Reviving Norwich's Textile Industry

4 08 2009

I know I’ve taken this blog in an entirely different direction than I origianlly intended. This is probably because what you really want to do WILL surface, if you let it. Close just doesn’t really count, no matter how “unrealistic” what you really want to do is.

I want to establish a contemporary kind of high-tech cottage textile industry, in Norwich, because Norwich should really have one. Schools and universities in the Norwich area graduate large numbers of folks with textile qualifications. Norwich University College of the Arts is even planning a fashion program. Many of those students would like to remain in Norfolk. In fact, they do, doing jobs they aren’t nearly as interested in as they are interested in textiles, and doing or selling a bit of what they would truly love to be doing on the side. I think that’s a real pity.

Wool and alpaca and a natural dye company are all present within the county. (I hear that farmers are burning the wool or giving it away to whoever will pay for the sheering, another real pity.) Linen and silk is produced in the EU, and if Turkey joins it, cotton will be too. High quality cotton.

The technology for taking fiber to  products has been automated and has shrunk to the point that all the equipment needed could fit into a room not much bigger than the average living room. And there is no need for the work to be near as punishing to the human body.

I envision a new kind of high-tech cottage textile industry.

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Pocktorian Textiles! TaDa!

10 06 2009

Hello. I’m a textile designer. I’ve loved textiles for as long as I can remember. I’ve been designing them at least since the time my kindergarden teacher gave me a picture of mittens to color. And I’ve been learning every textile skill I had access to for some time now. Finally, I went back to school (The Fashion Institute of Technology) and got a degree in it, then worked in New York City’s garment district for several years. Then I moved to Norwich, UK.

I chose Norwich, from all the cities in East Anglia having done my research. The whole area was famous for textiles and had been for close to a thousand years! In the 1500’s Norwich was England’s second largest city because of textiles. There was a particularly bright red color called Norwich Red. You’ve heard of worsted yarn? The town it’s named for is just down the road. And there is a whole book on the subject of Norwich shawls, which were handwoven paisley. Norwich’s textile history was deep and varied and long.

What about the present? I checked the local institutions of higher education and found several offering various degrees in textiles, including graduate degrees. This, I thought, was my kind of place. Surely there would be a job for me here.

There wasn’t. I had come a bit too late. Norwich’s textile industry was essentially defunct.

It took me a while, but I’ve now figured out a way to restart Norwich’s textile industry. I’ve learned a bit over the last few years. I’ve learned that East Anglians have tight ties to East Anglia and prefer to live here, even choosing it over practising what they studied. So there are a lot of people with a lot of textile knowledge practising those skills as best they can while doing other work. I’ve learned that there is no longer a good market for the wool of the sheep raised in the area, and therefore farmers don’t raise sheep for the wool, but you can have the wool if you’re willing to pay for the shearing. I’ve learned that there are local farmers raising alpacas, too, and another whole farm devoted to growing and prcessing natural dyes, woad (indigo blue) in particular. There are still textile treasures in Norfolk, and there are still people who would just love to earn their livings in textile businesses.

I want to help them start their own by establishing a textile incubator, a shared workroom studio containing all the equipment needed to take fibres to finished products, thus saving them the trouble of  establishing premises and buying a lot of equipment to start with. We’ll also share our knowledge with each other. We’ll collaborate. We’ll plan and purchase together. And we’ll sell our work together. And, I hope, Norwich’s textile industry will rise again via new kind of cottage industry.

A few weeks ago, I went to an exhibit of some very old pattern books from Norwich weavers. There was also a poem in the exhibit, and I have taken the name of my incubator from that poem. How could I not? Some of the lines went like this:

“One more, ye Pocktorians, shall your looks and back slums be made all alive by the clicks of your looms…Then success to the weaving and long may it flourish and bring trade and prosperity once more to old Norwich!”