Sunday, 15 April 2018

Textile Stories Study Day 2018

Yesterday I went to the latest Textile Stories Study Day, organised by Professor Deborah Wynne of the University of Chester. The theme this year was 'Working Textiles: Textile Workers', and looked at textiles in relation to work, working people and working practices. The event was organised in collaboration with the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings.

Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings was the world's first iron-framed building. It was built as a flax mill in 1797, converted to a maltings in the late 19th century, and closed in 1987. It then lay derelict for almost 20 years, and is currently being restored by Historic England.

The Jubilee Tower of the flax mill, image © Historic England

The first speakers were Penny Ward and Maralyn Hepworth of the Flax Museum. Smartly attired in period clothing, they spoke about the process of turning flax into linen, and what information has been discovered so far about the lives of the mill workers.

Part of the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings display

About the mill

Next Brenda Rewhorn spoke about 'Tatting: Lace for Working People', followed by Jane Thomas, whose talk on 'Traditional Smocking: Workers and Clothing' included the beautiful traditional worker's smock which she had made herself (and which I foolishly forgot to photograph).

Display of tatting shuttles and tatted items

Smocking display

After this there was a break for a delicious buffet lunch, and a chance to look at the various displays and demonstrations. This included a display of clothing made from early sewing manuals by Sarah Thursfield, whose book The Medieval Tailor's Assistant (now revised and enlarged) was invaluable when I made a (very, very vaguely) medieval stage costume for a friend a couple of years ago.

Demonstration of heckling - preparing the flax for spinning

Sarah Thursfield's clothing display

The first speaker after lunch was . . . me! Deborah is my dissertation supervisor for my Masters, and had asked me if I'd like to speak a the event. I gave a talk on gendered roles in clothing production, inspired by these two advertisements from consecutive issues of Vogue Pattern Book from 1950.

A dressmaker and a tailor, very differently portrayed

It was the first time I've done anything like this, and it's fair to say that I was nervous!

The final speaker was Deborah herself. The original idea of the Textile Stories Study Days was to look at the links between textiles and literature, and while the brief has expanded over the years (this was the sixth study day), the literary link remains. Deborah's talk was titled 'Cotton in the 19th Century: From Southern U.S. Slavery to Manchester’s Mill Workers' and looked at two novels; 'North and South' by Mrs Gaskell, and 'The Quest of the Silver Fleece' by W. E. B. Du Bois.

As ever, it was a varied and fascinating day; thanks to Deborah for organising it.


  1. Sounds like a fabulous day! Let me know next time you are speaking - its a shame I missed it.

    1. Thank you Bronwen, but I don't think I'll be clamouring to do it again in a hurry!

  2. Very interesting as usual. I will put North and South on my urgent reading list!

  3. What a fabulous day! I would've been fascinated by the tatting one as it's something I'd love to try. It's such a dying art and it creates such beautiful pieces. And well done you for being brave and doing your own talk. I've done one once but never, ever again! xx

    1. Well I'm impressed that you do your videos, I couldn't imagine ever attempting that! xx