WHAT WE DID | WORKSHOPS
Our workshops took place in South West Cornwall and the West Midlands. Together with our collaborators we ran a series of twenty one-day workshops in each location. These were organised into eight sets of five sessions. They were designed to mimic the lifecycle of clothing, from making fibre to producing and consuming garments. The workshops offered participants the opportunity to interrogate, reconsider and reimagine their relationship with clothes by gaining first-hand experience of some of the processes, skills and techniques involved in making clothing, while learning about the environmental effects of the fashion industry. Workshops followed iterative themes:
Fluff to Fibre
All cloth begins life as a raw material. The Fluff to Fibre workshops enabled participants to engage with some of the processes involved as wool is transformed into fabric. It began literally off the sheep’s back with a tour of the Launceston-based wool mill, The Natural fibre Company, which is owned by Sue Blacker of Blacker Yarns. She gave us a guided tour and explained how fleece is sorted, graded then mechanically washed, carded, combed, spun and dyed to produce beautiful yarns. Participants also got the change to engage in hands-on activities through learning to spin, weaving and dyeing thread with natural dyes. Audrey and Bob Durrant of Hawthorn Fibres then demonstrated hand-spinning using wheels and drop-spindles. Participants tried their hand at ‘teasing’, ‘carding’ and ‘rolling’ the raw fleece into the ‘rolags’ to hand-fed to the wheel or spindle. They then experimented with preparing, extracting and fixing natural dyes with Irene Griffin. Metal salts (‘mordants’) were used to bond the colours to the fibres. Differing hues were achieved by combining metal salt, fibre and fixing in various ways. The workshop series ended with the Durrants returning to deliver weaving workshops using basic, rigid heddle, four shaft table looms, which they had set up (pre-warped) for ease of use. There was general surprise at the number of processes required to create thread and construct cloth. The group dyed some natural cream wool from the mill and wove it into a single piece of cloth which was sent to project co-participants in the West Midlands who embellished the cloth with crocheted flowers, turning it into a beautiful clutch/shoulder bag.
“It was great in terms of knowledge and understanding, all the process behind how clothes are made and, in particular, I think it makes me really understand why some clothing is so expensive. Now that I know the work behind it, I think they are not expensive enough, to be honest.”
S4S project participant
Knitwear and textile designer Pat Dillon assisted by Jack Roberts facilitated this set of workshops, which were hosted by project partner The Hive, Shrewsbury. Inspired by Amy Twigger Holroyd’s conceptual knitting methods, Pat helped participants explore new ways to creatively upcycle, repurpose, up-date and extend the life of unused knitted garments. Pat devised a three-part method for the sessions which proved so successful that we employed it for subsequent workshops. This involved:
1 Ice-breaker activity
2 Skills sharing
3 Creative project.
The group brought a range of expertise and began by knitting simple squares to help them develop their own ‘stitch vocabulary’ and ‘knit syntax’. Skills included: Swiss darning, stitch-hacking, felting, crochet, adding pockets, plaquettes and ‘cardiganising’ (transforming a jumper into a cardigan). As a designer, Pat introduced the group to design thinking and encouraged them to use their ‘clothing diaries’ for idea development.
Towards Zero Waste
This workshop series focused on the complex environmental and social issues in which fashion and textiles industries, retailers and consumers are embroiled. The group watched ‘The True Cost’, a documentary that exposes the dark side of the fashion and textiles sector, highlighting social, economic, environmental and ethical damage of fast fashion including abuse of garment workers’ rights and the damage caused by pollution, over-production and waste.
The film provoked a strong response in the group who resolved to co-create a ‘project charter’, a series of ideas about how to encourage pro-environmental consumer behaviour change. This was based on the central underpinning theme of our enquiry into shaping a sustainable fashion sensibility: how we think, feel and act about clothing. Feeling the need to craft and make, workshop facilitator Anya Barbieri introduced participants to some stitching and knitting activities at the Poly arts centre, Falmouth.
The group were mixed ability, mostly beginners, and those more skilled helped others learn how to ‘cast on’, ‘cast off’ and knit plain and purl stitches. Taking advantage of the fine spring weather, they moved to Kimberley Park; it’s always good to knit in public! A film screening of the documentary ‘Unravel’ provoked discussion about the problematic consequences of charity clothes donations and the damage to local economies in South Asia. It inspired a visit to local charity shops to source used knitwear to unravel and, applying newly learnt skills to reclaim and re-use the yarn. The resulting set of knitted triangles were sent to West Midlands participants as a second set of ‘collaborative artefacts’, promoting reciprocity and material connections between the groups.
“I don’t want to destroy the entire fashion industry by telling everyone not to ever buy anything new because it’s a vital industry that employs lots of people and it is important but if we just think a bit more and maybe step away from fast fashion to that slower fashion, and think a bit more when we add to our wardrobes, you know, think ‘do we really need it’?”
(S4S project participant)
Vintage Pattern Cutting
The Vintage Pattern Cutting workshops were run collaboratively with project partner Black Country Living Museum (BCLM). Museum staff and volunteers joined existing participants to make costumes for the BCLM’s annual 1940s weekend. The sessions were facilitated by BCLM costume lead Claire Dolman and fashion designer/pattern cutter Fiona Griffiths from University of Wolverhampton. Materials were sourced from home, charity shops and a stash of vintage fabrics, a gift made to the Art School. Fiona focused on showing people how to make bespoke pattern blocks for a gore skirt so that their garments would be a perfect fit, while Claire introduced them to the Lutterloh System, a pattern drafting system that was developed in Germany in the 1930s for home-sewing and is still in use at the Museum today. A 1940s magazine make-do-and-mend feature provided inspiration for an ice-breaker activity transforming frayed and worn shirts into attractive aprons. This simple format resulted in an amazing variety of interpretations as participants got creative with embroidery and clever ways to reuse collars, labels and cuffs. The gore skirt was similarly successful as people personalised and customised the basic pattern.
This set of workshops drew on the cliché of ‘make-do-and-mend’, the legacy of dress-making, knitting, repair and embellishment. Participants were also an opportunity to link up with local experts who are applying their knowledge and skills in what conventionally have been considered home-crafts to shape new business opportunities. The workshops began with story-telling as participants shared their memories of domestic making and mending, and the key figures in their families who have been responsible for practicing, retaining and passing on ‘stitch knowledge’ and expertise. The group then focused on skills development as
1 Caroline Bawn, owner of ‘Gorgeous Yarns’, taught crochet
2 Becky Cottrel-Jury led sessions on using domestic sewing machines
3 Pheonix Bird talked about how to set up a business
4 Sarah Stone ran a class on embellishment.
Struggling with crochet, group confidence blossomed in the sewing class – a number of participants later acquired their own machines and the group worked collectively to make and embellish a garment which was then sent across to the Midlands group.
“There a frugality associated with make do and mend, but for me these workshops have had really the reverse effect that actually you can jazz things up and make things look a bit more special by changing something, adapting something, adding a bit of sparkle, putting a bit of coloured thread in something, you know, a whole new garment that you’re excited about.”
(S4S project participant)
Moving between the Hive in Shrewsbury and the Fashion Lab at University of Wolverhampton, these workshops focussed on using embroidery, stitch and embellishment techniques to celebrate and enhance rather than hide rips, tears, holes and stains on clothing. The workshops were led by Hanny Newton, a hand-embroidery artist who specialises in contemporary goldwork, Jo Bloodworth who leads the Fashion course at University of Wolverhampton, and Mary Coleman from the Lace Guild, Stourbridge, and were supported by Jack Roberts. Fourteen people took part including those from previous workshops and some who were new to the project.
Participants began to bring their children, friends and relatives along, an example of how a sensibility for sustainable clothing can grow through family and friendship networks. An ice-breaker activity transforming waste plastics into sustainable fashion embellishment was followed by stitch workshops experimenting with needle weaving, bobbin lace-making, and goldwork embroidery.
The group then used their skills to upcycle and transform items. The end results included beautifully textured embroidered jeans – Jack doing his magic again – collars, dresses, upcycled denim bags and a patchwork tunic-dress.
Re-make, Re-purpose, Upcycle
Located at the Wolverhampton School of Art Fashion Lab, the final set of workshops were facilitated by sustainable fashion designer and lecturer Jo Bloodworth with support from Hanny Newton, Pat Dillon and Jack Roberts. The aim was to rethink, re-make and upcycle items and fabrics that are no longer in use, re-activating our wardrobes and extending the lifespan of garments and materials. Jo introduced waste leather donated by Aldridge Trimming (www.aldridge.co.uk), a family-run business in Wolverhampton that specialises in classic car upholstery, and people worked on projects making bags, accessories, garments and household items.
Jo’s talk exploring creative approaches to upcycling and repurposing clothes was followed by a workshop experimenting with leather working, using punches and specialised leather tools. Participants then focused on their own design projects creating items, combining materials and repurposing garments.
These workshops were also an opportunity to develop techniques and approaches learned in previous workshops, for example some people employed their embroidery skills to embellish leather whilst others incorporated knitted elements.
“It is giving me permission to be more creative and go back to some of the things I used to love doing but then wasn’t doing for lots of different reasons. So, these workshops are opening some doors that have been closed before, I think.”
(S4S project participant)
Second-hand and Ethical
These workshops opened with a group discussion about the meanings associated with ethical fashion and second-hand clothing, then moved onto pattern-cutting sessions led by Sue Bamford who showed participants how to make their own personalised pattern blocks and apply these skills to ideas for up-cycling and repurposing clothing.
Discussion about ethical fashion included fair trade, Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index and work with global brands, fair wage and garment workers’ rights. Discussion about second-hand clothing involved the different ideas associated with the terms: ‘vintage’ and ‘second-hand’ and the importance of memory in our relationship with clothes.
The feelings and emotions that fashion provokes, both in terms on our individual connection with clothing and anger about the terrible conditions that many garment workers endure in the UK and across the world, emerged. The workshops also included a ‘washing powder’ experiment where ‘eco’ laundry products were tested against non ‘eco’, the results are featured in the S4S film ‘Detergent Test’.