For this Challenge, members used their core skills – spinning, weaving, dyeing – to create a textile for our Gathering Exhibition in November. This year we asked members to work to the theme of Ethnicity which, from a textile perspective, provided an exciting creative challenge.

Background Information

It was suggested at our March meeting that members might wish to research their origins via any of the many websites which assist by matching DNA samples, helping to build a family tree and/or outlining the history of surnames.

People have always moved from their original homelands for all sorts of reasons bringing with them their social customs, languages and traditions: textile traditions including materials and methods were an important part of their physical and mental luggage. In their new lands they continued to spin, weave and dye textiles often adapting their skills as familiar fibres were difficult to find, as the climatic conditions changed and as they learned from and shared skills with the locals.

The threads with connected them back to their homelands, which eased their settling in process and which they passed on to their children are the threads we are exploring with this theme.

If you have investigated your family’s origins through ancestry websites, DNA analysis or historical research e.g. surnames you may know that you have traces within you of Viking, Norman, Iberian, Jewish, Arab, American or African peoples and others.

Wouldn’t it be fun to explore a strand or two or even a whole web of your textile heritage and create a piece which is unique to you. Some sources to get you started on finding your ancestors:

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Issue 87 of Selvedge Magazine looks into folk art and other textile traditions, particularly where ideas, tradition and handwork are properly respected, given credit and compensated.

Within the British Isles the local textile traditions of different parts of England, Scotland, and Wales were emerging from members’ recollections about their families-for example a member who had Lincoln Longwool flocks in her childhood landscape; Nottingham lace being made by family members; silk and cotton weavers in Lancashire; wool workers in Yorkshire and Cumbria; paper making and fabric bleaching/dyeing in the vicinity of Glasgow; Quaker influences in Birmingham; Cornish, Welsh and East Coast textiles e.g. ganseys worn by seafarers; Argyle knitwear; linen weaving in Ulster and Scotland.

The stories about why the ancestors moved also proved fascinating and included a soldier from Napoleonic France ending up in Lockerbie, Belgian weavers being brought to Scotland to enhance the weaving industry in the Borders, Huguenot weavers coming from France etc. One member is Romany Gypsy and another’s forebears went to North
America and married into the Shoshona people – research is needed on the
textile skills and materials used by these peoples. Please let Rita know of the strands in your heritage so we can put together a map threaded together with the paths of travel of our people and their textile skills and methods.

Rita Corbett – Challenge Co-ordinator