V&A Dundee

We managed to pitch, secure and set up an exhibition for the Textiles students at Dundee and Angus College at the V&A Dundee – yes, the V&A Dundee!

How it all came about?

I set the V&A Dundee as the imaginary ‘client’ for the Textiles for Commission Unit I teach on the HND Textiles course. Called DENIM REWORKED, this was a project where the students had to use old jeans to make wearable oversized tunics. I then approached my senior at Dundee & Angus College who put me in touch with the Head of Learning at the V&A Dundee. I made contact throughout the course extending an invite to come and see the students’ work and sent updates of their progress by email. I was hopeful, because I could see the quality of the work emerging. I also asked the question to the V&A Dundee if there was ANY possibility that the students work could be showcased at the end of term, even for a day, in the corner of the shop…the atrium…well, anywhere really??

Why these students?

These students are the 2020-2022 cohort of Textiles who were stuck at home for the whole first year due to Covid restrictions, and only saw me on screen. I managed to cobble together (working much overtime) the course on video from my own workshop, showing demonstrations and techniques. I filmed it all on my daughter’s old phone, and uploaded to the new Teams site over extremely slow wi-fi. (I often had to leave the 20 minute videos uploading overnight, as broadband upload speeds were so slow where I live in rural Perthshire) It turned out that this is an exceptional year of students. They are engaged, enthusiastic and resilient – producing extremely high quality work. I felt I really wanted to give them every opportunity possible to make their second year at College the best experience ever and I am just thrilled that the quality and standard of their work actually caught the eye of the V&A Dundee.

What happened?

Head of Learning Joanna Mawdsley accepted our invitation and came to the College to critique their work in person in February, taking the time to speak to each student individually. She then suggested that we take over one of the studios in the V&A Dundee for a 3 day exhibition 16-18th┬áMay. I had to ask Joanna to repeat what she’d just said, as I couldn’t believe our students were actually being invited to exhibit at the V&A Dundee! You can see a short film about the project here >>.

Why did the students reuse old denim?

Waste in the denim industry is a serious concern. It takes up to 7000 litres of water to produce just one pair of jeans and the dyes used to produce the classic indigo shade we all associate with denim are incredibly polluting. Denim is typically made from cotton fibres, which despite being a natural fibre, is a very resource intensive material and one that requires harmful pesticides to grow. Students were set a design brief to utilise recycled and discarded denim, including old denim clothes or unused denim scraps, they each then created an oversized garment using a mix of hand and machine sewing textile techniques. Denim Reworked is a celebration of the students’ final garments using materials saved from landfill. I think this tunic BLAH,BLAH,BLAH by Adrienne Gerrard says it all.

When did reusing fabrics become so important?

I have embedded the topic of reusing fabrics and sustainability as key elements to my lesson plans for many years. I try to encourage students to work with waste materials or non-virgin materials as much as possible and open their eyes to its potential, not only for my projects but for their work going forward once they leave College too. For example, February 2019 I invited a friend and Climate Reality Leader (trained by Al Gore) Jess Pepper https://www.climaterealityproject.org/  to speak to the Textile students about climate change with a slide show and then we based the project on making dresses from waste materials and the task was to use ‘textiles as their voice’ to raise awareness of climate change – both its impact and things that are happening to try to help change things.  The work was featured in the Fashion Show that year. It didn’t hinge on SDG’s at that point, but in fact addressed many of them, including SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production. 

I am constantly trying to source waste materials to let the students use in their projects. We divert white sheets sent for ragging by Fishers Laundry (instead of using virgin calico for mock-up garments/sampling), cashmere off cuts from Todd & Duncan (the students produced amazing loungewear Dec 2019), waxed cotton remnants from Halley Stevensons Ltd (2018), Gortex jackets from the Enchanted Forest Charity (2020), old stage curtains from Dundee University Union and we’re about to get some coffee sacks from The Roasting Project in Burnt Island for next year’s unit (Sep 22/23).  

My next challenge is to help the Textiles department at Dundee and Angus College adapt the course to be a Sustainable Fashion course going forward. It is a huge opportunity for us to make our own efforts towards helping minimise the impact of climate change.

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