In the last four years, a European partnership of NGOs, municipalities and public bodies from the UK, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Romania and Slovakia joined forces to investigate rural sustainability. Working under the banner of Green Village and supported by the European Union’s ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ programme, they investigated new ways of developing innovative cross-cultural training for young people based on the four pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, cultural and economic.
One area of interest was in traditional textiles. Textiles have fascinating linkages, for example a lot of patterns were brought to Europe by the Ottomans from Turkey and later spread around by Venetian and Genoese traders. They are environmentally sustainable because they usually involve using locally produced fibres, even local plant and mineral dyes; socially sustainable because people, mainly women, come together to create textiles in groups (sewing, crochet and knitting circles for example); and culturally sustainable because patterns are passed down the generations and can have surprising heritage stories behind them. However, economically, traditional textiles are missing out because products like tablecloths, napkins, even bedspreads, which involve lots of handwork are either unfashionable or prohibitively expensive.
On the other hand fashion designers are increasingly incorporating embroidery, lace and crochet into garments. Most are using machine-made products or handmade work from the Far East. So what about handmade traditional textiles from Europe?
These are the problems; young people no longer learn textile handicrafts and the once huge army of older ladies producing them dwindles each year, also there is a missing link between makers and designers. So what’s to be done about it? Green Village showed that traditional textiles are a good theme for getting communities working together, especially if fashion comes into it (to engage young people). Working with Sublime Magazine, Central St. Martins, Chelsea College and Southampton’s Solent University, modules of study, ‘Exploring Village Textiles’ and ‘Village Fashion Show’ were devised. The result was more than 60 young people traveling to Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus to actually learn traditional textile skills but more importantly, fashion students, as budding designers are becoming aware of the possibilities.
Now ARCH from Scotland, Ullarvinnslan Thingborg from Iceland and OZ Nový domov from Slovakia carry on with the idea of promoting European traditional textiles in the EU Grundtvig (Adult Education) ‘Beauty of Textile Handicrafts’ (BOTH). They have been exchanging ideas, carrying out informal training and showcasing extraordinary examples of beautiful traditional textiles still being produced from wool, cotton, linen – they’ve even experimented with nettle!
Earlier this year the BOTH partners were joined by Satul Verde Association from Romania, Devetaki Plateau Association from Bulgaria and Kato Drys Community Council from Cyprus to fully develop a three-year ‘Erasmus Plus’ project called ‘Traditional Textiles into Fashion’. By way of a launch, a series of photo shoots in Cyprus, Iceland, Slovakia and Romania showcased beautiful textiles created by young people and using traditional skills but modern design. They were combined with actual textiles rescued from grandma’s bottom drawer.
The results are pretty dramatic! Giving some hope that by working in teams and involving young and old people (intergenerational learning) we can do something tangible about sustaining traditional textiles and fighting back a bit against imports of Asian embroidery and lace.
If you are interested in participating, or to find out more see grampusheritage.co.uk