Reading Between the Lines: Clothes, Linens and Washing-Lines in Film and Practice

Electronic versions

  • Jennifer Steele


This research investigates the creative use of expressive drapery and textiles, and in particular the line of washing, in three films that have rich displays of fabrics and costume: The Piano (dir. Jane Campion, 1993), The Governess (dir. Sandra Goldbacher, 1998) and Girl with a Pearl Earring (dir. Peter Webber, 2003); and provides the inspiration for a series of short films that explore positive and negative aspects of clotheslines and textiles. The research areas of Film Costume, Fashion Studies and Art History each provide relevant context and background to the study of the clothes and linens in the three films under consideration. Significant themes that are considered include: cinema’s ambivalent relationship with costume; dress, undress and the male gaze; representations of historical and character-coded clothing; the expression of fantasy and desire through textiles and costume; and the contribution of art history towards creating an understanding of fabrics that denote a separation between the ordinary and extraordinary and between reality and an imaginary sphere. Mary Ann Doane’s study of the gaze at the interface of the interior and exterior of the home in the ‘woman’s film’ leads her to consider the frequent portrayal of women waiting by or looking through windows in relation to Freud’s theory of The Uncanny and leads me to recognize that the line of washing in cinema also denotes the limits of a woman’s space within the grounds of her home and marks a formal boundary between the familiar and the unknown. Similarly, the line of washing reflects notions of The 5 Uncanny in displays that portray tensions between the opposing themes of the seen and unseen, the spoken and unspoken, of presence and absence and of purity and contamination. The idea of familiar clothes and linens displayed on the line of washing as alternately comforting and disconcerting has become the focus of my practice. Some of the works have been shown individually during the course of this study in group and open art exhibitions, and a solo exhibition at Galeri Caernarfon 15th January – 24th February 2017 showed the collected short films and supporting material resulting from the research.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award dateJan 2017