Using different media to communicate ideas: Short film accepted for Nordic Geographers Meeting 2019

As artists and educators we are interested in using a variety of formats and media to explore and communicates issues of how we can encourage a more careful engagement with the material world we share.  One such format is film, so we were very pleased to have a film accepted for the Nordic Geographers Meeting 2019, in Trondheim, June 2019.


Houses along Nidelven in Trondheim. Photo.

Making a film, however is not something we can do on our own as we lack the required skills and knowledge. This opens up opportunities for collaboration: an important skill to encourage develop in general if we are all  to make a shift to living more sustainable in the world. So we were delighted earlier this month to meet a bath based young film maker Zenna Alsop-Howard. Zenna is going to help us put together a film using pictures and commentary drawn from Alison’s artwork, followed section of Alison and Sarah discussing key aspects of this year’s project on Deep Materialism.

The reflections in the film will include an exploration of how feminists thinking on care can contribute to the caring and material relations needed in n the 21st Century: time of ecological crisis. We will be sharing our exploration of feminist thinking on ethics and care in future blogposts!

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Sarah, very much a technical novice, has also managed to put together a short film on the National Woolen Museum in Wales  using the  iPad memoirs feature as a starting point and then editing this in media player to add music and change speed of transitions. Using a variety of formats is more accessible than one might think!


As well as the Deep Materialsm film being shown in Trondheim, both films will be included in our forthcoming  residency and exhibition 13 May to 23 June 2019 at the Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter Penryn Campus, Cornwall You are very welcome to come along! More details of the residency and exhibition coming soon!


Our abstract for Trondheim.

Matter and life become, and become undone. They transform and are transformed (Grosz 2011)

This presentation takes the form of a film exploring a collaborative arts-based research project undertaken in 2018/19. The film reflects on the final exhibition and workshops held at the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), University of Exeter, UK, during May/June 2019.

Alison, an environmental textile artist and Sarah, an educational researcher, sought to find ways to deepen connections with matter/the material world, through making, through experiential processes, and through highlighting forms of creative thinking which could and would inculcate a ‘shift’ in our relationships with matter: proposing less harmful ways to be in the world we share. This shift is a re-appraisal of the value of all matter, seeing no matter as ‘waste’. In accepting that we too are made of matter, it follows that if we denigrate the material world then we too are diminished. We propose that if we develop our relationships with materials, so that they become closer to us, become us and are seen as a part of us, we will feel responsible and care for their journey through the biosphere.

Notions of textile craft, encompassing elements of thrift, resourcefulness and the domestic, and the relationality we propose with the material have drawn us toward a revisiting of the (problematic) role of care and caring relationality in feminist thought (Tronto and Fischer 1991, Noddings 2013, Puig de la Bellacasa 2017). Feminist, new materialist and complexity thinking inform the outcomes of the collaboration.


Waste, Want and Overabundance: Inspiration from William Morris

We have been reading and discussing  Elizabeth C. Miller’s (2011) article  Sustainable Socialism: William Morris on Waste, The Journal of Modern Craft, 4:1, 7-2. This is a fascinating article exploring  William’s Morris ideas and comments on waste. Morris was remarkably prescient, with his ideas as relevant as ever in this time of ecological crisis.
Miller highlights how:
 Struggling with the problems of overproduction and superabundance that characterize capitalism, Morris pinpoints capitalism’s ideological reliance on a faulty conception of waste, wherein material goods are imagined to be capable of disappearing without consequence (p.10).
in Morris’s own words,
                                         “the very essence of competitive commerce is waste.”
 Morris’s socialism was predicated on a balanced distribution of goods. Unequal societies are characterised by overabundance for some juxtaposed  with want for many. For Morris, ‘inequality and wastefulness go hand in hand’. Want is an issue of distribution not scarcity.
Morris imagines  a utopian future society in his book News from Nowhere.
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Morris  argues for careful making, more equal distribution and ‘fighting  envionmental degragation and overproduction by thoroughly internalizing the values of craft, durability and preservation'(Miller 2011 p. 18). These ideas were central values of his Kelmscott Press. The Press produced high cost books, somewhat at odds, some would argue, with his socialist principles. However, Morris also produced ‘penny pamphlets’ to share ideas at a reasonable price. 
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 We are drawing inspiration from Morris’s penny pamphlet ideas to develop our own pamphlet! This is a development from Alison’s ‘Little books of lost knowledge’ made using the material from one single-use cup.
Alison reflects

My work continues to interrogate and question the relationships with the material world we so often take for granted. In order to make I first have to ‘unmake’, revealing the qualities and the quantity of materials implicit in single use objects. This is a reparative and transformational process, concerned with the ‘disposable’ detritus of everyday life in post-industrial ‘wealthy’ nations. I found the way that Morris discusses issues of wealth and waste in the same sentence as being inspirational in adding to thoughts around the vast quantities of stuff that some see as waste, some see as treasure. What is wealth – material wealth? What is waste – unwanted wealth? Our ethical compass points in the wrong direction, towards recycling, towards making technical solutions and fixing problems that don’t need to be there in the first place.

As artists we hold the world in our hands, a position of privilege which is easily abused, coerced by the allure of a commercialism which is difficult to avoid. By using the material from these single use objects, which otherwise have no obvious destination; their end of life not having been considered by their producers,  I am examining and emphasising the seemingly forgotten connections  with our material world, and how this has a bearing on our responsibility towards others, the wider biosphere, and ourselves. These humble books have no text, no print; their meaning and message is contained within their materiality,  seeking to communicate in a different way. The knowledge that is lost is the ability to live in a sustainable and caring way; knowledge that Morris could see being overtaken by industrialisation and exploitation of people and the natural world. Having visited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow and discovered more about his campaigning and political activism in his later years, it seemed appropriate to explore this thinking further and call my next exhibition by the title of this post.

Waste, Want and Overabundance, inspired by Morris’ Socialist ideals, is the title of an  exhibition of my work to be held as part of Salisbury International Arts Festival in May/June this year.

See Miller’s article here

 Visit Alison’s site here
Miller, E. C.,  (2011) Sustainable Socialism: William Morris on Waste published in The Journal of Modern Craft, 4:1, 7-2
Morris, W. (1915) Art under Plutocracy,” Collected Works of William Morris vol. XXIII :London: Longmans,180, 1
The University of Maryland (Online)The kelmscott Press       
The University of Maryland (Online) William Morris; His politics

UK Fashion Industry is Unsustainable and must Change: Parliamentary Inquiry produces interim report

In October we contributed to the Parliamentary Inquiry on the sustainability of the Fashion Industry (see blog post below).The Inquiry has now produced its interim report

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Picture Source: 

Parliamentary Inquiry Interim Report Summary

1.As part of our inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, we heard evidence outlining the urgent need for the fashion industry to address its labour market and environmental sustainability issues. In autumn 2018 we wrote to sixteen leading UK fashion retailers to ask what steps they are taking to reduce the environmental and social impact of the clothes and shoes they sell. We used data on market share published by Global Data in its industry report, The UK Clothing Market, 2018–2023 to identify the top ten fashion retailers. We also asked four leading online retailers to answer similar questions following evidence at our first hearing about illegally low wages for garment workers and the disposability of some ‘fast fashion’ garments. Several of these retailers had been named in evidence linked to low pay in Leicester but the committee also used data on ‘share of voice’ compiled by Pi Datametrics. In addition, we wrote to two leading luxury UK fashion brands, Burberry and Kurt Geiger, following reports of stock burning by luxury brands.1

2.We were impressed with the level of engagement by some retailers. Others expressed openness to engaging on these issues and have taken some small steps. A few retailers, unfortunately, do not seem to consider social and environmental responsibility as a priority. One, Kurt Geiger, did not reply at all. We acknowledge that some retailers have not signed up to the specific initiatives which we have considered but are taking other measures to address these issues within their organisations.

3.We believe that there is scope for retailers to do much more to tackle labour market and environmental sustainability issues. We are disappointed that so few retailers are showing leadership through engagement with industry initiatives.

4.This is an interim report on the sustainability of the fashion industry. We will publish a final report shortly.

see more of the interim report here

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Picture Source: Fashion Revolution

Parliamentary Inquiry Interim Conclusion

34.We want to see a thriving fashion industry in the UK that employs people, inspires creativity and contributes to the overall economic success of the UK. We are surprised that there is no one body that speaks for the UK textile industry. The fashion industry’s current business model is clearly unsustainable, especially with a growing middle-class population and rising levels of consumption across the globe. We are disappointed that few high street and online fashion retailers are taking significant steps to improve their environmental sustainability. The current exploitative and environmentally damaging model for fashion must change. We believe retailers have an obligation to engage with these issues and recommend that they show leadership through engagement with industry initiatives. We will publish a final report in the coming weeks setting out recommendations to Government for policies to encourage a more transparent, fair and sustainable fashion system.

1 Global Data, (July 2018) The UK Clothing Market 2018–2023; Pi Datametrics, (October 2018), Q3, Pi Leaderboard Report, UK, Fashion Retail, September 2015 – October 2018.

Unmaking Waste 2018: Transforming Design, Production and Consumption for a Circular Economy

It was lovely recently to meet up with Bath and Bristol based photographer David Bone. David is interested in interested in harmful human impacts on the environment, for example current waste cultures. We are hoping that David will be able to work with us on the deep materialism project to produce professional photos of Alison’s work. In addition, drawing inspiration from William Morris’s ‘penny pamphlets’  a small book exploring ideas and artworks from our collaboration and individual projects.


David and Alison both recently had entries in  the  exhibition Unmaking Waste in Adelaide, South Australia! .

From the Foreword  to the Exhibition Catalogue

The world is full, and increasingly full of waste, much of it destructive of the environment we depend on. This is an insight especially significant in art and design, creating both new responsibilities and new opportunities. This exhibition is the collective response of many individual makers, from many creative disciplines, to this now unavoidable challenge.
The range and depth of this work, assembled together…We hope that viewing their work will provoke you, the visitor, not to anger or despair, but to more thoughtful reflection. Indeed, we would like to encourage you to consider with us the possibility of a more ‘circular’ future, where everything useful can enjoy some kind of second life, and where the need to deplete, poison, entangle or burn up the natural world to satisfy our needs is much reduced, if not entirely eliminated.

David’s Entry in the Exhibition

The Ghosts of Consumption
Materials: Print

A visual enquiry into consumer culture and a reflection of the geological footprint we are to leave behind. With estimates of more than 12 million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and with more microplastics in our seas than stars in the Milky Way, plastic waste is the ecological destruction of our time. Early 20th century perceptions of human affairs being wholly ‘separate’ and ‘other’ from nature is something that is endorsed throughout an era of conservation and preservation. Yet in this modern age of consumerism, the growing economic need for goods and the waste we produce has a profound effect on a changing environmental landscape.

The Ghosts of Consumption examines the contemporary archaeology of household commodities, through to its hostile convergence with the natural landscape. The work looks to
question the profound impact of contemporary culture on our ecology, challenging the
viewer to question their own personal impact. These questions of how we, as a commercial
generation play a monumental role in the permanent intrusion of plastic waste is juxtaposed against an unseen intervention and optimistic resilience.

Alison’sentry in the exhibition


 Book of (lost) knowledge (series)
Two found paper cups, one deconstructed and made into a concertina book 

The work comprises of two found paper coffee cups, objects currently discarded in their millions in our sophisticated modern lifestyles. One cup has been deconstructed and reconstructed to form a small concertina ‘book’. The title of the work refers to the intuitive ‘knowledge’ we used to possess to enable us to live in harmony with our environment, so that mutual flourishing was an accepted part of existence. Unfortunately exploitative practices have endured; capitalism and globalisation have taken their toll, hence my practice seeks a realignment of the material world, a reconsideration of what waste is and an equalisation of our relationship with it.


See the full catalogue here



So what is deep materialism?

We were recently asked this question!

Sarah  reflected:

We have created the phrase ‘deep materialism’ by drawing on the word ‘deep’ in ‘deep ecology’ (for example as in  the work of Arne Naess) and the word ‘materialism’ from ‘new materialism’(for example as in the work of thinkers including Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti, Elizabeth Grosz and Jane Bennett.

Deep ecology emphasises that all parts of the natural world, of which we are a part, have a deeply intrinsic value, and are not just  a resource for humans to use and own. By using the word ‘deep’ we also wish to emphasise and highlight that how we engage in the world we share needs to be addressed profoundly.

New materialism emphasises the liveliness or agency of matter, rather than seeing matter as inert and only humans as having agency. Many Indigenous cultures and knowledge systems around the world already have this conception  so using the word ‘deep’, rather than new has the advantage of avoiding the error and hubris of contemporary Western ways of thinking when something seen as ‘new’ has really been in existence but, being unacknowledge, has been ignored, denigrated or suppressed. 

In our collaboration we are exploring what bringing these different ideas together can contribute to caring for the world we share.

Alison elaborates:

Deep Materialism is a term that we are using in order to expand the lexicon of materiality and new materialism with a view to describing and promoting a shift in our relationship with the material world. This shift encompasses a reappraisal of the value of all matter, seeing no matter as ‘waste’ and accepting that as we too are made of matter, if we denigrate the rest of the material world then we too are diminished.


Deep materialism is  an acceptance of the responsibility of the micropolitical agency of the individual to seek out the provenance, and hence the ecological impact of, for instance, the material goods we take for granted, whether it be paper coffee cups, our clothing, our food, our furniture, as the   resources for the materials we use come from the natural world.

Deep materialsim also encourages engagement with circularity. For example, this small maple tree is growing in a pot. It has dropped its leaves after the first frost onto concrete below: leaves that would normally, if planted in the earth,  replenish the soil and feed the tree in the coming year.

Experiencing the material


Make smthing week seemed like a good time to engage with  Annie Albers call:

...we must come down to earth from the clouds where we live in vagueness and experience the most real thing there is: material (1937)”

Alison invited Sarah to her studio to help her with a Welsh blanket project. Sarah had some vintage  blanket squares from Jen Jones museum/ shop in  Llanybydder, Ceredigion


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Jen finds, cleans and  repairs  vintage Welsh blankets and quilts, giving a new lease of life to these wonderful items and at the same time bringing much pleasure to the new owners as well as preserving these important Welsh historical items.  Quilts, and blankets which cannot be rescued whole are re-purposed into cushions and squares for and patchwork.


The first task was to cut the pieces up further so that the different styles could be mixed together,  integrated to create pleasing whole. Alison’s experience as textile artist is very helpful when it comes to doing this!


Next , piing then sewing together , keeping the rough edges exposed to add texture and also show the different colours used to create the patterns as well as to prevent bulky seams.

The next tasks will be to finish the sewing and then enlarge the patchwork into a knee rug by blanket stitching around the patchwork and crocheting into the  patchwork. Welsh wool spun in North wales and purchased in Cardiff market as well as Cambrian wool from West Wales. mountains will be used.

The next creative project involved needlefelting at a workshop at the Holbourne museum in Bath – an opportunity to make a Christmas decoration

as well as a chance to find out if the raw Cornish fleece we obtained for the Repairacts seminar could be used for needle felting. It can!

The final creative activity of the week was Alison’s Christmas wreath-making workshop held at Alice park as part of Alison’s involvement in the community garden there. There was much making activity as well excellent soup and hot drinks to enjoy. Soaked sticks were shaped into wreaths and decorated with the community garden greenery. Many of those attending were having far to much fun to leave once their wreath was completed and stated making stars and even 2D Christmas tree and a star chandelier!


Experiencing the material is another way to ‘think’, to explore and to find ways to care for the world we share as well as being great fun!






National Trust – a suggestion for reducing single-use items in their catering

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Single-use’ was the Collins Dictionary word of 2018 reflecting the concern over single-use items and the impact these are having on the environment. So today we wrote to the National Trust with a suggestion.

Whilst the National Trust have greatly reduced single-use plastic cups from their catering outlets they still use a wide variety of single-use items such as cardboard, ‘biodegradable’ cups and wooden cutlery. These items appear to be recyclable there are two key problems

*are the ‘biodegradable‘  items actually separated and sent to the speciast facilities needed for  recycled these items or do they enter the landfill waste stream? There are limited facilities still in the UK for recycling such items and on visits to various properties staff were not clear as to the destination of these items.

*wood, cardboard etc. are valuable and beautiful and their single-use is both a waste and a perpetuation of an attitude of exploitation of the wider natural world, including ourselves.


Our Suggestion

Whilst an obvious solution is to use washable dishes and cutlery we recognise there are some sites where this is not possible due to limited kitchen facilities, or as is the case for example at Chedworth Roman villa, limited water supplies.

We note that in many places the National Trust promote the use of travel cups. We have suggested that they  extend this to encourage the use of travel cutlery, plates etc. Since many people look at the Trust’s website before setting off the Trust could add into the description of catering facilities at the site the fact that disposable cups, plates, cutlery etc. are used in the cafe and thereby give people the notice and encouragement they need to bring their own.

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This doesn’t have to be expensive for individuals. Knifes forks etc. can be bought very inexpensively from many charity shops and transported easily in a toothbrush case. Enamel plates are readily available. Bringing your own items could be promoted as ethical response to the single-use crisis. A small discount could also perhaps be offered, funded from savings made. Historically people did travel with such equipment (think for example of the 18th and 19th century Grand Tour) and this could be part of the story the National Trust  shares.

We hope we get a positive response! We’ll let you know the outcome.

Fast fashion (or not caring for your clothes)


A  woman photographs French artist Christian Boltanski’s ‘No Man’s Land’, composed of 30 tons of discarded clothing, on display at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. The site-specific art installation fills the hall with 45 rectangular plots of clothes and a 25 foot high pile of garments. (Photo by STAN HONDAAFP/ Getty Images)

Following on from our workshop at the RepairActs seminar we submitted this week the following written evidence to  the UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Sustainability of the Fashion Industry


As the scourge of contemporary ‘disposability’ has infiltrated seemingly every aspect of modern life – (Collins dictionary has described ‘single-use’ as its word of 2018), it becomes ever more necessary to arrest, contradict and question the ethics of the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon. This can be seen in the context of a critique of modern day capitalism: a global capitalism, led by Western economies, with few checks and balances even when inland lakes are caused to disappear due to the demands of growing cotton and rivers in developing economies are polluted by chemicals from factories producing the cloth used to feed our fast fashion habit (BBC 2018).

Somewhat surprisingly, Britain has the highest level of consumption of clothing per household in the European Union, a practice which also implies ‘fast’ disposal, a concept which we all know does not at present exist, with more than 300,000 tons of ‘waste’ textiles sent to landfill every year in Britain alone, or in monetary term 140 million pounds worth.

Cultural (news and glamour press, advertising industries) and commercial (the Brits especially seem to love a bargain) pressures all play a part in adding to this situation where ‘cheapness’ is seen as the main driver of acquiring new goods, this being seen as a virtue rather than an indicator that something (the environment, eg water supplies) or some-one (underpaid and exploited workers in unhealthy or often dangerous factories) has suffered in the production of these goods, whose main selling point is their availability and low price point.

As Oxfam (2016) has recently described, the average British consumer only wears 44% of their wardrobe, having at any one time 57 items of items unworn in their possession. So why do people prefer a bulging wardrobe of cheap unworn clothes compared to a collection of fewer, longer lasting items? Novelty would seem to be a contributing factor as to how and why we acquire clothing that is hardly ever worn, if at all. Unfortunately our acquisitive culture has resulted in the average consumer feeling ’rich’ in their acquisition of cheap goods. This illusory state can easily be challenged and altered if consumers are made more aware of the impact and repercussions that their choice of clothing has on the wider world, on people and planet.

Suggestions for change

Every garment is the sum of its parts – from the fibre from which it was made – natural (grown), or synthetic (manufactured) to the dyes, the threads, the buttons, the zips, the processes and the distribution journeys it makes. Until these goods are seen as an inherent ‘whole’, i.e. their provenance, their manufacturing processes and impacts are revealed and acknowledged, how can this concept be challenged?

In the same way their ‘disposal’ also needs to be addressed. Can the garment be recycled? Probably not. Is the garment of sufficient quality to be passed on and sold second-hand? Possibly, but even this practice feeds current ‘waste’ streams of our second-hand goods and can flood developing countries with unwanted textiles that can harm their own textile production businesses. There is no easy disposal.

A complete life cycle analysis, already undertaken on some goods, could be produced for garments, resulting in a new labeling system and links (easily accessible through digital means) to means of production undertaken by the company. This life cycle analysis would involve assessing the impact of the material from which fabrics are made, e.g. how/where grown or manufactured, pesticide/fertilizer use, energy use, water use etc., the durability/quality of the cloth produced  – some fabrics, if taken care of, can last a lifetime and longer, also where the garments were made and by whom, and ultimately a route for their disposal – this would be influenced by whether they are made from natural or man-made fibres, suitable for reuse, or recycling. This greater transparency into industrial processes would provide an insight  into how our world, and the flow of materials within it, really works and  the impact we all have on a daily basis by buying and wearing the garments we choose. It is essential to question and demand a better set of ethics, both for workers, the environment, and ultimately for us, of the manufacturing industries that currently control the fashion world. We need to realise a sense of connectedness to these industrial processes and implications of the making of these garments that become intimate parts of ourselves, that we wear next to our skin, possibly even absorbing some of these chemicals in the process.

The fashion industry will resist and suggest that their supply chains are too complex for this to happen but raising an awareness of the possibility of this being the future will make the fashion industry more transparent for the (hopefully) more demanding  consumer of the 21st century where current ecological crises make this approach inevitable. The recently disturbing information regarding microfibers, tiny pieces of plastic polymers which are washed into our water courses from synthetic fibres is another major cause for concern and should be an added impetus that the industry has to put its house in order.

With excellent work being done by charities such as Labour Behind the Label and TRAID, the excesses inherent in fast fashion are revealed and addressed. Caring for and hence connecting with, valuing, mending, repairing, sharing and swapping, as well as reducing and re-using, are words that need to be reinserted into the lexicon of the fashion industry so that its reputation can be salvaged, and before more water sources dry up and more rivers are poisoned.

Dr Alison Harper and Dr Sarah Chave

Alison Harper (artist) and Sarah Chave (educational researcher) are currently collaborating on Deep materialism and care-taking: a study of material relationships for the 21st Century – a project supported by the University of Exeter’s Environmental and Sustainability Institute’s Creative Exchange Programme. Their project promotes a more thoughtful and caring way to be in the world, where our relationships with material really does matter.

Repair Acts Seminar 18-19th October, 2018


...we must come down to earth from the clouds where we live in vagueness and experience the most real thing there is: material (1937)”.

This quote from the artist and weaver Anni Albers seems to underline the thinking behind the elements of the workshop activity we led along with  Professor Clare Saunders and Anjia Barbieri as part of the RepairActs Seminar in Penryn 17-18th October 2019. This seminar was an opportunity for academics and  artists to meet together to explore ideas, provide peer support, collaborate and challenge  and explore language/lexicons, theories and practices around this issue of repair

In our part of workshop we wanted to focus on the dislocation of material relationships felt in modern times and on our response  when hearing a documentary about small children mending broken threads under the first weaving machines in industrial settings at the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This was a  time which seemed to represent a breaking away of connecting with matter, with the material, as the industrialisation of production – of things sometimes previously made in the home, took hold. We also wanted to explore the possibilities of repairing those relationships.

We started our workshop by introducing our project

and sharing an example of Alison’s work  which helps us to see unwanted and unnoticed materials in new ways,

We then invited participants to take and handle some raw Cornish wool fleece and tease and twist it into a a plied yarn, reconnecting with a process which is at the basis of all textile production. We encouraged them to feel, smell, experience  the fleece as they created a thread.  We invited participants to carry on with this as we talked. Interesting conversations transpired about how we relate to materials, a subject that we are not encouraged to discuss or explore.

Next, we shared how the starting  point of our thinking about repair was the tying of  knots to join broken threads underneath the ‘spinning mule’ machinery at the start of the European Industrial Revolution. As noted above, this era was the start of industrial processes which increasingly separate us from materials and their journey of transformation into finished products. We read an extract from A Chance Child by Jill Paton Walsh, a book that vividly brings to life and describes the working conditions of child workers during the Industrial Revolution.

But we also wanted to explore how broken threads can be repaired, how relationships with them can be reimagined. Alison introduced Untitled by the Greek artist Janis Kounellis. This work seemed to exemplify to Alison how elemental materials are; in this case sheep’s wool, with soft blue dye, seemed to represent and be a part of the sky, the wind, the rain, and the landscape that produced it, emphasising the connection between us, the material and the wider biosphere.

We looked at different traditions which use thread, often red thread, to connect and communicate love and devotion. Raksha Bandhan is the Hindu Festival that celebrates brotherhood and love. A sister gives a bracelet to her brother or a male friend to symbolise devotion and connection, the threads of the rakhi are considered sacred and to have protective qualities.


Red threads are used by the Chinese artist Beili Liu, drawing on the ancient Chinese legend of the Red Thread which suggests that when children are born, invisible red threads connect them to their soul mates, who they will eventually meet.

We also learned to make Celtic knots from a synthetic red cord sourced from  a Scrapstore, this turned out to be bouncy and slippery and it was difficult to keep the knot knotted, showing one of the differences between natural and man-made fibres.

Interwoven into our elements of the workshop was a presentation by Clare and Anjia who shared the work they have been doing as part of their research project Sensibility for Sustainable Fashion (S4S) This included an opportunity to unravel woolen jumpers to make new yarn , a cost effective and environmental way to create yarn for knitting. It was wonderful to see the synergy between our two projects and to have the opportunity to meet and work with Clare and Anjia, who have been formally invited to submit evidence from the S4S project to the UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Sustainable Fashion. We have also made a representation to the inquiry, positing our ideas around materials and deep materialism.

At the end of the workshop we took the photo at the start of this post – red threads, plied fleece, unravelled wool and Celtic knots intertwined and knotted and connecting workshop participants.

As part of the seminar we also visited  National Trust properties at Godolphin House  andMullion Cove  . These are both places where repair is explored on a larger scale. The National Trust must make decisions  on what to repair enough to prevent further decay (an approach adopted at Godolphin) and what to allow to decay. It must curate decay as well as preservation. The issue of ‘curated decay’ (Desilva 2017) has a particular resonance at Mullion Cove where the strenght of storms (most likely  linked to climate change) create the dilemma of managed retreat or repair and maintenance.


At Mullion we were able to see this crack opening up in the south harbour wall, a result of the storms in October 2017. This crack is forming along the line of a previous repair in the 1980s, despite extensive repairs carried out to the harbour wall using concrete after the storms of 2014.

The Trust’s stated plan for Mullion is to repair as long as this is feasible (i.e. funded by the insurers) but if an event occurs which makes repair not financially or logistically  viable, then it is committed to a policy  of  ‘curated decay’. This is a controversial local issue and can be explored in more detail in chapter x of DeSilva’s recently published book Curated Decay.

Repair as a Micro-political Act of Resistance

As part of the Repair Acts workshop in Penryn,18-19th October 2019 Professor Stephano Pascicci, Director of Research for Sustainable Futures  gave a public lecture, exploring the links between Repair and Circular Economy.

There were two stand-out  messages for us in this.

The first was the importance of repairing and maintaining relationships as well as repairing and maintaining physical things. This was the first topic he covered and puts relationships central to exploring the circular economy and to thinking about repair.

The second was repair as an act of resistance. When we were growing up repair was a financial necessity – darning tights and socks, repairing clothes and household equipment. Repairing clothing  wasn’t a look we always liked!(In fact I sometimes hated it – an aside from Sarah!). For many the financial necessity of repair continues. However, in a time of increased consumption, environmental degradation and climate crisis,repair is also as a micro-political act of resistance. In such resistance  necessity hasn’t gone out of the picture. Repair responds to the environmental necessity to reduce waste, pollution and the unnecessary exhaustion of materials.  Sharing and developing the skill to do repairs is crucial, for example through the support of the Repair Cafe movement, sharing ideas at social get togethers and workplace and school activities.

The Falmouth Repair cafe were also at the Repair Acts public event and here is an excellent repair to a coat which was in great condition except for a ripped pocket. The owner was very happy that her coat was once again both smart, warm and ready for many more years of use.

So, go on, darn those socks, fix that printer, mend those sun glasses, rather than throw them away – I’m sure you can add to this list! Make it into a social event if you want to fit it, in a fun way, into a busy life. Spend time as well thinking about repairing relationships with the  human and other-than-human world around us. What could repair mean mean for these?