Text into Textiles, Bolton@Home

2013-04-29-12.06.59_webThe ‘Text into Textiles’ project was part of a wider programme called Lucid conceived and run by Aqueous Humour, a physical theatre company based in Manchester. Lucid aimed to increase the visibility of older people through participation in the arts and public performance. The emphasis was on creativity and voice rather than just participation. Aqueous Humour were asked by Bolton@Home to develop a creative project based at sheltered housing within both Hulton and Little Lever. The residents were consulted to find out what activities they were most interested in. From this feedback we came up with ‘Text into Textiles’ combining creative writing workshops led by poet & playwright Cathy Crabb  and design & textiles workshops led by me.

The programme was split into three sections:

2012-09-13-11.25.11_webTaster Sessions:

First, a couple of introductory/taster sessions looking at poetry, fabrics and samples of possible craft techniques that we might try over the project to both whet their appetite but also to discover what they were most interested in. Cathy read some poetry and encouraged them to share their favourite poems and anything they had written. I explored of fabrics with them, looking at colours, textures and patterns, what different fabrics suggest and how they might be used to tell part of the story rather than just aesthetically. As an initial craft activity, I taught them how to create simple prints using polystyrene sheet and choose their favourite to grace the cover of little booklets that they could use during the second stage.

The Writing Sessions:

From discussions in the taster sessions, it became clear that poems held many memories for people. Cathy worked with the groups using their memories as a starting point to create poems. At times this brought up strong emotions from loss & sadness through to humour. Using the ideas generated in the sessions, Cathy created each participant a poem by the end of this stage but also encourage them to write their own. This relieved any pressure on the participants to complete a piece of writing to use in stage three.

The Textiles Sessions:

2013-03-06-14.33.38_webOver the course of 6-7 weeks, they used the poems as a starting point to create textile pictures. The Hulton sessions transferred to a group at the Salvation Army who chose to use hymns as their inspiration as hadn’t had the writing sessions. We made mood boards before developing the designs in pencil at full size so that they could then be used to form patterns later in the process. We made notes on them of what colour or fabric each section would be and what techniques would be best suited. We also looked at how we might use the actual words of the poems/hymns. Some chose to use the whole poem with images to illustrate it, most chose to use just a quote and one chose not to have any words in their piece but the whole of the poem was still completely there in image form. We looked at different fonts on the computer and how this changed the mood of the text which was turned into iron-on transfers. We also used both personal photos and found images to include by scanning into the computer and turning into transfers as well.

2012-11-08-12.22.17_webEveryone had a go at rag-rugging. We used it to create areas of dense texture to represent trees and grass. Several participants remembered their mothers and grandmothers making rugs out of scraps in this way but hadn’t tried it themselves. They were surprised at how simple it really was and the main skills needed were patience and perseverance as took quite a while to build up but, particularly once the cutting of the strips was done, the rag-rugging technique itself was quite meditative and good to do while chatting or watching television.

Through the process we kept referring back to the mood-boards to remember what fabrics had initially been considered and to the designs to trace sections to create templates and to help with layout. Other skills that were used were: crazy patchwork (i.e. not repetitive motifs), appliqué using bondaweb, simple embroidery, beading and using found objects e.g. twigs for winter trees.

The end results were mounted onto simple canvases ready to be hung on a wall.


2012-11-29-12.29.06_webEveryone enjoyed learning new skills and being able to combine them with existing crafts that they were already confident in. Even the most experienced participants discovered something new. Many of the techniques we used did not require a high level of dexterity. This was good for both those who were inexperienced at crafting but also those with physical problems with their hands such as arthritis. On top of the technical skills, the design process was a new concept them. They found the structure of the process rather unnerving as things seemed a bit all over the place but they all really loved putting all the elements together to reveal the completed design and saw that trusting in the process was worthwhile. They all had different favourites as far as creative skills but all said they would use the design process to plan their own projects to make them a bit different. In addition to the art outcomes, new friendships were developed and participants looked forward to the social aspects of crafting together.

As a programme, it is well rounded and suited to different age groups and abilities. It has the scope to be adapted to cover different topics and techniques. I would love to run this programme again with a different group.