At the end of February I had the pleasure of spreading the word about the Design Routes project at two public events here in Leeds.
The first was Curious Encounters, an interactive pop-up exhibition showcasing the inspiring work of researchers at the University of Leeds specialising in design, textiles, film, archives and music. I led the organisation of the whole event, which was funded by the university’s LEAP Researcher Training Hub and took place at the lovely Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery on campus.
On the day, I talked to lots of visitors about the Design Routes project, and in particular about smocking, a traditional English craft. I see smocking as being a wonderfully versatile example of a culturally significant practice, which I want to experiment with later in the project. Although I’ve only just started thinking about it, I can already think of multiple ways in which the process, stitch patterns and garment designs could be creatively revitalised - using strategies which we’re identifying through our research.
Lunchtime talk at the M&S Company Archive
I introduced the project, using a few different examples of culturally significant designs, products and practices to explain our scope and focus. These included Fair Isle knitting; the Brodgar Chair by Gareth Neal and Kevin Gauld; the Pot.Purri collection by 3 dots collective; and an initiative in India that is handweaving diabetes test strips from silk. We’re looking at these examples, along with dozens more, to understand the way in which design is being used to revitalise traditions around the world.
Details from various garments in The Marks & Spencer Company Archive
I then spoke in more detail about the Paisley pattern, a traditional design which has been linked to a number of different places over time, travelling from Kashmir to Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Last year, Tom and I visited the M&S Company Archive to view a range of Paisley items, aiming to understand how the pattern has been adapted and changed over the years. As I explained, this quickly leads to in-depth discussions about ‘Paisleyishness’ - after all, what makes a Paisley a Paisley??
I’m sure that this question, and issues relating to inspiration, revitalisation and appropriation, will continue to keep us busy for a while to come.