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.
Engaging 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.