Heirloom project weaves together fashion and heritage

Heirloom project weaves together fashion and heritage Banner Image

UCLan collaborates with the Gawthorpe Textile Collection and Burnley’s Queen Street Mill on textile project

A project to explore the nostalgic history of Lancashire’s cotton mills and recreate it as pieces of fashion is hosting an exhibition of its hand embellished shirts. 

The Heirloom Shirt Project, a collaborative piece of work between University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) researchers, Gawthorpe Textile Collection and Queen Street Mill in Burnley, has been working with the local community in Pennine Lancashire over the summer, hearing stories from men who have links to the textile industry, including men who migrated from India and Pakistan.

The men’s personal stories have now been used to create a collection of individual shirts. The project team interpreted these, often emotional, stories into visual representations using surface embellishments such as applique, ‘Kantha’ stitch, ‘Shisha mirror work’ and screen printing to illustrate these highly personal narratives.

Each unique shirt, bespoke to the participant’s connections within the Lancashire cotton industry, was created using cloth woven from the Victorian looms in Queen Street Mill – the last remaining steam powered looms in the world. These individual garments have created the ultimate heirloom for the men to take away and cherish for future generations.

The design details and silhouettes were developed through study days at Gawthorpe Hall, observing shirts from the 1800s held within the Gawthorpe Textile Collection. Details were used such as the cross-stitch numbering system used for laundering garments and triangular inserts that strengthened seams in the design prototypes.  Each participant individually selected a prototype shirt and lead artists incorporated pertinent embellishments to reveal their personal stories.

It’s wonderful that Lancashire’s cotton industry is being remembered in the Heirloom Project. Lancashire’s textile heritage and the relationship between the cotton mills and its people has been sensitively remembered through individual personal stories

The Arts Council funded project is displaying the completed heirloom shirts at an exhibition in the weaving shed of Queen Street Mill, with the men who participated in the programme talking about the entire process and their experience at an official launch on Saturday, 12 October.

The final display will also be featured as part of the British Textile Biennial, which runs until 3 November.

Amanda Odlin-Bates, Fashion Course Leader at UCLan, said: “Pennine Lancashire is famous as the home of textile production in the UK and it is easy to forget it was such a big industry that people came to work here from around the world. This project is to highlight the amazing Queen Street Mill, that we are so lucky to have in Burnley. I saw an opportunity to create garments from the cloth that is still woven at the mill on these Victorian looms, and the Heirloom shirt project was born.”

Tim Birtwistle, who participated in the project, said: “It’s wonderful that Lancashire’s cotton industry is being remembered in the Heirloom Project. Lancashire’s textile heritage and the relationship between the cotton mills and its people has been sensitively remembered through individual personal stories. I am delighted that my family’s involvement with the rise of the cotton industry in Lancashire has been recognised in the project. It has also been exciting to see archive information and family details being realised visually through the finished piece.”

Press Office | 10 October 2019