I attended the Fabrication Panel discussion day on Friday 29th September 2017. This was an educational and thought-provoking day and I am so glad I had the opportunity to attend. The day was hosted by Super Slow Way arts organisation. A fantastic organising championing the arts and cultural engagement along the Leeds to Liverpool Canal.
The venue, although difficult to find, was a gem. The Chimney Room, Sandygate Square in Burnley was a converted Mill that was now a stunning multi-purpose venue.
The canal flowed gently past the huge window of the room that we were based in and although I was intently enjoying the discussions I could hardly stop myself from getting lost in the light dappled surface outside.
The morning panel consisted of Acadamics and industry professionals as well as a textile artist so I felt they struck a good balance. While each panel member was discussing their background it became apparent that a unified concern was that graduates now may not have the extensive technical knowledge of textiles that they would have in days gone by and what problems this may present for the Textiles industry.
Amanda Bates from the University of Central Lancashire commented that young journalists and vloggers that are producing work currently sometimes will not differentiate between a printed pattern and a Jacquard for example. The technical understanding of construction is not there. Sarah Lloyd from Panaz (commercial interior textile producers) also mentioned that her young children for example want instant results and knowledge because the internet world has made this a reality. Young people are often not willing to spend years perfecting a technique – instant results are required. This could create a huge loss of knowledge when the current generation of master textile constructors retire. The panel discussed how universities can meet the needs of young people with this expectation and manage budget and equipment cuts with a decent level of education.
After lunch a different panel of experts looked largely at textile artists response to briefs that went towards the first Festival of Making in Blackburn earlier this year. I was lucky enough to also visit this impressive and interactive festival that crossed all genres of making. First we watched a beautifully shot film of highlights from these projects being exhibited over the course of the festival. Events then moved on to artist Jeni McConnell discussing her project working with the tailors Cookson & Clegg (headed by Patrick Grant of The Great British Sewing Bee TV show). After raiding there archives she mapped the company’s journey through various premises in the city as the company adapted and changed throughout the last century which resulted in producing a garment that we were encouraged to wear while we listed to her presentation to help interact and engage with it. I was very inspired and impressed by her work which culminated with groups of sightseers joining her town centre history walks during the festival wearing the garments that were made in conjunction with Cookson & Clegg staff.
Later that afternoon we all got on a coach and went to watch a stunning performance of World Factory at Brierfield Mill. This was an extremely interactive performance that was a brutal reflection on the Chinese clothing producing industry that many of us support through our purchases from high street retailers. I mean, I knew deep down it was bad. As one of the panel members said, ‘you can buy a top with embellishments and button holes and adapted hems for less than a price of a sandwich – how can that be possible’. By the time this performance finished my make do and mend mentality was firmly created!
The atmospheric setting of this production in an old large mill factory added to the message of this piece of fast paced and extremely impressive playwriting. I have worked in theatre and live events for many years and this is by far one of my favourite ever performances.
So, then we finished for the day. I felt inspired but angry at the state of the textiles industry globally and disappointed that the UK (and the North in particular) has such a rich heritage of producing quality and unique textiles and this seems to largely be lost unless action is taken very soon.