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Talking textiles, making value: Catalysing fashion, dress, and textiles heritage in the MidlandsThere are hundreds of small museums, archives, and collections in the English Midlands, United Kingdom (UK), many of which are the legacy of the region’s rich industrial heritage. A surprising number of these include dress and textiles in various forms, from the costume collection of Charles Paget-Wade at Berrington Hall (Leominster) to intricately stitched smocks made by local needlewomen in Herefordshire, and the wealth of manufacturers’ samples that comprise the silk ribbon trade archive at the Herbert Museum, Coventry. These are challenging times for many such organisations as they face cutbacks in staff and local authority funding. Yet they offer a unique and largely unexploited resource for staff, students, and researchers in art and design higher education (HE), not only for primary research but also as a catalyst for design innovation. The discussion here, which takes the format of group research practitioner interview, builds on a Knowledge Exchange event that was held December 2017 at the Fashion Lab, University of Wolverhampton (UoW). The event brought together a diverse group of fashion and textiles professionals to talk, exchange ideas, take part in object handling sessions, mind-map, and brain-storm how to catalyse connections between heritage collections and higher education and build value. With seed funding from the Museum-University Partnership Initiative (MUPI) (see National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement - NCCPE 2019), the day built on a series of scoping visits to collections in the region undertaken by Professor Fiona Hackney and Dr Emily Baines. The group involved staff, students and museum professionals including those from UoW, De Montfort University (DMU), Hereford College of Arts (HCA), Nottingham Trent University (NTU), artist Ruth Singer who leads the Arts Council-funded Criminal Quilts project in association with Staffordshire Record Office (Singer 2019), and representatives from Herefordshire Museum Service, the Herbert Gallery (Coventry), Walsall Museums Service, the Lace Guild Stourbridge, and Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The following conversation reflects themes that emerged in the project including: the need to embed archival work and primary research in fashion and textiles curricula at all levels, the development of hubs to connect university research with museum practice, the added value of artist-led projects, and the significance of place-based textiles heritage as a catalyst for new business and sustainable design practice.
The power of quiet: Re-making affective amateur and professional textiles agenciesThis article advocates an enlarged understanding of the benefits of manual creativity for critical thinking and affective making, which blurs the boundaries, or at least works in the spaces between or beyond amateur and professional craft practices and identities. It presents findings from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project: Co-Producing CARE: Community Asset-based Research & Enterprise (https://cocreatingcare.wordpress.com). CARE worked with community groups (composed of amateur and professional textile makers) in a variety of amateur contexts: the kitchen table, the community cafe, the library, for instance, to explore how critical creative making might serve as a means to co-produce community agency, assets and abilities. The research proposes that through ‘acts of small citizenship’ creative making can be powerfully, if quietly, activist (Orton Johnson 2014; Hackney 2013a). Unlike more familiar crafts activism, such ‘acts’ are not limited to overtly political and public manifestations of social action, but rather concern the micro-politics of the individual, the grass roots community and the social everyday. The culturally marginal, yet accessible nature of amateur crafts becomes a source of strength and potential as we explore its active, dissenting and paradoxically discontented aspects alongside more frequently articulated dimensions of acceptance, consensus and satisfaction. Informed by Richard Sennett’s (2012) work on cooperation, Matt Ratto and Megan Bolar (2014) on DIY citizenship and critical making, Ranciere’s (2004) theory of the ‘distribution of the sensible’, and theories of embodied and enacted knowledge, the authors interpret findings from selected CARE-related case studies to explicate various ways in which ‘making’ can make a difference by: providing a safe space for disagreement, reflection, resolution, collaboration, active listening, questioning and critical thinking, for instance, and offer quiet, tenacious and life-enhancing forms of resistance and revision to hegemonic versions of culture and subjectivity.