‘Dust to Dust: a particular history of khaki’, Textile: Journal of Cloth and Culture, vol. 8, no. 2, (2010), pp. 304-320ISSN 1475-9756
This essay is an exploration of the word ‘khaki’ in various metonymic contexts, each touching on its etymological association with dust and ideas of the particle. It is not a technical textile history, though elements of process, production and consumption are critical to the formation of what khaki means. It is, therefore, both in terms of approach and content, a particular history. Its focus is the associative power of khaki – in production, in use, and on disposal and dispersal – and it is this that creates the structural basis that sustains forays into what might be described as khaki’s poetics. Conventional textile studies might focus on what khaki is: this essay argues that to suggest what khaki means involves an exploration of the symbolic and the emotional alongside the material, the technical and the political.
While some research paths have pre-determined routes, this one did not. Instead, it could be described as a series of unfoldings. Rather than aspiring to comprehensiveness, this essay is based on a variety of encounters and takes the form of a commentary. It derives from an art historical approach to representation, be it visual or textual, a longstanding interest in cultures of commemoration, and two particularly powerful experiences of place, in Benghazi, Libya and in the Yorkshire mill town of Batley. Integral to this essay are the images that accompany the text. They are not those one might expect since they are not illustrative in a conventional sense. Beginning and ending with images of women involved with the making and pulling apart of khaki, they are components of the actual and representational transformations that are the subject of this study.