This case study explores a participatory textile making research project by Louise Scollay and Alison Mayne. All images are copyright Mihaela Bodlovic. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.
Title of case study project or workshop
Cleeking in the Archives
Name(s) of researcher(s) and university affiliation, if any
Louise Scollay, School of Scottish Studies Archive, University of Edinburgh
Alison Mayne, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh
Context for research
This workshop follows Louise Scollay’s paper at the In the Loop at 10 conference in 2018, where she presented initial findings of research based on a collection of letters from the 1950s enquiring about ‘cleek work’ she uncovered at the School of Scottish Studies Archive. As part of this study, Alison Mayne used patterns suggested in the letters and an ensuing magazine article to experimentally reconstruct a ‘cleek work’ glove.
When did the research take place?
18 February 2019
archival practice, amateur handcraft, creativity
Aims of research
This case study illustrates the beginning of work which investigates how textile artefacts and archival documents in collections can be brought to life through public engagement: in this particular case, we focused on the near-forgotten practice of ‘cleek work’ following the discovery of ephemera related to the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute magazine – the Scottish Home and Country – to facilitate a workshop for participants.
Description of research method
Over the course of a day workshop for the University of Edinburgh Festival of Creative Learning, 18 participants heard about the work of the School of Scottish Studies Archive, with particular focus on materials connected to textiles. Louise Scollay presented her findings about the collection of letters from SWRI members in the 1950s which asked for help in tracing the origins of the handcraft known as ‘cleek’. In two groups, participants responded to pattern instructions from one of the letters in order to experiment with the stitch described and construct a sample wrist warmer using contemporary crochet hooks and Shetland wool.
Why did you choose to use this method?
Learning about the archival background to the letters before constructing a small ‘wristie’ swatch allowed participants to centre their making in the context of an historic handcraft and connect it to their own understanding of textiles (participants varied from complete beginners to experienced makers). As a result, participants could reflect whilst ‘cleeking’ on the features of the fabric, similarities to and differences from their own practice and the changing purpose of cleekwork over time.
What did you learn from the research process?
In using a workshop method, it was important to allow space and respect for participant findings we had not anticipated: different interpretations and gestures resulted from having a focus on handling wool, hook and responding to the instructions from Mr Patten’s method from 1959. For example, one participant inspired by reading Japanese philosophy considered the impact of pulling the yarn loop in a downwards motion towards the body rather than pushing away from the body and into the fabric. This resulted in a herringbone-like surface pattern entirely different from the samples created. The same participant continued their engagement after the workshop by whittling their own cleek hook. In stitching with others in a workshop setting, participants offer insights which craft new ways of knowing about both textile practices and makers.
“We observed that the cleeking session had become a focus group of sorts; participants discussed different ways to hold the materials and discovered different actions which proved a bit of a revelation. We also reflected on how our participation with cleeking has connected us in a tangible way to the past – to the women (and man) who wrote these letters, putting in writing for the first time presumably what had only been passed on in practical application. It connected us also to those fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers who possessed the skills, who had made flat hooks to fit their own hand, and created gloves for their own comfort and that of their families in stitches and actions which may have differed slightly with each man – making cleeking a very unique craft and skill indeed. This also made us ask, could this form of craft be something far more ancient and, if so, where are all the artefacts?” Louise Scollay
Bolt, B. (2007). The Magic is in Handling, in: E. Barrett & B. Bolt (eds) Practice As Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 27-34.
Twigger Holroyd, A. & Shercliff, E., (2014). Making with others: working with textile craft groups as a research method. In: The Art of Research V Conference: Experience, Materiality, Articulation. 5th Art of Research Conference, 26–27 Nov 2014, Helsinki, Finland. School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University.
We hope to conduct further ‘handcrafting in the archives’ events in the future.