Bikes & Bloomers research

This research project explores Victorian engineering, the history of patenting and feminist cultures of invention. While middle and upper class Victorians were quick to embrace the bicycle, cycling proved materially and ideologically challenging for women. Conventional women’s fashions were inappropriate for cycling; materials caught in wheels and tangled in pedals. Yet, looking too much like a cyclist in some contexts challenged established gendered norms about how and in what ways women should move in and through public, to the point where cycling women suffered verbal and sometimes even physical abuse.

It turns out some women not only made radical new forms of cycle wear, they also patented their designs. The most remarkable of these are patents for ‘convertible’ cycle wear, that enabled women to switchbetween mobility identities.

Unable to source existing versions of these unique garments in museums, I embarked on some sociological sewing. Following step-by-step instructions in the 120 year old patents, I worked with Rachel Pimm (RA), Alice Angus (artist) and Nadia Constantinou (pattern cutter) to make (and wear) a series of costumes as a means of interviewing inventors through their inventions.

This research was part of the “Transmissions & Entanglements: Making, Curating and Representing Knowledge” project supported by an Economic and Social Research Council Knowledge Exchange grant with support form Intel Corporation (ES/ K008048/1).

See: Project website, book, talks, papers.