New exhibition The Inventors of Tradition examines Scotland’s textile past

Glasgow exhibition of samples, promotional materials and films

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New exhibition The Inventors of Tradition examines Scotland’s textile past

A new exhibition joins the dots between Scotland’s textile past and design future, discovers Anna Burnside

The glory days of Scotland’s textile industry, when the Borders whirred with knitting machines and tweed was a viable alternative to central heating, seem a long time ago. Post-globalisation, garments with the ‘Made in Scotland’ label are about as common as baby unicorns.

A new exhibition, The Inventors of Tradition, looks back at these happier times (without allowing the nostalgia to become overpowering). Curators Lucy McEachan and Catriona Duffy, the Glasgow-based design promoters who run Panel, have put together a thought-provoking collage of rarely-seen samples, promotional materials, films and other ephemera from 1930 to the present. And just in case it became too much of a heather-mixed walk down memory lane, they also invited designer Beca Lipscombe and artist Lucy McKenzie, who work together as Atelier, to create a mini-collection as a forward-looking part of the exhibition.

‘We wanted to look at the promotion, the processes, remember what a big business textile manufacturing was,’ says McEachan. ‘It’s not a linear survey, it’s subjective and personal.’ To this end, McEachan and Duffy have tracked down retired designers and machine operators and persuaded them to put letters, outfits, home movies and other treasures on show, often for the first time. ‘These are not pieces from museum archives. These are things that were tucked into drawers and stored in attics.’

The venue is equally unconventional: the former Henry Healy’s grocery store at 21 Stockwell Street, Glasgow. This will, they hope, combine the experience of shopping with the viewing of an exhibition about fashion. ‘It’s an odd space,’ says Duffy, ‘but not out of place.’

It is also, to her delight, a ball of wool’s throw away from Glassford Street, once home to Glasgow’s most exalted dressing-up box, The Warehouse. ‘We really wanted to bring them in because they were instrumental in bringing great design – from Japan, from Belgium – to Glasgow.’

Beca Lipscombe has happy memories of shopping in The Warehouse, which closed in 1994. She and McKenzie, a Saatchi-collected contemporary artist, have produced a collection of work coats, a cashmere suit and headscarves that Duffy describes as ‘playful’. These have been manufactured by what remains of the Scottish textiles industry.

‘Back in the day, Scotland was creating global brands which made money,’ says Duffy. ‘They used Scotland to sell clothes, the idea of it, the quality of the manufacture. There are not many brands that use quality as their selling point.’

The Inventors of Tradition, Sat 22 Jan–Sat 26 Feb, 21 Stockwell Street, Glasgow. See www.wearepanel.co.uk for info.

The Inventors of Tradition

  • 4 stars

At the point where art, design and social history meet comes this exhibition curated by Panel exploring the history of Scottish fashion, and its tempestuous relationship with all things tartan and trad. Includes archive film footage, interviews with industry figures, vintage pieces of clothing and new designs and…

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