This case study explores a participatory textile making project by Helen Blank, Helen Berrie, Sue Benson, Dr Rebecca Collins, and others, all at the University of Chester, UK. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.
Title of case study project or workshop
Name(s) of practitioner(s) and institution/organisation, if any
Helen Blank, Helen Berrie, Sue Benson, Dr Rebecca Collins, and others, all at the University of Chester, UK
Context for project
The #PopUpPatchChallenge was originally devised as an intra-university engagement activity, designed to promote sustainable consumption of clothing and textiles by skill-sharing around repairing and repurposing. It was an amalgam of two previous one-off university events, the 2015 ‘Fix-it Fair’ and the 2017 ‘Big Stitch’. In 2018, colleagues who had worked on each of these events joined forces to develop the #PopUpPatchChallenge, which now runs pop-up repair and recycling workshops across University of Chester campuses. Our plans to start popping up off campus, around Chester city centre, have been halted by Covid-19 but we hope to resume in 2021.
When did the project take place?
Ongoing since 2018
Background(s) of the practitioner(s)
We are all amateur sewers with a passion for repair, repurposing and upcycling. We’ve found we’re learning a lot from each other in the course of running the pop-ups, as well as sharing what we know with students and colleagues. #POPC is a passion project we fit around our day jobs in student finance (Helen Berrie), library and information services (Helen Blank), faculty office administration (Sue) and lecturing in human geography (Rebecca).
Aims of project
We aim to give people the skills and confidence to keep their clothing in use for longer by conducting basic repair and repurposing projects. We use drop-in workshops located in key locations across campuses to make our passion for repair and repurposing visible, and to encourage students and staff to bring garments in need of some TLC. We then work with them one-to-one on their repair/repurposing project, providing them with any materials they might need to complete it at home.
Description of project
We run 3-4 pop-up workshops per year, across University of Chester campuses. Each workshop runs for around three hours, and where possible we ‘buddy up’ with another university event or initiative focused on sustainability issues to build critical mass. Numbers of participants vary, depending on our location and time of year – typically we might have 4-5 people bring a project per event, but we have had as many as 10. In addition to university students and fellow staff members who bring a project, many others stop by for a chat, curious about what we’re doing. When we aren’t working with a participant on something they’ve brought, we bring projects of our own to act as demonstration pieces. Helen Blank, for example, has a stash of ready-cut fabric bag pieces to work on, and Rebecca, who is a darning fanatic, tends to work on her woolly socks.
Why did you choose to work in this way?
Our aim primarily has been public engagement – to create a sense of curiosity which we try then to translate into willingness to ‘have a go’. By making ourselves conspicuously visible by ‘popping up’ in key locations, we find we can easily strike up conversations and encourage people passing by to come and find out what we’re doing. In a sense we’re playing a long game – raising awareness that we exist and showing what we do, thus planting the seed of an idea so that, when we run the next pop-up, people know who we are, what we’re about, and remember to bring that shirt with the missing button!
What did you learn from the project?
We’ve learned not to underestimate how anxious some people can feel about their perceived lack of sewing skills. This is why we work alongside people to show them what to do, so that not only do they achieve their repair, we have also demystified the process and shown them that they have a competence they didn’t believe they had. The other key thing we’ve noticed is how incredibly gendered concern for clothing is! The vast majority of our participants, and people who show interest in our work, are women. The few men who stop by often want to leave a garment with us and come and pick it up again later!
“I can fix anything now!” – student Grace, who was able to sew up the cuff of her hoody, which had come unstitched, in between lectures. [photo below]
Rebecca has previously made use of workshop-based repair and upcycling tasks as a basis for research interviews around young people’s consumption of clothing.