Follow The Threads: Highlights from the University of Glasgow’s Textile Archives Collections 2019

Follow The Threads: Highlights from the University of Glasgow’s Textile Archives Collections 2019


At the University of Glasgow we have over
130 collections that relate directly to Scotland’s textiles heritage. Archives and Special Collections hold the
Scottish Business Archive to service a research resource for academics at the University. The textile archive collections at Glasgow
University are so central to the research that I do, in terms of looking at the past
through textiles. So, understanding where things have been made
and how they’ve been made. I’m a student, a Masters student, of Dress
and Textiles Histories at the University of Glasgow I use the archives for assignments, research,
which involves looking at the documentary evidence of how people lived, where they bought items
that were manufactured, using the textiles archives in particular provides context to the objects we are looking
at, whether it’s an item of clothing or a piece of textile, we can find out much
information from records, documents, literary sources
contained there about how people used items that were manufactured in Glasgow and nationwide.
The things that I found really significant for my work through the archive has been where
we’ve got examples of text written by people who produced things particularly in the 19th
century, the industrial revolution period when there’s lots of technology coming together
with design and industry and that really excites me from that perspective. It’s really important to us that members of
the public are able to access the records of Scotland’s industry and business, so we
welcome enquiries from around the world and researchers in our reading rooms to access
this rich heritage of Scotland’s industry. I’ve got a theatre company called, well a
production company really, called Witsherface and we want to do a musical set in the Templeton’s
Carpet Factory in the 1960s. So, I approached Claire and she very kindly said that I could
come up to the archives. We found lots, lots of things. We found photographs, there’s loads
of photographs. We would like to do a real story. See if we found a story that was about
anybody actually, it could be about any of the workers, we could maybe build on that,
rather than make up. Which is alright to make up a story as well but it would be nice to
have some truth and then I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of information there to
find. In the records of a manufacturer such as Stoddard
and Templeton, our carpet designers, we have records that relate to production. So the
design process, taking an idea and putting it into a pattern for a finished product.
And the records then can show us how that artistic ideal was put into production. In
the 1860s, the peak of Scotland’s textile industry, one in ten jobs in the Scottish
workforce was related to the textile industry. It’s really important that we are able to
share the stories of this wonderful industry with today’s researchers. My research is a little bit unusual because
I am a scientist in the College of Arts. So, I am connecting in material analysis with
documented evidence, with textile history and bringing that all together to understand
the human stories about these objects that exist. So, the collections like Falconer’s
collections that are part of the House of Fraser, where we have catalogues from stores.
Things that the every day ordinary person is buying. It has pictures, it has descriptions,
it has prices in these little lovely illustrated catalogues. And there’ll also be samples that
the store has been sent. So pieces of fabric, physical pieces of fabric, so we can join
up many things, we can join up the descriptions, we can join up the illustrations. One of the real gems among our textile collections
are the product catalogues that have come with the House of Fraser archive. So, my own
personal favourites are those from the 1930s held within the archives of John Falconer.
Falconer’s was an Aberdeen department store and their 1930s catalogues are just full of
beautiful outfits for men and women and really, really evoking the fashions of the time and
I just love getting them out to show them off and just really enjoy the 1930s design
style. Coats and Clarks collections, that’s J & P
Coats and Clark and Co. are a very very large documentary collection of staff records, product labels,
design information, factory information about the companies that were based in Paisley.
I actually volunteered at the Paisley Thread Mill Museum and there are lots of objects
there but in conjunction with the archive we can build up a really good picture of the
company history, how they operated and how they manufactured thread products within Paisley
and in a global sense. Our collections are a really rich resource
for today’s designers, so we’ve been really lucky to work with a number of design companies
in the last couple of years who’ve come in, looked at the collections and gone away to
be inspired and create new products from them. In my own work as a textile designer I like
to gather historical information about techniques and products that were created in the past.
The archive provides lots of design inspiration, including pattern books and sample books,
literary visual sources including advertising leaflets, pamphlets etc. Which are very useful
in terms of extracting motifs and pattern and colour which then can be used to design
new products or new textiles in a more contemporary way. Our textile collections can help us tell the
stories of local communities in Scotland, for example, in the 1890s United Turkey Red
was formed, building upon a long tradition of dyeing in Alexandria. In terms of a particular collection called
the Turkey Red collection, we have here which has come mostly through the United Turkey
Red Company which existed at the end of the 19th century, it’s a very rich resource for
many reasons. It’s got amazing brightly coloured printed textiles that are really intriguing,
very attractive and draw the attention of anybody that’s looking at that archive. And
some of the big questions are how were these beautiful colours made? And actually it’s
a very interesting story because this industry for making these very special textiles is
a very local story. It’s about Glasgow and the Vale of Leven, all the way along the Clyde
right the way down to New Lanark. My favourite object from the collection is
from Clark and Co. It is a late Victorian children’s book called “The Eventful Story
of Miss Cotton’s Visits” It’s an advertising booklet aimed at younger children, probably
girls in this case, to encourage them to sew. But, all through the text, there are lots
of references to Anchor Cotton, which was the brand name of Clark and Co. So the document
itself is very useful because it provides advertising information, but also from a dress
and textiles point of view, what people wore at the time, what their homes looked like.
The illustrations are very very visual. So that’s my favourite, I found it useful on
so many levels. By the 20th century, James Templeton, the
carpet manufacturers, were the largest employer within the city of Glasgow and they sent their
products all over the world. Really a direct export of Scottish talent across the world. It’s interesting actually, finding the different
departments, who did what. It was hard work. The photographs in the archives, seeing the
women, I don’t know what they’re doing, they’re cutting threads on the carpets, just lying
on this lush carpet and cutting it. When they will probably never get to, you know, see
it. The Stoddard and Templeton design archive
is a vast resource of wonderful designs and patterns and sketches. One of my favourite
parts of it is the archives relating to the Festival pattern group. Unusually, for carpets,
these aren’t floral designs but they are designs drawn from the molecular structure of crystals.
So it’s quite an unusual thing to see in a carpet design archive but they are just lovely. One woman said she would love to go to Paris
because she worked on that carpet. It’s at the British Embassy, the carpet’s there. She
says that would be one of the things she would love to do.

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