Elastic Learning Tools: The Starting Point

Welcome to the blog site that we will be building this week. The job of the students participating will be to co-create content and share it here: research; development; final presentations; and many thoughts and reflections along the way. I hope it will be a really exciting week for us all as we work on this MA masterclass in Resilient Textiles.

The pre masterclass task was to read and respond to the essay that Bridget Harvey and I wrote at the end of last year. (The Cultures of Resilience site hosts essays by all the other project collaborators).

Teaching Material Resilience

A colleague at Chelsea who teaches on the BA textiles course – a well respected industry professional who has carved an illustrious career from designing knitwear – would not let her daughter study textiles at school. For the field that she knows to be highly innovative – exciting and daring even – as well as socially engaging and impactful, is taught in such an out-dated and uncreative way that the colleague feared it would destroy any interest or enjoyment in something she views as vital to a quality of life.

Textiles are in and of themselves are resilient. Textile constitution and construction create hardwearing and long-lasting cloth, material-with-potential. After fabrication this resilience drops. The actions of cutting and stitching do not weaken the inherent structure of cloth, but, perversely, do weaken cloth resilience. By being formed into ‘fashions’ and sized clothing-objects, cloth becomes temporally situated; form giving a finite life span that the material-with-potential did not have. The giving of form is the taking of resilience.

The other paradox in this situation is our resilience towards clothing-objects – in the face of ennui, signs of use and advertising, our resilience in retaining and maintaining our wardrobes, particularly in the case of uniforms.

This poses the question, how can we strengthen both the material and the human resilience of these post-fabrication clothing-objects?  How can we develop tools and skills and mind-sets to move towards more resilient textile and clothing systems?

“Clothing links us physically and metaphorically to the world.  We can use it to locate ourselves, develop new ways of seeing, comprehending scales of production from seed to product … clothing is a material pin in our relational map.”

The ubiquitous school uniform gives a starting place to explore these questions, to challenge the out-dated and under-resourced school system; to innovate with cheap, local, low impact and tactile approaches fused with social network and online accessible resources and support, to work with the young designers and consumers of tomorrow.  Designers must become systems thinkers, empowered to enable the rapid change that is urgently needed.

Enlightened economists are arguing for new, more democratic industrial systems to bring about better employment of planetary resources and people. Architecture is challenging the environmental, social and aesthetic impact of the Victorian house with radical new living shapes created from innovative materials.  These efforts towards resilience can also be seen in those challenging our current school system – an inherently Victorian model – with a focus on the need for creativity, hands-on experiences, and a deeper appreciation for the world we are educating our children to inhabit.

Resilience, in this context, incorporates learning, trust, reputation, evaluation, reflexivity and flexibility. As safe places for experimenting and exploring, schools need space for iterative learning through play, making and story telling. Resilience requires trust in those with deep expertise willing to be part of the curriculum and being prepared to build institutional reputation through this exchange.  Rejecting the downward slide to the numerical standardisation of assessment and instead crediting our children with their achievements, the quality of their thought processes and their ability to discern between information (Mitra, 2014); to be reflexive and flexible. Assess their resilience.

Clothing links us physically and metaphorically to the world.  We can use it to locate ourselves, develop new ways of seeing, comprehending scales of production from seed to product.  As ‘local’ becomes a value and experience rather than geography (Schwarz, 2013, p38), clothing is a material pin in our relational map.

We know a greater connection is needed between the consumer and those producing clothing and suffering the effects of production values and the post-consumer life of our textiles. In schools, clothing needs to be scrutinized. The neglected space of uniform is the focus of our inquiry and a site for building a resilient-textiles-system.

Children in particular are hard on their clothes – running, falling, spilling and so on – should we aim not to cicurate but to help them remedy mishaps, making time to care for clothing, rewilding garments through the freeing-ness of mending?

“Resilient-textiles-systems use localised care and repair paradigms with adaptable frameworks, mediating global traversing of textiles, using a bricolage of tools, techniques and agents.”

Visit any primary school in the country to find a lost property area stuffed with neglected clothing. For many, not all, it is cheap and replaceable, not warranting time spent cleaning or mending. Some schools have parent-run shops but these are not creative places, and damaged goods very rarely get remade.  School uniform has no impact on academic achievement, but plays another role as a social signifier and the basis of peer interaction. It is a child’s first formal sense of self through dress.

Topical learning – politically, environmentally and socially – playful and experiential, not sought solely through through tablets or phones (ironically Steve Jobs forbade his children to play with screens), we propose to counter the bombardment of advertising we are exposed to from the labour ward onwards, by advertising different choices, creating situations where, avoiding a ‘totalizing ideology or subjectivity’ (Trend, 1998), we give children space to experiment, make ideas and to decide for themselves.

Resilience is the power or ability to return to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched; resilience is elasticity. Resilience is also the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; resilience is buoyancy. 

We propose that a resilient-textiles-system reacts to ‘stretches’ of its resources into forms (fabric to clothes), experiences of/with those forms, and supporting logistics. Located in/reflecting on history, use and practicalities, resilient-textiles-systems have the elasticity to return to original forms (clothing to fabric), uses (being worn) and capabilities (e.g. waterproof). Resilient-textiles-systems use localised care and repair paradigms with adaptable frameworks, mediating global traversing of textiles, using a bricolage of tools, techniques and agents. Resilient-textiles-systems are a use-loop on various scales (off)centred on users and/or materials.

Tools are simply things that helps us do what we need to do, how we need to do it. They may be multi- or mono- purpose, physical or immaterial, manual or mechanical, may require one or many operator(s). Designerly ways of being include observing, listening and empathising, experiencing as self and other, comprehending and translating, sharing, physically, mentally and emotionally. Designers are tools in and of themselves, and create tools for others.

Experimentation using that to hand, referring to but not mimicking Make-Do and Mend values, could have high impact. Design and creation of artefacts giving space for play, communication, inspiration and peer-to-peer learning can engage users with problems and information; an inside-out garment could lead to inside-out thinking.

Elastic Tools could help us navigate advertising and ethics, choices through newness and oldness, and develop abilities to (re)make from our personal stash creating buoyancy, retained and shared through informed decision-making and action taking, learning from one another and experience.  Uniform gives us a site from which to think radically about the hands-on and low-tech activities in schools and at home, and teach non-uniform resourcefulness, resilience and elasticity, creativity and innovation. For outside the curriculum box and inside the child lays the answers we are looking for.

Hounslow Uniform Service (Earley, 2014). Mending / Resilience Record Book for Primary School Children

Hounslow Uniform Service (Earley, 2014). Mending / Resilience Record Book for Primary School Children


Hattie, J., Mitra, S., Robinson, K., et al, The Educators (Radio 4) 2014,http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dwbkt, BBC & Open University

Trend, D. (1998) Cultural Struggle and Educational Activism. in Kester, G.H., Art , Activism and Oppositionality: Essays from Afterimage. USA: Duke University Press


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