The ‘materiality of maternity’

mat 1 mat 2

I have just finished a fabulous book – ‘Strange Material – storytelling through textiles’ by Leanne Prain (2014). It was one of those reads that makes you say out loud, ‘Yes! I think that too!’, ‘I know exactly what you mean!’ or ‘I do that!’ It examines the role textiles play in our lives and how quilts and textile art can help us make sense of experiences, tell stories or bring us together as communities. Throughout the book there are interviews with textile artists from all around the world, some great photographs, and suggested projects for the reader. I enjoyed the topics covered too – clothing as social history, ‘rugs of resistance’ and how poetry and fabric work together. I found it a really inspiring read and consequently, it made me get out my sewing machine and return to a project I started at the end of last summer, when I found out I was pregnant…

In much the same way as I made a quilt after I submitted my PhD thesis, before my Viva exam ( ), I filled the somewhat similar liminal space between pregnancy and birth with a variety of creative endeavours. One of which was to make fabric squares that told the story of my feelings towards being pregnant, the shift in my identity, feelings towards my work and career, and document my experience with midwives and having a baby. After reading Prain’s book, I was compelled to get back to these squares and have recently started putting them together to tell this story in textiles. I have included a couple of pictures here to show my ‘work in progress’! As is common with these sorts of projects, they grow! And I have decided to tell my textile story in two parts; pregnancy and birth, and my year of maternity leave/ the first year of my baby’s life – both of which I see as periods of transition and liminality.

For me, and for other textile artists interviewed in Prain’s book, it is the ‘time it takes to stitch the piece’ that allows space and time to really think about the experience or memory. Sarah Lynn Wood (one of the artists interviewed) says that hand-stitching words ‘allowed me the time to meditate on what I was writing and confirm it in my memory’ and I feel the same – the act of creating these squares of fabric, with their stitched words, patterns and images commits the memory to something tangible. So far, I have used different colours to represent meanings and feelings, metaphors have provided useful images and I have been able to incorporate some of my drawings in the quilt by using fabric that goes through a printer – handy stuff! I also found my old wooden French Knitting Doll, and have created something that will somehow be representative of an umbilical cord – I think this might be a nice way to think about the connections you make with your baby before they are born.

So, watch this space for more details and I’ll post again as this piece of work progresses. Oh, and a thank you to my friend Fiona, who saw this interesting work and passed it on to me: and thanks too, to my friend and colleague, Jenny Hall – her midwifery quilt is both inspiring and a lovely piece of work to reflect on during my project


Hairdressers and toilets win prizes!

I think there must come a point during maternity leave when most women might wonder what their career will look like when they get back to work. Or they sit at home surrounded by toys wondering whether they will still be able to teach, or stare lovingly into the eyes of their baby and wonder if they have forgotten how to write a paper, run a meeting, write a programme report or plan a three-day teaching block…well, I’ve certainly had these thoughts over the last month…!

So, it was a somewhat well-timed email that I received yesterday afternoon – Human Relations, one of the 4* journals in the Business and Management field, wrote to tell me that my paper, Liminality, space and the importance of ‘transitory dwelling places’ at work, has won Paper of the Year 2015! They said this award is “…given to the article that the Editorial Team considers best encapsulates broad readership appeal, sound methods, and whose theory advances our understanding of human relations at work…”

Needless to say, I was chuffed to bits with this news! I’ve always been very proud of this paper and it is lovely to receive this acknowledgement. It is particularly pleasing since I know some were sceptical that publishing research on hairdressers that used visual methods might have been a challenge – so, here’s to research on overlooked workers and to visual methodologies! I’m off to open the fizz…and the formula!

Human Relations Harriet Shortt Liminal Space Paper.full

Shortt Cuts #1: “What if it comes out ginger?”

 See introduction at:


When I was pregnant this was one of the questions I was frequently asked. I’m not a redhead and nor is my husband, although my mother-in-law has naturally auburn hair. But this seemed to be a genuine concern for some people – “Can you imagine? A ginger child?! (gasp)…oh the horror, oh the shame!”

Really? Is it still ok to say/ ask this? Are these prejudices still around? And so what if I had a red-headed child?!

In Wendy Cooper’s book on ‘Hair’ she presents a brief history as to why red hair was once so popular; famously Titian depicted beautiful red-haired Venetian women in his paintings, and at the time of Elizabeth I’s reign, society was apparently desperate to find ways of replicating her copper locks…even rhubarb juice was used to try to get that flame haired look. Yet somehow, over time, red heads have been mocked, distrusted and portrayed as suspicious. Flame coloured hair, Cooper writes, is linked to Judas, witches and witchcraft, and sexually promiscuous and dangerous women.

Cooper’s book was published in 1971. Her short narrative on red hair rather breezily concludes that it is now ‘back in favour’, certainly in Europe and the U.S. and she seems to equate this with the advent of colour television and movies and as such, red-haired women being seen as passionate rather than dangerous. Hmmm…Cooper seems to suggest historical prejudices are no more…I’m not so sure. And it seems I’m not alone…

In the last few weeks The Sunday Times has published two articles on the topic of ‘red’. In one, Emma Smith reviews a new book (out last week) by Jacky Colliss Harvey, ‘Red: A Natural History of the Redhead’ in which Harvey explores the history, mythology and biology of red hair. It sounds like a good read – a cultural and social foray into the who’s who of red hair, including Tintin, Ronald MacDonald and Mary Magdalene. As Smith suggests, this book seems to be part of a current ‘growing movement’ to reclaim red hair from the ‘bigots and bullies’ and ‘celebrate it’s varied hues’.

In another article, and on the back of this new publication, red haired historian Kate Williams reports on the mocking of ‘gingers’ and recounts her own experiences of bullying as child growing up in the 1980s – as she puts it, having red hair was a ‘social disaster’. Williams’ article goes on to present a number of grim prejudices experienced by a variety of young people in recent years; name calling, those who are ginger deemed as ‘unattractive’ (she recalls a university friend explaining that ‘ginger rhymes with minger’), those driven to suicide by bullies’ slurs on the colour of their hair, the advent of ‘Kick a Ginger’ websites (that led to attacks on school children), physical harassment…and, reportedly, that red heads are now seven times less likely to get a job than a dark-haired applicant. All pretty shocking stuff.

Following these cruel accounts of bullying and frankly appalling stories of discrimination, Williams plots a brief history of when red-haired men and women have been in and out of vogue and gradually attempts to move towards a more positive conclusion. Now, she suggests, in the 21st Century ‘red-heads are in fashion’  (just as Cooper did in 1971)…although this time I found, rather disappointingly, some of this ‘fashion’ appears to be attributed to the all-powerful Taylor Swift saying she would ‘do a ginger’ and Ed Sheeran believing ‘he has helped ginger men to have more sex “we’re finally getting laid”’. So is the suggestion here that when red heads are in fashion it’s all about attractiveness and sex? Maybe it would have been even better if Williams had, instead, acknowledged, say, Greg Rutherford’s recent sporting achievements or the fact that at this year’s Glastonbury festival, Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch was the first British female headliner this century! Come on Williams – surely red-headed achievements and role models win over Swift ‘doing’ one?!

I was more encouraged by the news that the Australian Red and Nearly Ginger Association (RANGA) are attacking stereotypes and by all accounts attacking prejudices too. And the good news that in 2011, when the world’s biggest sperm bank announced it was to stop accepting donations from ginger men, there was a huge backlash and ‘a surge in requests’ for ginger donors.

Maybe I’ve missed something here, but for me it’s not about ginger being fashionable or not. I think Smith had it right when she suggested we ‘reclaim red hair from bigots and bullies’ and ‘simply celebrate its varied hues’. This got me thinking about my own red headed friends and their many and varied hues (from strawberry blonde to dark auburn)…and their many and varied talents – VP and General Counsel, Development Manager, BAFTA Award Winning TV Producer, Oxford University Student, Musician, Academic, Solicitor, Creative, Personal Trainer, Vintage Clothing Business Owner. So, if I had had a red-headed daughter, I’m sure she would have embraced her hair, been proud of her locks and had some pretty great role models along the way!

P.S. Thanks to my friend Owen for his Facebook post the other day: Gingers Rejoice! Redhead Day UK is coming! A special event that celebrates red-head power, including arts, music and entertainment…and the MOGO Awards (Music of Ginger Origin!!). 12th September 2015, Angel, London


Back to School? This year’s subjects are Babies and Bleach…

It’s September. In my normal life this would mean there would be that familiar smell in the increasingly cooler air that says it’s a new term, go to Paperchase and buy some new stationary and dig out the woolly tights! I’d usually be gearing up for some sort of conversation with my Head of Group about my workload bundles and be negotiating the number of first year tutorials that lie between now and Christmas. I feel like I should be back at school…

Instead, I’m smelling that September air and booking myself onto a Baby Sensory course and wondering whether or not I should buy the Rainforest Jumperoo on Ebay. I’m on maternity leave…and loving it. The past year (and it’s been almost a year since I last blogged) has been filled with a happy pregnancy, anxieties and excitement about temporarily leaving work, and the birth of our beautiful baby daughter in May. The last few months, as is the case for many new parents, has been full of clichés; it’s been a huge learning curve, the realisation that life will never be the same again, falling in love in a whole new way, getting used to less sleep, and realising that, as Mother always said, you’ve given birth to an accelerator and time simply takes on a new dimension. I am now aware that all the clichés and trite things that people said when I was pregnant…are true.

But there are also things I’ve found that aren’t so true. One thing I’ve found relatively easy has been spending time at home. As an academic, most of my summer months are spent at home, so being here has been normal – I’ve just replaced my research work with a new project, swapped books for bottles, and traded in papers for Pampers. I haven’t yet yearned for ‘adult conversation’, I’ve not been covered in sick (much), I’ve managed to do my make-up AND my hair, and I’ve found babies to be fascinating company.

What I wasn’t expecting was hitting September with such an unsettled feeling. It’s not that I’m missing work (although I am certainly making an effort to see friends and colleagues), it just feels strange not to be at work this time of year. An odd case of “I don’t want to be there but it’s weird not being involved” …if that makes sense…

This past weekend, I also found myself reflecting on what I had (naively) intended to do on maternity leave; read lots of books, make a quilt, keep a diary, clear out my study…and so on and so on… All of this with the view that “babies sleep, right?! So I’ll have some time on my hands?” Needless to say I have barely done any of these things. And so, five months into my maternity leave I find myself thinking, what have I achieved? What have I got to show for this time off? …then I wanted to slap myself around the face (hard) and say “What?! YOUR BABY is what you’ve got to show for this and it’s NOT time ‘off’. You have a right to this time and YOU are benefitting from this and so is your baby!”

I recently spoke to a great friend about these feelings and after a virtual hug (we were speaking on email), she wisely noted that this almost ‘performance culture’ must be rife in today’s (Western?) society…that we even try and make maternity leave as ‘productive’ as possible! Awful, isn’t it?

Why can’t we just be? Why do we need to milk (forgive the pun) every ounce of time we have and place unrealistic demands on ourselves and what we ‘should’ be achieving? Why do we feel the need to ‘do’ all the time? I also wonder what other people think about this – other new parents – and what are other people doing on their maternity leave? Answers on a postcard please…

Still, I am left feeling part mother, part academic…part content at watching my little girl giggle and laugh all day, part itching to ‘do’ something. On the one hand I am telling myself to enjoy this time…on the other hand I’m nudging myself to at least write something. Looking ahead, there’s that sense of returning to work next May a changed woman, with family as a priority and not the perfect lecture…but feeling a bit like a rusty old bike that’s been left in the garden for a year.

This is what has prompted me to get back on my bike…or rather, my blog. Here is a space where I can ‘do’ something, here is a space to metaphorically keep the wheels oiled…

…and what better subject to blog about than my love of all things Hair! If I had a hair salon, I’d join the hundreds of hair salons that embrace a jolly good pun – Alive and Klippin’, Curl Up and Dye, Bright ‘n’ Bleach – and I’d call my salon ‘Shortt Cuts’. For now, this seems an apt name for my short(t) blog pieces on hair, hairdressing, hairdressers and the brilliant world of bleach!

I will start with a piece on being ginger…

My new publication…on hiding places at work!

One of the spaces to 'escape to' in the salon - the towel cupboard.

One of the spaces to ‘escape to’ in the salon – the towel cupboard.

It’s been four months still I last blogged – with a busy summer at conferences and a hectic start to the new term at University, I’m not quite sure where the time has gone! So, a new term and a new post; I’m pleased to say that I’ve just had my paper on liminal spaces at work published in Human Relations (ABS 4*)! I’m really proud of this paper – it’s one of those ones that has taken a while to emerge…but it has all been worth it. It’s based on one of the key findings from my PhD research that explored the everyday lives of hairdressers working in hair salons and their experiences of their physical work space.

This paper, specifically, is about the spaces ‘in-between’ and employees’ lived experiences of liminal spaces at work. It illustrates how and why liminal spaces are used and made meaningful by workers, in contrast to the dominant spaces that surround them. It argues that when liminal spaces are constructed, by workers, as vital and meaningful to their everyday lives they cease to be liminal spaces and instead become ‘transitory dwelling places’. As I say, the article is based on empirical data gathered from a nine-month study of hairdressers and explores the function and meaning of liminal spaces used by hairdressers in their everyday lives. These data show how liminal spaces are made meaningful by workers for privacy (finding hiding spaces at work!), for informal territories (for hanging out with friends) and for inspiration (for creative conversations).

I attach a link here to the paper – enjoy!

Human Relations Harriet Shortt Liminal Space Paper.full

Matisse – Live from the Tate Modern


mat glass

On Tuesday night I went to the Odeon cinema to see their screening of the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition, live from the Tate Modern. This is great thing that the Odeon are doing (I’ve only just heard about it, but it’s probably been going on for a while!?)…called Odeon Plus Culture. Various plays, exhibitions, music festivals, operas and ballets are being screened from their various locations (usually London) to cinemas all over the UK! Great…and it avoids the train fare to London!

The screening was brilliant – what an incredible amount of work Matisse produced during this period. The film had live interviews with curators at the Tate and others artists and experts in the field. There was a ‘behind the scenes’ insight into how the exhibition was put together (some of it reminded me, in a way, of the heated discussions my husband Russ and I have when we’re deciding how and where to hang lots of our pictures…well, ok, so it’s not the Tate, but the principle’s similar!). It was really interesting to hear how some of those who had visited the exhibition had been inspired to write pieces of jazz music, based on the pieces shown and others who had been inspired to choreograph dances, based on the colours used in some of the pieces.

There was some lovely footage of Henri Matisse in his studio working with his assistants; drawing on the walls, painting wash on paper and hanging them out to dry and pinning his cut-outs to the wall. The colours and shapes were just wonderful – really satisfying to watch him ‘carving into colour’. I love the one here, above – the parakeet and the mermaid – the parakeet is such a lovely shape.

One piece of work that I didn’t know of before, was the commission Matisse was involved in: The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. It’s absolutely gorgeous and the stained glass work that sort of replicates the cut-out work he had been doing was just stunning – the picture above is called the tree of life and is behind the alter in the chapel.

Overall, there is a real sense that this collection brings happiness, joy and celebration to those visiting and looking. So, if you fancy a visual treat, I can certainly recommend it!



Lace is More! Vintage inspired wedding dresses and accessories by Verity Scott

lace is more 4  lace is more 2 lace is more

My lovely friend Verity has just set up her new studio at the Ginger Piggery in Boyton, Warminster If you love unique vintage wedding gowns, jewellery, accessories and all things creatively vintage, then this is the place to go! Verity is just fantastic…a talented designer and gifted dressmaker, she has an eye for detail and is a font of knowledge when it comes to handmade clothes, sewing and creativity…and I can vouch for the loveliness of her work – Verity made my wedding dress what it was…and the accessories!

Verity will be exhibiting her latest bridal collection at the Vintage Nostalgia Show, from 30th May until 1st June at Stockton Park, Stockton, Wiltshire. …this looks like a great event for anyone keen on all things vintage…cars, music, fashion and all sorts…

Verity is also running some great workshops, including making French Knickers, Vintage Clasp Purses and How to Make a 1950s Style Summer Dress! She also takes commissions…and organises custom built sewing parties, so if you fancy a creative Hen Party or Baby Shower, this would be perfect!

For all enquiries and further information:

01225 768260/ 07804 023498