auto-ethnography this thesis pays close attention to the material, and the affective resonances of the lesbian archive; making my own queer desires and longings explicit. Rather than a chronological or topographical ordering of archive materials, I present three kinds of archival encounter: the institutional (Vera Holme Collection: The Women’s Library at London School of Economics), the domestic (the private collection of photographer Phyllis Christopher, and the community (The Lesbian Archive and Information Centre Collection at Glasgow Women’s Library). Lastly, the thesis coins the concept of ‘the archival loop’ used to examine the archive of the Rebel Dykes that shifts between categories, defiantly in motion. The project presents a new body of quilted artworks that identify the under-researched imagery, symbolism, and visual cultures of lesbian communities in the 20th century. Through this specifically lesbian vernacular and a technical focus on digital embroidery, the works expand on traditional and feminist quilting practices. I offer a critique of the dominance of access and visibility as the primary tactics for liberating the lesbian archive (Castle, 1993; Jagose, 1994; Traub, 2016). Instead presenting quilt making as an affective strategy for piecing together fragments of the archive, whilst leaving space for the unknown and unseen. The quilt is established as both an act of ‘re-visioning’ and ‘femmage’ both of which are feminist strategies that turn towards the historical, in order to re-assemble the contemporary strategies for survival in a patriarchal world. Through a femme-ethical methodology that prioritises embellished aesthetics, emotional vulnerability, and an ethics of reciprocity the quilt not only re-visions the lesbian archive, but becomes an active contributor to the archive. Through this act of becoming the archive: I establish the archive as an active/activist site for intergenerational intimacy and collaboration that has the potential for new lesbian imaginaries and communities to form.

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