Wednesday 18 December 2019

The English Banner at University Centre Shrewsbury

By Professor Deborah Wynne

The English programme at UCS began in 2015 and developed from strength to strength over the next few years.  As programme leader at the time, I wondered how we could find a way of celebrating the wonderful experience of studying literature next to the banks of the River Severn and close to Charles Darwin's childhood home.  I'd been involved in a community quilt project before, but only as an observer, rather than a participant.  I thought it would be a challenge for me, my colleagues, and the students on the programme to create a large textile banner as a permanent memorial of our first years of working and studying together.  None of us were expert with the needle but we all were keen to create something which reflected an aspect of ourselves, our love of literature and our appreciation of being in the lovely town of Shrewsbury.  Despite a few qualms about our skills, we all decided to give it a go!

The result is 17 different 'textile stories' which have been expertly brought together in a banner by the virtuoso sewist, Elaine Rowland.  Here are the various stages of her careful construction of disparate textile squares into a beautiful whole:

Finding a possible layout

The blocks are attached to the backing fabric

The completed banner.  Elaine kindly created a centrepiece which helps explain the rationale for this banner:

Elaine created an image of books and a mug sewn onto a piece of fabric with piles of books in the background.  In the finished version she added the words 'University Centre Shrewsbury' in gold thread to the spine of the red book.

We held a special 'unveiling' event on 31st October 2019 to celebrate this symbol of our sense of community:

Deborah Wynne and Elaine Rowland holding the finished banner.

Philip Jones decided to create a block based on the texts he's enjoyed studying.  He said, 'This quilt square represents three years of studying literature and young adult fiction in the most wonderful of company.  Depicting: the time-keeping rabbit from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to keep us punctual, the fruits of our labour from 'Goblin Market', symbols from the Gothic novels that we remember, and the treasure from Treasure island, to symbolise the prosperity desired for everyone, and all enclosed within the House colours of Harry Potter to make the magic happen.'

Medeni Evens created an image of the Guildhall and St Chad's Church in Shrewsbury, with a daffodil representing Wales, where she lived.

other contributors explained the stories behind their blocks.  Naomi Walker said, 'My square represents a map of Shrewsbury as PhD thesis is about the two Shropshire writers, Mary Cholmondeley and mary Webb, and how place is represented in their writing.  I use G.I.S. mapping in my research and I wanted to demonstrate the importance of maps in my textile square.'

Dr Giulia Miller, who teaches literature and film at UCS, said that her 'square represents a particularly busy but wonderful term, when I was commuting several times a week, taking both the bus and the train.  One morning, whilst on the bus, I spotted an owl and was very excited.  my daughter Noa was also excited and loves arts and crafts, hence her contribution.'

Student Chloe Norton explains, 'My quilt square is a simple 'tribute' to the novels that fully sparked commy love for literature - The Hunger Games series.  The mockingjay is a symbol of change, reflecting my journey through 3 years of studying and onto the next chapter of life.'  Andie MacDonald, who graduated in 2019, said that 'This vibrant red tartan reflects my proud Scottish heritage, and represents the bloodshed of the MacDonald clan at Glencoe from the murderous scunne Campbell.  The font is ironic; McDonald's restaurants use the same font and name is constantly misspelled!  The peace sign is ubiquitous and timeless.'

Dr Lucy Andrew, the current English programme leader, has created a block reflecting her research interests in Harry Potter, while I created a pile of books by the nineteenth-century authors I love most, as well as including a bee to reflect the meaning of my name 'Deborah'.

Elaine Rowland has explained her role in the making of the banner on her blog, which you may wish to read:

Many thanks to Elaine for all her hard work and for letting me use her photographs for this blog post.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Hidden Stories from a Costume Collection

Wrexham County Borough Museum and Archives with the University of Chester Department of English announce their event - Hidden Stories from a Costume Collection, to take place Saturday 29th February 2020, 11.30am to 3.30pm. The cost of this event is £20.00 including lunch.  To book a place contact Wrexham Museum on 01978 297460 or a

Wednesday 11 September 2019

The Missing Shoe

The Missing Shoe

Inspired by the Textile Collection at the Foundling Museum, London

By Kath O'Gallivan

Her mother gone, her Mistress dead and the Master away to war.

She, in her 13th year has a secret to keep, hidden beneath her stained apron.

A kitchen maid smooring the fire, the goose wing scattering embers, sending soot specks flying.

Back aching.

Head spinning.

A weight pressing.

She is sick.

Cook feeds her a milk posset and camomile tea sweetened with honey.  Brings her linen strips to bind her belly.

She bruises rosemary pressed into her pocket.  Feels a heart shaped shell folding it in her hand.

The pantry store has laden shelves.  Full sacks and empty kegs, stacked crates, heavy basins and demi johns, all jostle for space.

In here she finds her safe place.

She lies on a cot strewn with lavender sprigs and meadow sweet.  Soft layered ticking comforts her and she falls into a busy sleep.

The candles burn sage.

Through the slats garden birds sing.

She labours through the night.  Cook waits, brings rosemary oil to stretch her skin.  Her body ripples, writhing in pain.

Her daughter is born in a rush of dawn chorus.

Cook busy with hot water and muslin, swaddles the child in scrim and pudding cloth.

Wrapped tight, secure in a tea towel the child cries, then settles, suckles, strong and persistent.

All three are content in the smell of warm milk.

The new mother and child sleep, their breathing shared.

Dark brings the night owl screeching.

Blackbird's morning song arrives with pale sunshine touching their sleeping shape.

Cook gives her beef broth, raspberry leaf tea and cabbage leaves for her swollen breasts.

Days of feeding and listening to bird lullabies, cocooned together happy inside each other.

For the journey the Cook offers a cotton-sprig dress, heavy and full gathered with pleating.

The daughter is given tiny silk shoes taken from the nursery for her tiny perfect toes.

Her small body swaddled, wrapped in a fine linen table cloth, corners folded and embossed.  A muslin square anoints her crown.  The cook's soft woolen shawl protects and conceals.

A child with child pretending.

It is time.

The new mother walks slowly, boots tight, feet dragging scattering the pigeons over the cobbles.

The crows caw in the field.

Gulls screech along the river path.

She finds a magpie feather, rests on a stone wall watching the finches feasting on thistle heads.

Her daughter feeds hungrily pressing into her breast.

They cry.

She is frightened, clutching, her bundle closer, tighter.

"A scrap of a thing"

Towards the town, swallows are screaming over the chimneys.

The smoke is stinging her eyes.

She opens the gate, steps lightly through the yard and hears the sparrows squabbling in the mulberry trees.

The doorbell, shines.

The Nurse, kind.

The room, waiting.

Her daughter, given.

The silk shoe, missing.

Her heart, splintered.

Her daughters missing shape, remembered.

Her arms a dull emptiness.

The shoe still warm, safe in her pocket.

Her tired feet recall the morning's steps.

Cook feeds her stew and makes Penny Royal tea.

"It's for the best" she says and lights a candle.

The new mother grips the tiny silk shoe in her pocket.

She watches the starlings as they gather the evening in and she draws a line under the day.

Kath O'Gallivan is a textile artist based in Shropshire making research-led pieces with a focus on eclectic techniques and found materials.  Her career as an art teacher began in 1972 and she now researches the archives at the London Foundling Museum.  Her artistic practice includes painting, material manipulation, dyeing, printing, stitching and mixed media application.  She leads mixed media workshops based on her projects, and delivers talks about her work which prioritise a tactile and interactive pedagogy.

Saturday 25 May 2019

The Textile Stories Study Day 2019: From the Cradle to the Grave - A report by Matilda Walker, aged 15

On 11th May 2019, around fifty people gathered at the University Centre Shrewsbury to hear a variety of interesting talks based upon textiles in relation to various key ceremonies in life. The topics discussed ranged from a medieval trousseau to contemporary film, and spanned many art forms. This was the seventh of such days organised by Professor Deborah Wynne.

            The day commenced with a talk by Sarah Thursfield, a professional pattern-cutter and amateur textile historian, titled ‘The Trousseau of Isabella of France, 1307’, which discussed the various items of clothing that it was made up of and the role of the different textiles available at the time. The audience were also interested by how the clothes were constructed and worn, and Sarah’s amazing display of reconstructed examples helped her to demonstrate this. We were also able to view images from this period in order to understand the role that clothing and textiles played in society.
Isabella of France

Afterwards, Holly Kirby, a National Trust curator, gave a talk about ‘The Costume Collection at Attingham Park: Phases of the 8th Lady Berwick’s Life as Seen Through her Clothing’. The eighth Lady Berwick lived from 1890 to 1972, however this talk mainly focused on her early life as she only left the National Trust with clothes from this time. Teresa Berwick was born in Venice and spent her childhood there with her sister. Attingham’s collection also contains clothes belonging to her sister and mother.

Holly Kirby delivering her talk while wearing an authentic dress from the 1890s.

Holly explained that when the First World War broke out, Teresa moved to London for a year and helped in translation due to her language skills. Afterwards, she returned to Italy to work as a war nurse and Holly was able to show us photographs of her from the time, and some of her remaining uniform, which is in the Attingham collection. After the war, she married Lord Berwick in Venice and moved to Attingham Park. We learned of her love of fancy dress and viewed some of her fabulous costumes from this period, which were often inspired by other cultures or time in history. As well as focusing on her clothes, Holly also showed us various portraits of her, painted by her artist friends, and some fabulous photographs which even appeared in Vogue! Following this enthralling talk, the audience were delighted to hear that we could see these outfits in person through a special tour of Attingham Park run by Holly Kirby.

            Following an exciting morning of talks, we all enjoyed a delicious vegan and vegetarian buffet lunch provided by Stop cafĂ©. This allowed us to discuss the morning with each other and the speakers themselves, before the afternoon’s sessions.

            First in the afternoon was a short story by Dr Lisa Blower, an award-winning novelist and short story writer, written especially for this event. We were very privileged to hear how the theme for our day had inspired the story ‘Tink’, which is a knitting term referring to a way of undoing stitches. She cleverly interweaved the theme of celebratory outfits by recalling how her mother’s woollen wedding dress was then “tinked” to become her and her sister’s Christening gowns.
Lisa Blower reading her story ‘Tink’, about unravelling and reknitting lives and wool.


To continue with the theme of celebratory wear in fiction, Amanda Ford discussed funeral wear in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, in particular in Mary Barton. We learnt about the life of Elizabeth Gaskell and industrialism in Manchester to provide a background to the book extracts and information about mourning customs at the time. Everyone was shocked by just how long women had to mourn for (13 months) and the etiquette surrounding mourning fabrics. Amanda introduced us to new fabrics, such as aerophane, and the concept of and meaning behind having somebody’s hair in a locket.


Victorian mourning jewellery

The final talk of the day was ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral: Costume and Ceremony in Contemporary Film’ by Dr Guilia Miller, who has published books and articles on film and adaptations. She discussed the role of costume in film and whether it should be designed for the character or actor, before moving on to look at examples. She discussed the role that costume plays in the plot of Gone with the Wind by Victor Flemming (1939), looking in particular at the wedding dress of Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivien Leigh). For The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940), Giulia talked about how the famous costume designer, Adrian, used costume to convey character, whilst also designing it with Katherine Hepburn in mind. For this film, we were also able to see the role that costume played in black and white films. 
  Giulia Miller discussing costume design in film


Giulia went on to discuss how costume portrays character in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias directed by Herbert Ross, looking in particular at occasion wear in the wedding and funeral scenes. This film was interesting as the designer, Julie Weiss, chose to ignore the fact that she was dressing stars such as Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton. We then looked at the pastel colour scheme of Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006), which won three awards, including an Oscar, for its costume design by Milena Canonero. Giulia discussed how costume portrayed the character of Marie Antoinette (for example, in the ball scene), whilst also maintaining the film’s aesthetic and themes. We then looked at an example of how costume is used in fantasy films, using The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011), where it is used to distinguish between the wolves and vampires and suggest character differences between the two. To continue with the theme of celebration wear, Guilia discussed Bella’s wedding dress. To finish, Giulia chose to look at costume in Ken Loach’s 2016 film I, Daniel Blake, which is something that many of the audience had not thought about, as it is intended to reflect the characters and seem as if it is something that they would buy themselves, rather than be chosen by a costume designer. We looked at how each of their individual styles are continued throughout the film and can be seen in their funeral wear.

All in all, it was a very interesting and informative day which was enjoyed by all. We can’t wait until the next Textile Stories Day! The theme for that event will be 'Textiles in Action'.

We would like to thank Matilda for writing this detailed account of the day and also Naomi Walker for taking the photographs reprinted here.