Rag Rugging Project at The Williamson Art Gallery
by Alison Bailey Smith
The aim for the project was to produce a wall hanging for Wirral Methodist Housing using donated clothing with several tenants from the organization contributing to the creation of the piece. I decided that as the funding was coming from a housing association that a house would be a great communal theme to work on. At the same time as working on this project, I was also teaching a project with kids from 8 to 15 creating a Time Machine based on H.G. Wells' Time Machine.
We have used a hessian backing and two different rag rugging techniques to create bricks to combine together into a house. I learned the rag rugging technique in the week before from the internet, from books , from advice from an old college friend and my second in-command fellow Oxton Artist, Janine Suggett, (we exhibit once a year in the Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead, North West of England). The idea of having individual bricks was to allow the women to work at their own speed, take the work away from the workshops to work on at home or to use a different technique, it also allowed the ladies to work without straining their backs or eyes. Many of these ladies remembered making rugs with rags after the war. Most of the ladies have picked up the technique easily, some had previously created rag rugs in slightly different methods and seem to enjoy the opportunity to do it again. Some with arthritis found it hard to keep it up for awhile, so tea offered a welcome break.
I think the main benefits of the workshops were being able to sit together as a group talking and working on a collective project, providing health benefits - both mental and physical. Many of them have re-arranged plans to be there, as well as taking work away to be completed at home, contributing extra “bricks” in knitting and rag rugging.
The concept of the house for the hanging was already vaguely in place prior to them arriving, it developed as we have discussed it to in-corporate other techniques than rag rugging, slightly faster techniques done at home. We also incorporated some of the donated clothing as appliqué (flowers from the wedding dress, some fabric as curtains), I later incorporated images of the ladies working on the piece into the wall hanging. During the workshop, one of the participants donated a fabric tape measure. I used it along with a tape measure from my Granny's things to edge a primed canvas that we put behind the door and all the participants later signed it. It was wonderful to combine everyone's memories from the clothes - political t-shirts, ties from weddings, hats from holidays, fabric from first homes etc.
The group created everything we needed for the hanging to come together during the workshops but it took 3 more days of work to create it into the wall hanging. There were many components that needed to be attached to the backing and needed some creative thinking to get it to all work together, next time I would limit the colour palette available . The extra work was done at my house with lots of help from Janine Suggett, Cathy Warren, Sylvia Davie and Briget. Using many of my own resources at home, thread, fabric, printable canvas, sewing machine etc. Perhaps next time we could do it over 2 weeks, one to create the parts and the second to pull it together. As well as feeling very moved by all the ladies and their enthuisiasm, I also was very touched by being able to use many of my Granny's sewing things. She died in March and I asked my Dad if I could have her fabric and sewing things, she made many of her own clothes as many women did of her generation and took real care in looking after every scrap of fabric. I hope she would be proud of our project.
Alison Bailey Smith
Her work has spanned almost 2 decades and three different countries since leaving Edinburgh College of Art in 1990. The motivation behind Alison’s work comes from being the child of post war parents, Scottish thriftiness and an avid watcher of Blue Peter! Her need to re-use, re-develop and re-create can be seen in her wide use of ordinary materials with extra-ordinary results.
Although her training was initially in Jewellery and silver-smithing, she has crossed over successfully into the world of textiles, costume and fashion – evident in her numerous awards (Scottish Fashion Designer of the Year, Recycling Fashion Designer of the Year and various awards for Fibre in North America and Australasia).
Alison’s staple ingredient in her work is wire that she reclaims from old televisions, the older the better. She has found over a hundred different colours and hues of copper and aluminium wire. Lately though, due to the rate of development in technology, she is finding it harder to find the old television sets and has had to resort to buying various colours of wire! There is always a high component of re-used materials in her work - whether it is re-using charity shop finds or sweetie wrappers to get the right colour. She has become increasingly aware of how wasteful our society is becoming and has started working with plastic packaging with a range of "Junk Jewellery".
Visit Alison's website, blog, and her great collection of photos on Flickr!
Wire Hat by Alison Bailey Smith