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WINNER OF THE 2021 PEN ACKERLEY PRIZE
“As skillful and oblique in its structure as the precious gowns she describes.” -Rebecca Mead, New Yorker, “Best Books of the Year”
An expert and intimate exploration of a life in clothes: their memories and stories, enchantments and spells.
A linen sheet, smooth with age. A box of buttons, mother-of-pearl and plastic, metal and glass, rattling and untethered. A hundred-year-old pin, forgotten in a hem. Fragile silks and fugitive dyes, fans and crinolines, and the faint mark on leather from a buckle now lost.
Claire Wilcox has worked as a curator in Fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum for most of her working life. Down cool, dark corridors and in quiet store rooms, she and her colleagues care for, catalogue and conserve clothes centuries old, the inscrutable remnants of lives long lost to history; the commonplace or remarkable things that survive the bodies they once encircled or adorned.
In Patch Work, Wilcox deftly stitches together her dedicated study of fashion with the story of her own life lived in and through clothes. From her mother's black wedding suit to the swirling patterns of her own silk kimono, her memoir unfolds in luminous prose the spellbinding power of the things we wear: their stories, their secrets, their power to transform and disguise and acts as portals to our pasts; the ways in which they measure out our lives, our gains and losses, and the ways we use them to write our stories.
“In this remarkable self-portrait, fashion curator Claire Wilcox has set out mementoes of her life like objects in an exhibition. Short chapters, some only half a page, are displayed like treasures in a cabinet of curiosities . . . The result is magical . . . Her spellbinding memoir is like a cherished book of poetry, one to be dipped into over and again.” —Wall Street Journal
“This memoir unfolds as a series of vignettes, each one as precisely constructed as an exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum . . . Wilcox evokes the sensual and spiritual meaning in the fabrics we weave, wear, and leave behind.” —The New Yorker
“A series of exquisite meditations.” —Harper's Bazaar
“Filled with dreamlike memories, this autobiography is both surprising and delightful . . . A strange and mesmerising piece of work, one that tears apart the usual fabric of an autobiography.” —The Sunday Times
“A finely crafted memoir of luminous vignettes.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“A fascinating memoir . . . a textual mood board that flits dreamily from intimate childhood memories and poignant remembrances of her father . . . This intricate work enchants.” —Publishers Weekly
“A longtime curator of fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Wilcox (The Golden Age of Couture) offers tantalizing, richly sensuous glimpses into her life inside and outside the museum.” —Booklist
“Fascinating, strange, and enthralling.” —Maggie O'Farrell, author of HAMNET
“Patch Work is a unique memoir told in rich, tantalizing fragments that made me look at what we all wear with new interest and respect.” —Tracy Chevalier, author of GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING and A SINGLE THREAD
“I am overwhelmed by this book. It is an absolute masterpiece. A book of such beauty and profundity, of such poetry in its emotion and observation.” —Laura Cumming, author of FIVE DAYS GONE
“An exquisite book that works like a well-curated and eccentric exhibition. The chronology of time and the logic of life's sequences become irrelevant as you are led from one brightly-lit cabinet of memories and thoughts to another, while also learning about cloth, clothes and curating.” —Julia Blackburn, author of WITH BILLIE
“Intelligent and tactile--part memoir, part beautifully curated collection of treasures. I loved it.” —Jim Crace, author of HARVEST
“I loved its close detail, its sense of the warp and weft of life, of clothes and favored objects. Everything seen is seen intensely. It's a book to linger over and return to.” —Lynn Knight, author of The Button Box: The Story of Women in the 20th Century Told Through the Clothes They Wore
“Among the books that most surprised and most moved me this year . . . As skillful and oblique in its structure as the precious gowns she [Wilcox] describes.” —Rebecca Mead, New Yorker, “Best Books of the Year”