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In order to be able to understand these photos of shirts, I must with great effort look back to a time that I did not myself experience – an act of second-degree reflection, if you will. The first impression is one of protection that has by now become threadbare. Let us think about the type of clothing that we see here. It represents neither fashion nor design but rather practicality and protection. Such shirts are not t-shirts in the contemporary sense but rather underclothes, intimate garments worn directly on the body, next to the skin. They cover our embarrassing naked areas and yet clothe us neutrally, without themselves being conspicuous as garments. These shirts perform their tasks quietly and dutifully, as their wearers once carried out their daily chores. These shirts were mass-produced, changed daily, collected in laundry baskets and then soaked, boiled and scrubbed in iron kettles. These shirts were not treated with care, they had to be functional, they came gradually apart. Since they were hardly ever seen, they were repaired, the holes were darned. This was an everyday chore. Today, the darning of holes is, at least in wealthy Western societies, no longer common.

Who darned and when did they darn? In times when clothing was still expensive and valuable, in times when there was hardly any clothing, in regions that were far from civilised, urban opportunities for daily shopping and selection of goods, when a garment had became dear to its owner, who wanted to keep it as long as possible – regardless of how it looked. Darning was women’s work – mothers’ or grandmothers’ work, to be precise. Darning is a skilled craft, the execution of which demands skills, technical knowledge and, as tools, yarn, a darning needle and a darning hoop. Like all bourgeois feminine crafts, darning is not practised anymore today and is therefore a tradition that is subject to being forgotten and disappearing. This craft is practically an art, a technique that was passed on through the generations by imitation and that like all rural craft traditions had as its aim the durability and long-term maintenance of objects. The irony of this craft lies in the fate of the objects, for the darned areas usually lasted longer than the garment itself.


Gerhard Glüher