Textile and Place

In this weeks post, Dazrene looks back on the Textile and Place conference she attended last year.

The Textile and Places conference took place at the Manchester School of Arts, and I attended with my two colleagues, Debra and Emma.  The day kicked off at 9.am with early morning registration, where we were presented with a conference programme and badges made from textile, which was very unique and apt for the venue. The conference took place over two days and over three floors.  There were a host of speakers, both national and international, covering many topics pertaining to textile. These included social engagement and sustainability.

Day 1

The event keynote speaker was Lubaina Hamid, the 2017 Turner prize winner. She gave a brilliant talk on her works and inspirations. Some of her inspiration and influences where textile is concerned started from her childhood. This was because her mother worked with textiles, so it has always been part of her life.  As a little girl this meant weekends revolved around going to department stores where, despite owning nothing, she was allowed to touch, feel and explore the garments for their fabrics and textures. On alternate weekends they would visit galleries, where she owned everything but couldn’t touch anything. These were the places where her mother taught her so much.  Lubaina also spoke passionately about her dual nationality, being part British and Zanzibar, and told us how she found the courage to return home to Zanzibar, after living in the UK since she was four months old. In Zanzibar, she bought some Kanga cloths, which is a traditional African clothing.

Correct way
Example of a Kanga cloth from our collection. This one was produced in c.1915 by Dehns (Africa) Ltd

The kanga cloth meant much to Lubaina. She was told stories about the kanga cloth from her father; of how her grandmother and friends would adorn themselves in matching kanga outfits to attend weddings.  How her father would pay for them all.  The kangas were spoken of as a connection to her heritage and past.  Lubbaina does not wear the kanga cloth she now owns, only casually drapes them over her furniture and around her studio.

The Forums

One of the talks I listened to was called Displacement Politics of Migration, which I found intriguing. There were four speakers in this session. One was Mona Craven, who spoke about diaspora and how textile relates to place and people. She spoke about the cotton christening gown and how place and prosperity determines it’s quality and stitch, including those who made the gown.

She looked at Homi Bhabha’s Third Space Theory. This states that the heritage of garments can be traced only once they have been deconstructed. You can then see how a garment was constructed: either through colonialism, poor labour practice,  or migration of techniques and people. The garment would display a hybrid of cultures.

Another speaker, Precious Lovell, spoke of lace and bobbin textile works in Brazil, and how it came to be that African slaves learned this technique from their slaves masters. The slaves then used the technique to make religious gowns.  Under the guise of these garments the enslaved held own their religious ceremonies and festivals.  Precious also spoke about a free Afro-Brazilian women named Maria Felipa de Oliveira. Maria and her fellow fishmongers burnt 42 Portuguese warships in the Bay of All Saints, preventing an attack on Salvador.  Now there is a statue of Maria wearing a symbolic garment of textile and leaves, signifying these warrior women of woven textile and plants.


Day 2 of the programme was also as interesting, with its key note speakers and forum speakers.  However, it was time to relax a little, so I decided to take time out from the academic talks to learn how to put my fingers and mind to a new use.  I learned how to basic crochet in an hour and network all at the same time.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn how to do,  and I was now presented with the perfect time and opportunity.  It was something my mother could do with her eyes closed. As for me, my eyes were fixed wide open.

We all fell under the influence of the conference and its keynote speakers, such as Lesley Miller, professor of Textile Culture.  There was also Kate Fletcher, Catherine Harper Mons Craven and Owoeye Omotayo Idowa ‘Oke‘, to name just a few. With much Thanks to the Whitworth and Manchester School of Arts

Attending this conference opened up the world of textile, and how it is political, influential, and linked to slavery, as well as entwined with prosperity and poverty.  We wear our clothes each day not realising how textile played an important role in history and the many lives it changed, and continues to change.  Many patterns, stitches and designs were born from the coming together of many cultures, nationalities, and their needs.  This gives me a greater appreciation of textile than I had before. Now I will look at crochet, lace, bobbin, christening gowns, the humble handkerchief and African cloth in a very different way.  Especially when culture and nationality come together and something new happens.

You can find out more about the Whitworth’s textile collection here.


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