The Polyester Project

Our Hive based Talking Textiles group meets weekly and have recently been busy investigating polyester. The Worn Stories project is investigating the period 1880-2015 and this particular project is addressing some of the issues connected to contemporary fibres and how we use and dispose of them. Polyester, a synthetic fibre, is popular but problematic as it could take 200 years to decompose in landfill. It is cheap to buy and is often disposed of quickly despite being hard-wearing and easy to wash. Inspired by the Top 100 project, and the work instigated by Rebecca Earley at the Textile Environment Design centre at Chelsea College of Art, the group has been challenged to upcycle a collection of polyester garments sourced from local charity shops. Many of the garments, mostly shirts and blouses, had been deemed too poor quality to sell. Disperse dyes, printed and painted onto recycled paper and then ironed onto the garments, embroidery and other embellishments have been used to transform these items. As a group we have been thinking and talking about how we can give ordinary garments more longevity.

Project participant Lynda commented about her project, a school shirt for a small child:

‘I used transfer paint on paper with discs from the honesty plant pressed under an iron, to create the design on this little shirt. I added gold couching [stitches] to give some definition – and a bit of majesty – to this humble, everyday garment.’ 


Recycled yarn


Our weekly Talking Textile group based at Hive has been working with recycled and donated materials. They have been converting old T-shirts into yarn for reuse in weaving, knitting and crochet projects having learned a technique much like this one for turning a garment into a continuous length of yarn. Using this most common garment to make something new has offered opportunities for conversation about what happens to our discarded clothes and how they might be given a second life. One of our volunteers who also works in a local charity shop was able to tell us about the huge volume of T-shirts that arrive in charity bags each week and the limited number that are suitable for resale. Many of these garments are later shredded for use in industry as wiper cloths.


Our group has been challenged to make useful and beautiful things with their new collection of materials, we will post an update about what they made here soon. These items will be part of an exhibition of our research and items made by our community-based projects at Bradford Industrial Museum in November 2018.


Out Talking Textiles group meets at Hive on Monday afternoons 1-3pm. If you are interested in learning textile recycling crafts in a relaxed and friendly environment please get in touch with us at

the community scrap bag




The Roshni Ghar project for women is based in Keighley. We have been running a Worn Stories project with their Suhoon E-Dil group for older women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage. The focus of the sessions is textile story telling and zero-waste crafting using discarded fabrics and old clothing donated by project participants. A call for materials also led to donations of shalwar kameez offcuts from a local traditional dressmaker and donations of fents from a market trader.

As a group we go through the scrap bag identifying partial sections of outfits: ‘this is a border’, ‘…part of a headscarf.’ There are conversations about the to-and-fro of fabrics bought in the UK – different categories – ready-made, part-sewn, uncut. These are often sent out to Pakistan and Bangladesh to be made up by tailors into shalwar kameez suits then brought back to the UK to be worn. The use of ordinary texiles like ones found in the scrap bag, items from everyday use – clothing, domestic projects, mass produced fabrics is described by artist Francoise Dupre as a textile-based ‘global reminder’ (Hemmings, 2014).

The activity shown in the above images involves using scraps from our community scrap bag. We are piecing small squares onto heat-activated interfacing to create a ‘new’ fabric. Collating materials together, piecing, patching, reconstructing into a new whole has a heritage that goes back centuries. Our activity has offered an opportunity to use fabric as a reminiscing tool and for learning new textile skills. A participant commented, ‘ We have made beautiful things out of stuff that would have ended up in the bin.’

Our research project begins

Learning more about the history of textiles in Bradford can uncover some surprising stories. A group of volunteers, working with HLF Consultant Jennie Kiff, have come together to look at historical records and to collect oral histories that will form part of a new insight into the history of rags in Bradford. These local volunteers are currently working on discovering hidden histories related to the rag business and those who collected rags in Bradford. By exploring original records from the archives they hope to piece together the lives and communities that made their living working with rags. 


They will be looking at the families of the rag workers, where they lived, came from and at their personal histories from the 1880s up to 1930s. Many of the rag workers faced hardships with some having to enter the Bradford Workhouse or the infirmary. They lived in close communities, often living and working together.


The project aims to look at how these workers lives may have been intertwined. The fabric of families, woven together by their work and shared culture.

 The volunteers are also looking to create another, more recent, historical legacy for later generations. Working together they aim to collect a series of oral histories from people whose lives have been linked to rags and to Bradford. These unique memories will be preserved at the Bradford Local Studies Library and add to older collections linked to the Bradford textile trade.


 Both of these projects reveal new dimensions to the overall knowledge and awareness of Bradford’s place in the history of textiles. They are innovative and creating new resources that can be used by researchers in the future to learn even more.

Images above from our workshops at Hive and at Bradford Local Studies Library/West Yorkshire Archives. Many thanks to Jennie Kiff for writing this post. 














Piecing and patching


The Worn Stories project has started community based engagement sessions working with a group called ‘Creative Threads’ based in West Bowling, south of Bradford city centre. We have been thinking about cloth, clothing and reuse through conversation and through learning a traditional patchwork technique, English paper piecing. We are working with a collection of fabric squares donated to the project.


The fabrics date from the early 1960s to the 1980s and had been cut into squares but never used. The variety of prints and patterns have given the group an opportunity to reminisce about clothing and fabrics in our own lives alongside discussions about the value of cloth and how this has changed in our lifetime.

Bradford is a textile city, famed in the nineteenth century for the production of worsted cloth, a fine woollen fabric used to make high quality clothing. At the start of the 20th century there were 350 mills in the city and almost 300,000 people worked in the industry. The communities working in Bradford included many immigrant workers from across the UK, Europe and South Asia. The industry declined rapidly from the 1970s. Worn Stories offers an opportunity to explore some of this heritage, encouraging interaction between communities and ongoing opportunities to relate the heritage of recycling to modern day practices.

Talking about textile memories in the context of the history of the city is introducing a wide range of stories to our group sessions. These include memories connected to the industry, for example, a participant recalled collecting the house key after school from the mill where her mother was working as a cap spinner and pushing her brother into a bobbin skep [large woven basket on wheels]. Another participant reminisced about the sound of textile machinery being ‘as loud as a railway station’. We have also shared stories about our domestic textiles; 1970s flowery curtains in brown and yellow, a party dress cut from another larger dress using a newspaper pattern.

IMG_0546Engaging with the history of Bradford through making activities and conversations about cloth offers an opportunity to share personal stories linked by textiles. It will also contribute to another part of Worn Stories, an oral history recording project that will eventually add to the work done in the 1980s by Bradford Heritage Recording Unit.

Get involved


We are looking for volunteer researchers to take part in Worn Stories. If you are interested in learning research skills and oral history recording skills then we have two upcoming sessions at Hive with historian and archivist Jennie Kiff introducing the themes of the project. These are on Monday 27th February and Monday 27th March 10-12 at Hive. If you are interested in taking part then please contact