One highlight of this year (and there have been many!) was taking part in the Costume and Textile Association of New Zealand national symposium in Nelson, in September, hosted by the Suter Art Gallery.
Desi and I (Fiona Jenkin), along with her partner Jason as our driver, spent an enjoyable 2 days driving each way (stopping regularly at op shops, naturally). We are enormously grateful to everyone who supported our fundraising efforts to cover the expenses of travel, accommodation, and registration. (See our blog post about our fabric sale fundraiser here.)
The theme for the symposium was ‘A Common Thread’, incorporating ideas that textiles are familiar, widespread, and involve the whole community. This was well represented by the wide range of papers presented which demonstrated how textiles are part of our personal and cultural experience and are connected to our ideas of self-expression, modesty, ethics, communication, community, environmental engagement… and much more!
In that mix, Desi and I presented our story about how Stitch Kitchen is working to solve local issues of textile waste, loss of skills, and social isolation, through community workshops to repurpose textile waste.
Our presentation was very well received, with many comments about how much our passion and energy highlighted how rewarding it is to involve the community in creative projects (including a representitive from our 4KT Project :) ).
We made many new connections, as well as strengthening relationships with people we knew only through media.
A great number of the presenters shared ideas related to sustainability and ethics in their field.
Yasmeen Maria Jones-Chollet was the keynote speaker, sharing her work to highlight the unethical conditions of production, and the waste created by fast fashion. Yasmeen’s presentation ‘Enslaved by Demand’ was about her campaign on the main street of Nelson during Fashion Revolution weeks in April 2018 and 2019 to raise awareness of the conditions our clothing is made under in order to meet consumer demand for low prices.
Yaseen set up a representation of a production sweetshop making simple fabric bags, and imposed conditions on herself that represented conditions for workers in fast fashion, including 16hr days for 7 days straight, with only three ten-minute breaks each day.
She received many comments from the public, which shows growing support for ethical fashion… and how far we still have to go before we reach the level of cooperation, education, activism, and shift in consumption that it will take for every employee in the fashion industry to experience the goal of seeing all workers treated according to the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.
For media articles on Yasmeen’s work, see these links:
Other highlights for me from the three days of presentations included two papers on historical dress:
Kate Douglas and Ellen Doyle from National Gallery of Victoria shared their experience of combining modern technology and traditional crafts to replicate a missing stomacher, the decorative triangular panel used to cover the corset, from an English 18th century woman’s open robe.
Kate and Ellen worked in collaboration with the gallery’s photographic services department to use digital scanning and printing to recreate the colour and pattern onto new fabric, and then painstakingly re-designed and handcrafted a new stomacher based on their research of what the original may have looked like.
The purpose of creating the stomacher was to be able to display the gown as part of exhibition, and to understand the context of how undergarments were used to add versatility to robes, similarly to how we might change the shirt worn with a suit.
It was a fascinating look into how we can continue to learn more about historical fashion, and skills used in creating it, through modern technology.
A different perspective was given by Chantelle Garrard, HOD of Wardrobe and Design for the Pop-Up Globe, where historical dress was not produced as costume for display only, but as ‘fashion’ worn by actors on a modern stage.
Chantelle heavily researches historical dress from the Elizabethen period for each play, and trains her wardrobe team to treat the designs not as ‘replicas’ or ‘costumes’ but as clothing, worn by real people in daily context of their lives. Her team employ techniques which range from using hot pokers to press open the ruffs, to tailoring garments with a minimal amount of cutting, and finding uses for every scrap of trim and material - in what we now would consider zero waste production - as part of maximising every investment in materials on what Chantelle commented as ‘film quality’ costumes on a ‘stage’ budget.
Early productions were made using her extensive hoarded collection of natural fibre fabrics, with wool and linen dominant in all their garments, for the comfort of the actors, longevity, as well as for historical accuracy.
Garments are treated with vodka to clean, and hung to air and dry after each performance (a trick I plan to employ in my wardrobe!). Actors and dressers share responsibility for the costumes, and help with repairs.
Actors are given a greater appreciation of their characters through understanding each fabric, colour, and trim choice, and surprised as how comfortable and practical the garments are, and the ability to cope with quick changes with no velcro or domes! In the Pop-Up theatre, the audience is given full opportunity to appreciate this detail, as they may be standing very close to the stage, and actors regularly perform in the midst of the audience.
I certainly appreciated the spectacular effect when the company came to Dunedin earlier this year, and I hope the company continues to tour for many years to come.
As part of the conference, we had the opportunity to visit the WOW museum. Many of the incredible designs represented issues of gender and social equality, mental health, cultural identity, observation of nature, and the destruction of the environment. All highly complex ideas which took shape by adorning the body.
There were many other papers, and exhibitions, which explored the historical and contemporary place textiles (weaving, patchwork, textile painting, embroidery, sculpture, and wearable art and fashion) hold in our lives; socially, personally, aesthetically, and practically (this article would be a thesis if I covered them all). The symposium highlighted for me why I love being part of this industry (for the want of a better word).
If you ever have the opportunity to attend a CTANZ symposium, or their regional talks, I highly recommend it. Especially if you can fit in some opshopping on the way :)
News, updates and things we find inspiring, from Dunedin's Stitch Kitchen