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Cotton dress made from khadiHemp silk wedding dress'Made from waste' jacketIndigo dyingRocella complanta

Textile Society AGM and Conference

RE : wind - Recycling and Sustainability

26 Nov 10 - 1 Jan 11

De Montfort University, Leicester


“To meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This was the recurring refrain of this highly successful and interesting weekend. A range of internationally renowned speakers talked about different aspects of the textile industry and how it affects the world we live in. Broad strokes were provided by Dr Emily Baines’ introduction, which touched on various themes that arose in later talks. Dr Matthew Horne and Professor Sandy Black provided analysis of the fashion industry, its economics and environmental impact. Professor Jon Stobart, Katina Bill, Emily Brennan and others provided historical insight into specific aspects of textile production and recycling whilst Ramya Suresh, Lesley Pullen and others looked to the future and how textile production can move towards a more sustainable approach.

Friday evening set the tone, with Dr Jenny Balfour Paul’s excellent keynote speech. She talked about indigo, its special qualities, and how it is made around the world. Until about 1900 indigo, which can be derived from several different plants, was the only source of blue dye in the world. It is a unique dye in that, rather than combining with the textile fibres, it sits on top of them. It thus provides protection to the fibres and can be used on any fibre type. It is also part of its nature that it gradually wears away and fades, which of course, provides so much of its appeal for the wearers of blue jeans. Though most faded blue jeans today are dyed with artificial blues. It is estimated that at any one time 50% of the world’s population are wearing blue jeans.

Dr Balfour Paul also talked about the labour intensive nature of indigo production, but saw this as a positive thing, as it provides employment in some of the poorest regions of the world. The importance of the textile production to local economies was a recurring issue over the weekend, with a strong recognition that employment within the industry is something that must be considered along with environmental impact.

Saturdays Speakers

Saturday was a day packed with speakers, exhibitions and retail. There were lively discussions and exchanges of information all day long. Many interesting and thought provoking facts and ideas emerged over the weekend. eg:
- The biggest environmental impact of clothing is not in production but aftercare, especially laundry.
- 65% of energy used during a T shirt's entire life is due to laundering.
- Worldwide cotton production is at capacity, unless yield per hectare is increased (through GM, pesticides, more intensive farming) as all land capable of growing cotton is doing so.
- The Jamaican lace bark tree has been farmed almost to extinction, though there was sustainable farming of the tree for 200 years.
- Manmade fibres require less laundry and therefore may have less impact on energy consumption.
- The dyes of the orchil lichens were highly favoured in the 19th century by, amongst others, William Morris and Thomas Wardle as natural dyes. However, the lichens grow slowly and traders stripped a location then moved on elsewhere, destroying crops and habitats as they went.

The Saturday session finished with a Q&A plenary session involving all speakers and chaired by Mary Schoeser. The discussions and debates then spilled over to the conference dinner and afterwards, in the bar. What became clear throughout the day is that nothing is simple or clear cut, and lazy assumptions were challenged. For example, natural is not necessarily better than man-made. Natural materials are not always sustainable.


Overall, perhaps, more questions were raised than solutions provided, but clearly this was an important step forward in raising the issues surrounding sustainability in textile production. The environmental and economic impact of textile production is huge worldwide. There has been a tendency to think that clothing, especially those made of natural fibres, is relatively green and low impact, especially compared to something like the car industry. The great achievement of this conference was to make us question those assumptions.

The conference was well attended by students, many taking up the offer of free places that the society was able to provide. Their presence was encouraging for the society’s own sustainability, and also stimulating, as they provided different perspectives and experiences. Perhaps the most encouraging moment was a comment from one fashion student who, after Sandy Black’s paper on the economic of the fashion industry, said that she’d had her eyes opened and been made aware of issues that had never occurred to her before.

Sunday Visits - Val Wenham Bullock

For Sunday morning a visit to the New Walk Museum had been arranged. We met with Jane May, Decorative Arts Curator, who showed us objects from the reserve collection. Keeping to the theme of the conference, everything on display had been recycled. It was the collection of costumes from WW2 that had been donated to the museum that attracted many of us, these beautiful suits were high fashion of the day and we were told, had been restyled a few times. A quilt also from 1940 was made from ruched man-made dress fabric of the period and for the older members among us brought back many memories.
Beautiful quilts from Gujarat made with layers of saris, patchwork of Manchester printed bandannas and an embroidered jacket with different patterned sleeves, plus many other interesting and different objects were wonderful to see and examine we were very grateful to Jane for the opportunity to do so.
Audrey Duck
Eleven of us boarded the coach and armed with our packed lunch we ventured forth into the frozen landscape and made our way to Stanmaur Farm in East Shilton. Matthew Horne was there to greet us along with the farmer. Having entered the large shed full of machinery, Mathew gave us an interesting presentation on Cottonisation. He told us about Flax, Hemp and Nettle production and gave us samples of the straws and processed fibres. He gave us a tour of the machines used to break down the straws and produce the cleaned fibres. The waste tissue is used for horse bedding.

We then travelled to Snibston Discovery Park in Coalville, a museum on the site of an old colliery that now houses The Fashion Gallery which has the largest display of historic and contemporary costume outside London. We were greeted by Philip Warren, the Principle Curator, who gave us an introduction to the Museum and explained the origins of the Costume collections, including the Symington Corsetry Collection. The Costumes are displayed beautifully in the Museum on Adele Rootstein mannequins. The hairstyles and makeup of the mannequins can be changed according to the garment to be displayed
It was a most interesting day and very well organised.

The Textile Society’s AGM and annual conference took place at De Montfort University, Leicester over the weekend of 26th-28th November. The conference accommodation was provided free of charge by De Montfort, for which the Textile Society is very gratefu