Voices from the Voices of the Textile Team

Launched on 10 March 2022, Voices of Textiles is a digital exhibition aimed at honouring women’s use of textiles to express personal voices and political activism. In April, I sat down with the team behind this successful exhibition to talk about the planning and preparation that went on to realise this project, and how they felt throughout this process. If you enjoyed the exhibition, here’s your chance to learn about what went on behind the scenes. If you haven’t yet accessed the exhibition, this will almost certainly pique your interest!

For those who haven’t yet accessed the digital exhibition, can you please briefly describe what the exhibition is about?

Lauren: The Voices of Textiles exhibition highlights communities formed around women who work with textiles. It showcases textiles which have been used to convey personal and political messages. For this project, we worked with the University’s Centre for Research Collections (CRC) to select a number of objects from their collections that we thought fit this narrative that we had identified. The five items we have are four textiles and a painting of women working with textiles. Other than the digital exhibition, we also organised the Craft Your Voice social media campaign to build our own little community of women who use textiles to share their voices, and a roundtable discussion to offer insights on our exhibition objects.

How did the idea for this exhibition come up? Were there any particular inspirations?

Elin: As part of the MScR Collections and Curation programme, we are required to put together an exhibition. We wanted to focus on female history in Edinburgh. Initially, we just looked around to see what is available, like the Edinburgh Seven and the Newhaven fishwives. It took us a couple of weeks to finally narrow down our ideas and settle on textiles as the theme.

The digital exhibition is dedicated to women’s use of textiles to express personal voices and political activism. I am sure that the CRC houses more than five items that are related to this theme. Were there any other selection criteria when it came to choosing what to exhibit?

Sofiya: Women’s marginalised voices and women’s silenced histories are a key part of our theme. We wanted each item to showcase how textiles have been used as a medium to amplify women’s voices in times of when they could not really say what they want to. Therefore, we chose objects which contain subliminal messages from females.

Lauren: We also wanted to have a wide range of representations, so we included objects from different groups of females, then and now.

Now, let’s do something fun! Can each of you tell me your favourite piece from the exhibition and describe it in three words?

Lauren: My favourite has to be the Processions Banner. I would describe it as ‘colourful’, ‘loud’ and ‘individual’.

Elin: Mine is also the Processions Banner. The three words I would use to describe it are ‘storytelling’, ‘heartwarming’ and ‘unity’.

Leia: The SCOT-PEP banner. “Bold, unapologetic and powerful.”
Sofiya: My favourite is the Suffragette belt. I would say it is ‘anonymous’, ‘intricate’ and ‘pioneering’.

Greer: For me, it is the Banners of the Banned. I would describe it as ‘political’, ‘innovative’ and ‘though- provoking’

Benedict: The Suffragette belt. “Delicate, determined and community-based.”

Before we move on to talk about the Craft Your Voice campaign, can you tell us what you really want people to get out of this digital exhibition? What is the take-home message?

Benedict: In short, the importance of a community. These objects do not only show women creating textiles, but also how they created communities through textiles. The important role women play in creating communities, then and now, is irrefutable. We hope that by tying into communities in the past, our own communities of women can be created in the present.

I saw that you have had many entries for the Craft Your Voice campaign. You had responses from all over the world the UK, the US and Canada. All these people have a story of their own that is related to textiles. How did you feel when you read about their stories? Was there any particularly memorable submission?

Sofiya: It was very emotional and humbling to see that people are excited about the project and want to be a part of it, and to see the way textiles have been a part of almost everyone’s life – whether they make them or interact with them. I think this just almost validated our approach. We were scared of tapping into women as a theme and textiles as a medium because there have been so many exhibitions surrounding these subjects. However, seeing all these stories really showed that there is not too much of textiles. By curating such an exhibition, we can give these people a voice, and because these stories are so personal, we really have to put them out there to show that they exist. This was a very important part of our project. For me, the most memorable submission has to be from Sue. She submitted 4-5 entries, telling different textile-related stories at different stages of her life – when she went to fashion school, when she made a costume for her grandson, when she made a dress for a wedding and more. Textiles seemed to be that one thing that grounded her, and it was really inspiring to see how she is so dedicated to the craft.

Greer: Laura’s submission is a memorable one. She lost her husband, and has had cancer. When she told her story on Mumsnet, people from the UK got together and made a blanket for her, in memory of her husband. Her husband was an astronomer, so the blanket had patches of stars and the moon, in his favourite colours. I could feel the love from those who knitted for her.

Here’s a more personal question. How has organising this entire project – the exhibition, the social media campaign and the roundtable discussion affected or changed you?

Lauren: It felt truly amazing, reassuring and uplifting to be surrounded by these communities in Edinburgh. It is also heartwarming to know that communities of women did not only exist historically, but also presently. The cool, smart and interesting people that I came across with while preparing and launching this exhibition – the CRC staff, the programme leader, these five other people who are here with me today, I have felt so close to them. By building something and bringing attention to something important together, I truly feel a strong sense of community. As someone who is relatively new to Edinburgh, this has really changed my outlook.

Finally, is there anything else you want to share?

Leia: We really want to highlight the work of the CRC. It was an honour to work with the items available there. We also want the exhibition to be a useful digital resource for people.

Elin: Other than our exhibition, the Art in Mind exhibition, focusing on mental health and wellbeing, is also worth checking out.

Speaking to Sofiya, Lauren, Elin, Greer, Benedict and Leia was such a fun and insightful experience. Having taken a second look at the exhibition objects, I realised that it is the people and their stories behind these textiles that are the stars of the exhibition. Just like how stories can be told with words and paintings, textile is merely a medium for these people to share their stories – it is indeed the voices of textiles.

Written by Huey Ying

Author: VOiCE

UoE Collections VOiCE (Volunteers in Collections Engagement) run a monthly newsletter, podcast and blog about the different collections, people and museums at the University of Edinburgh.

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