A project about the intrinsic value of fabrics and materials as a creative resource – whatever their origin. Funded by Renfrewshire Council.

There were two strands to the Reel Lives project. The first was a series of workshops with local groups in Paisley, to share and develop skills in the creative use of discarded fabrics. The second was an artistic research programme, exploring what material resources are available locally – both industrial waste and natural resources.

Started in 2019 we were able to deliver a large part of the participatory programme in person, but adapted later elements of the programme to the digital and remote world once COVID hit.

Film maker Kevin Cameron has documented the project in this short film.

Workshops & skills sharing

We worked with groups of adults and children at Heriot Primary and the Star Project in Paisley. All participants successfully made at least one pair of pyjama bottoms, plus a drawstring bag and a zipped pocket bag – all made from discarded but good quality fabrics such as old duvet covers.  Participants developed skills in reading and understanding how to use the markings on a pattern to cut and construct a garment  that fits and sits properly. This included them learning the basic principals of how a piece of fabric is made and the properties of the fabric they need to mindful of in making clothes including its bias, nap, weight and stretch.

The groups were also shown simple mending techniques for items they brought from home.

Our COVID adaptation to replace the final participatory element of the project, was to create and share high quality make packs which included a hand drawn pattern, designed instructions and sewing equipment. The packs were sent out to all participants of the project and a number of extra packs were also made. The aims of these were to encourage our participants to continue using their new pattern reading, sewing and making skills. We provided everything needed to make a pair of lounge pants including the fabric and trims and an instructional containing a foldout pattern. Equally they could pass the pack onto a friend and consolidate their skills by helping them make the pants.

Each pack also included a copy of issue #2 of our zine Clout, which shares stories of hand-me downs and mending.

The PJ pattern and instructions are also available to download here.

Research – Lace Factory

We visited MYB textiles – a clothing and textiles manufactures in Newmilns, Ayrshire. A company founded in 1900, MYB is now the only producer in the world manufacturing patterned lace with original Nottingham Lace Looms, some of which are over 90 years old and up to 1220cms wide. This manufacturing process is extremely labour intensive. The looms run at a very slow, controlled pace so as to give a high level of quality control.

Any flaws in the machine produced fabrics are painstakingly ‘mended’ by hand and any dyeing required takes place at nearly factory, there by eliminating any need for transportation. All thrums and cotton ‘fluff’ is collected in bags and passed to other companies to use for stuffing. The companies ‘green credentials’ are genuinely impressive. Their scraps are also collected and MYB were happy for us to take these and develop prototype garments to be be made from them. These materials were used for the sewing groups and in the make packs. They were also used by our guest maker Sarah McCormack in our 2020 upcycle challenge.

MYB have expressed an interest in being an on-going supplier of their discards to ReMode for the purposes of making garments.

Research – Nettles as fibre

Alongside the factory visits we gathered nettles locally and documented the process of taking these from stalk to fibre and then knitted cloth. 

It was originally planned that an open studio and face to face workshops would be delivered to engage people in this process. As these weren’t possible during lockdown we re-devised this element as a live stream talk and demonstration session for public access via Facebook. Highlighting the history of nettles in Northern Europe as an alternative ‘silk’ sparked people’s imaginations.

The most important outcome was a general raising of awareness towards broader possibilities for where we get our fibres from for our clothing and how physically close we often are to common place alternatives in our respective immediate environments – everyone in Renfrewshire is familiar with nettles! 

The full facebook live event “Grasping the Nettle” is available on our news pages.

Thanks to Renfrewshire Council for their support for this project.