When two or more people gather at a dining table, there is an inevitable exchange of stories. Francesca Zampollo, a Senior Lecturer at Auckland University of Technology and the founder of the International Food Design Society, has devoted her life’s work to engaging and encouraging this type of exchange.
Her most recent project, The Memories’ Cloth, creates a tangible memento of those shared stories. The Memories’ Cloth is, at its most basic, a tablecloth that diners can scribble ideas and thoughts on. Not unlike the butcher paper table covers and crayon baskets of nostalgic American family-style restaurants, The Memories’ Cloth is a shared record of the meal. But unlike those disposable covers, Zampollo’s project is meant to be a layered recorded history of those who have shared a table, an object that “grow(s) in emotional significance, because of your memories…time after time, dinner after dinner.”
MOLD had the opportunity to speak with the designer and educator about the importance of dining tables, Christmas at her mom’s house, and her ongoing search for meaningful food.
MOLD: Why did you choose a tablecloth as the most appropriate tabletop object for capturing memories?
Francesca Zampollo: I am fascinated by the act of eating. I love watching people eating together and I am particularly interested in the eating situations made of a few people together. In these situations usually people are eating sitting around a table, at least in the western society. Everything important has an ‘eating around the table’ component: birthdays, weddings, Christmas, and really all types of festivities and celebrations, as well as business meetings, and situations where decisions are taken and hands are shaken.
The table, and eating food on a table, brings people together—it literally gets them sitting close to one another. The table is where discussions happen, laughter explode, people get to know each other, families reunite, and memories are exchanged. The table is where dishes are handed over, bottles are passed, crumbs fall, cutlery is laid and where hands and arms rest. In all of this, the tablecloth, laying there, is the silent witness.
I am fascinated by all of this, so I wanted to design something that captured it, and that gave the opportunity to leave a permanent mark of all that happens on a table, of all that happens when eating together. Guests can, in fact, use the permanent fabric markers sold with The Memories’ Cloth, to capture those events, create permanent memories, or write about past food memories. I wanted to design something that brought the attention back to the table, and the tablecloth itself. Guests can read what others wrote during previous meals and time after time, the tablecloth grows in emotional significance. It becomes a portrait of happy moments to treasure, but also to share.
In all of this, the tablecloth, laying there, is the silent witness.
What is the tablecloth made of?
It’s made of polyester at the moment. I don’t exclude changing it to cotton in next productions, but the fabric I found at the moment is the best one for this use: it holds the ink of the markers quite well, it washes easily (the tablecloth, not the colors of the markers!) and it has a very nice feel—it’s very soft.
Was the tablecloth created for the In Search of Meaningful Food, your ongoing food research project?
No, the tablecloth came much earlier than In Search of Meaningful Food! But I created a “Travelling Memories’ Cloth” when I did my first presentation of In Search Of Meaningful Food. I presented to the audience people’s stories of their own meaningful foods, which are all memories. I knew this would trigger the audience’s own memories, so The Memories Cloth was there to collect them. It was a great way to ‘close the circle’ of that event: people gave their story to me, I gave the stories to the audience, and the audience gave me their stories to give to someone else…for the next event, in the next country…
Can you share a recent table-side memory that you would have liked to capture on The Memories’ Cloth?
Well, it’s not a memory that “I would have liked” to capture on The Memories’ Cloth, it’s a memory that I got to capture in one Memories’ Cloth, my mother’s Memories’ Cloth. When I first got the idea for this product, I made a 3-meter long prototype—for my parent’s dining table—and gave it to them as a present for Christmas 2013. That table, their table, is the real inspiration for this product. I grew up in Italy, where food is very important, and where celebrating all together— anything, even just Sunday—is a big deal. So it was for my family as well.
For my entire family, my parent’s place is probably where most of these gatherings happened, and keep happening. So for me, eating all together around a table means that table. My prototype, my testing of this idea, had to be there! So that Christmas the entire family was gathered and my mom proudly laid out her Memories’ Cloth (which she loved immediately). It didn’t take long for it to capture the attention of my family and for people to want to start wring on it. My dad, who is a policeman, wrote the minutes of the dinner and the menu…my 6 month old cousin drew who knows what, and everybody else had something funny, something emotional, about the past or present, to write. Including me. I wrote my memory on that first Memories’ Cloth and it’s still there, every time my mom takes it out of the drawer for a new family dinner. But I won’t share with you my memory…I’ll have to invite you to dinner at my parent’s place to reveal it to you.