Final thoughts

‘I wish I could get other people to realise how everything is interconnected and how important Bradford history is and how it can potentially bring people together. Talking about our heritage is all our shared heritage and if you can only get people engaged with that potentially you can break down barriers.’ Project volunteer

The Worn Stories project has now ended. The project was devised to look at the history of textile repurposing and recycling in the city at a time when there was much debate about the textile and clothing industry and its sustainability. Bradford today has many businesses concerned with recycling and repurposing textiles. The communities that live here also have much to offer in terms of personal experience and skills that can be shared. The project offered volunteers and participants the opportunity to take part in a variety of activities and learning. These included training in research skills and oral history interviewing. In community settings around the city creative textile workshops explored traditional textile recycling and reuse techniques. The project also offered opportunities for personal reminiscing and sharing about the value of textiles, their use and disposal, in our everyday lives. An exhibition of community-made textiles, interpretation of our research, photographs and archive objects was shown at Bradford Industrial Museum between November 2018 and March 2019 (see here for another chance to see the exhibition) where a symposium about the themes was delivered. Celebration events took place for the communities involved.

Over 400 local people were directly engaged in the project, attending research training, community-sessions, and celebration events or volunteering, with an additional audience gained through the exhibition, traditional and social media.

A huge thanks to all our project volunteers, participants, community and museum partners and to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for supporting the project.

Our project publication, edited by Claire Wellesley-Smith and Jennie Kiff , co-written with with project volunteers will be available shortly. If you are interested in receiving a PDF copy then please contact




Pop up exhibition

Our exhibition at Bradford Industrial Museum is now over. However, there is another chance to see the work interpreting the heritage we have explored during the Worn Stories project at a pop-up gallery space in central Bradford. The work is now on the fifth floor of West Riding House, Cheapside (opposite the entrance to Forster Square Station). The venue offers amazing views across the city from both sides. The exhibition space is accessible Monday – Friday 9-5. Please ask at the main reception for access.



Worn Stories Exhibition


An exhibition of photographs, textiles and research from our community projects around the city and from local archives opens 6th November at Bradford Industrial Museum. It runs until 28th April 2019. We will be offering drop-in textile recycling activities on Wednesday 21st and 5th December 1-4 pm. On Saturday 24th November there will be a free drop-in mending workshop 1-4 pm with Claire Wellesley-Smith. Please bring a garment to repair.

Bradford Industrial Musuem, Moorside Road, BD2 3HP is open Tuesday – Friday 10am – 4pm and Saturday and Sundays 11am – 4pm.

Charity shop tales

Kelly is a volunteer at Hive where she helps with our fundraising. She has also worked in charity shops for the last 16 years. As part of the Worn Stories project she has recently been an interview subject as part of our oral history project. Here she writes about her experience of charity shop work and also of being interviewed for the project. The full interview will be transcribed and published on this blog. Many thanks Kelly for your contribution.

Rag pen, Cancer Research UK shop

‘I have worked on and off in charity shops since 2002, working for three major chains.  This has given me a broad knowledge of the industry, both chronologically and the variances between different charities in their business models.  From the pre-Ebay days to the ever-increasing pace of fast fashion.  From the gradual phasing out of selling video cassettes to now, the decline in the sales of DVDs.  I have covered most roles in that time, from till to sorter and have, to partly quote Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, seen things…  Some good, some utterly grim (most charity shops don’t have washing machines and not every donation contains washed clothes…).

Sorting desk and hanging rails, CRUK

The charity shop remains one of the most inclusive elements in society.  Everyone, regardless of skill set is welcome to work there.  Everyone, regardless of personal wealth is welcome to shop there.  They provide an affordable, ecological and personality-focused (rather than being one of the herd) environment in which to shop.  They provide skills and a network of support and companionship for the people who volunteer there.  We take pride in our shops and want them to be a vital part of the communities in which they trade.  I would love voluntary work to be a part of the curriculum in schools for 16-18-year olds – no two days are the same and there’s always something new to learn, be it “Is this artfully distressed or just ripped?” to “What’s this gizmo for?!”

Checking garments, CRUK

The [oral history] interview experience was lovely – everyone was really welcoming and put me at ease.  The questions were good – a broad range of topics.  I hope it gives a glimpse into the world of charity shops – from the treasure trove of donations to the cut-throat pirate attitude of some of the patrons.  From the people who will put a bit extra in the rattle tin to the sorts that would think nothing of ripping them from the chain on the counter.  From the woman who ran from the shop with an armful of babygros she had stolen under her arm – a example of disheartening, yet prevalent thievery – opportunism brought on by a lack of budget for security tags or a guard – to the gentleman who picks up pennies off the ground and presents them to us in a washed out coffee jar once it’s full.  The charity shop is where all walks of life pass through.  My life, certainly, would be poorer without them.’


Kelly’s oral history interview

Using our skills



Our popular Talking Textiles groups meet on Mondays at Hive and have been working on projects that explore a variety of creative textile techniques. These have all emphasised textile recycling, repair and reuse themes. They include traditional patchwork, creating and using t-shirt yarn (for crochet, knitting, rag rugging and weaving), using heat activated interfacing to create new textiles, printing and darning and mending skills. We have also encouraged discussion about the various  contemporary textile recycling industries and businesses in the city and learned about the heritage of the industry and workers from the 1880s onward. As well as these practical skills and heritage stories we have used the stories of significant textiles in our lives to reminisce. These stories evidence the power of textiles as a tool for community-based conversations about our own lives, the lives of our ancestors and the relevance to our community heritage.

We’ve recently challenged the group to use the many textile skills they have and that they have learned during the project to make a personal piece of work. The parameters of the challenge are that the piece is worked on a square of recycled blanket and that all the materials used must be reused or found in the Hive Textile Recycling Hub. Here are examples of some of the work in progress:


Lynda’s work focusses on the wellbeing benefits she gets from attending the project and the beauty to be found in broken or repaired textiles.


Lila is using a collection of crocheted, embroidered and tatted doilies donated to the recycling hub. She wants to celebrate the hours of work women put into these domestic items during the early and mid-twentieth century.


Muriel has been inspired by a collection of floral pieces of fabric from her own scrap bag and is working on a patched and appliqued mini-quilt.


Tess has challenged herself to make a patchwork using the English paper piecing technique with a sample of every piece of cloth that has been donated to the recycling hub since the beginning of the Worn Stories project.


Deb is exploring her new embroidery skills and is using yarn and fabric strips from the textile hub to create a densely worked ammonite on a wool background.

The Ballad of Ellen Tring

As we head into the final six months of the Worn Stories project we are collating and gathering together the findings from our research and community-based projects. We will be delivering some one-off workshops as part of this. First up is ‘The Ballad of Ellen Tring’ on Tuesday 17th July 1-3 pm at Hive. Ellen Tring was a rag worker and her story emerged through the work of our research project. We will be exploring the history of the industrial ballad through the story of Ellen and creating our own ballad, to be performed at our end-of-project events in November and December. Volunteer researcher Tracey has been researching Ellen’s life and shares some of her story below:

Where do you start with Ellen Tring? What about her name? Ellen Tring was also known as Ellen Cameron and as Ellen Quinn. Her date of birth varies between 1846 and 1850 and she was born in either County Armagh or Glasgow, depending on the alias she used! Varying in height from 5ft 1inch to 5ft 3 inches, she was easily identifiable with a scar on the right side of her forehead and a tattoo on her left arm above her elbow. A Roman Catholic, she was married to John William Tring but was also described as living with Robert McMillan. Her profession varied too as she worked as a rag picker, rag sorter, a weaver and a common prostitute. She didn’t just reside in Bradford either, as Barnsley, Dewsbury, Halifax and Lancaster are listed as her residences, among others. However, one thing is certain, it was her criminal convictions that brought her to the attention of the courts and the newspapers. Described as “a woman of notoriously bad character,” “well known to the police,” “a wretched looking woman,” and “an imbecile,” she had approximately nineteen criminal convictions between the years 1879 and 1886. Her sentences ranged from three days to twelve months hard labour for drunkenness, stealing, prostitution and assault (including that of a constable). As an old woman, of no fixed abode she was sent to jail for seven days for drunkenness despite being “a poor creature” and “destitute”. Was she really as bad as she appears or was she a product of her time? 

ellen t

If you’d like to find out more about Ellen please contact to sign up for the workshop.

You can read more about Ellen here.


Stitching to remember


At Hive we have recently begun the task of embroidering the names of 160 Bradford-based female rag workers onto strips of recycled woollen cloth. The names were collected by our research group who have discovered these women through census information, creed registers and prison records 1880-1911. Thirty members of our Talking Textile group have stitched the names of these forgotten workers as part of their weekly talking and making session. We have been able to share some information about some of these women, small biographical details that tell us more of their story, rather than just their work history.


Leanne Prain in her book ‘Strange Material: Storytelling through textiles.’ writes of ‘stitching overlooked stories’. The women we are recording using needle and thread experienced severe hardship in their lives and their stories have been untold before now. Using textile to commemorate and remember them has been an interesting process for our participants. One commented, ‘As I am stitching her name I am thinking about the things we may have had in common. It’s like a conversation across the centuries.’ Another, ‘I feel more connected to the women. Having researched them it was then good to think about each one as I sewed. I wondered too, if many of them had been able to write their own names.’

Annie Elizabeth Uttley: Born in 1889. In the census information from 1911 we learned that she was living in Gracechurch Street, Manningham with her husband, Frederick, a rag dealer and their two daughters Emily and Alice. A third child was born who did not survive. She entered Bradford Union Workhouse in 1915 with another child born in October 1914, who died in 1915.

Bridget Needham: Born in 1841 in Ross Common Ireland. In the 1891 census she is a widow living with her son Thomas, a labourer, and is working as a rag sorter. In the 1901 census she is an unemployed rag sorter lodging in Granby Street, Bradford. She enters the workhouse in 1903.

We also discovered that one of our rag workers, a ‘strong looking woman’ Margaret Mullarkey, was involved in an organised protest against workhouse food in 1901.

Yorkshire Evening Post, 28th March 1901

The embroidered names will be on display as part of our exhibition at Bradford Industrial Museum in November this year.