Taking a little bit of Scotland to Shanghai: Reflections on a research and teaching visit to Donghua University

Complete concentration from participants at Shirley’s Personalised Mending workshop. Photo credit: Karen Zhang, Donghua University.  

In this post, Shirley Mclauchlan, a Lecturer in Textiles at Edinburgh College of Art, shares her reflections on some unexpected outcomes during a recent research and teaching visit to Donghua University, in Shanghai, China…

In October 2019, I was invited to Donghua University, Shanghai, by Dr Juliette MacDonald, who is the International Dean at Shanghai International College of Fashion, to be part of an International Sustainable Fashion Research Group. During my visit, I had many discussions with other academics from across the globe: AMFI (Amsterdam), Laselles (Singapore), as well as from Donghua, Shanghai.

I gave a lecture in the Textile Museum on my design practice, which is described as Making Modern Day Family Heirlooms, and my research, which for the past 20 years has been focussed on how to be a commercial sustainable textile designer. After the lecture, I facilitated a workshop, Personalised Mending, also in the Textile Museum.

Workshop: ‘Personalised Mending’

For the workshop, I had bought along excess Ayrshire wool blanket material from my studio, embroidery hoops, large darning needles and templates. I planned to have a maximum of 10 fashion students, who I expected to have some basic stitching skills. As the workshop would be held in the museum, I imagined it to be a quiet and controlled experience.

What actually happened was that the workshop was so popular I ended up with over 30 students including academics from AMFI, Laselles and Donghua, as well as Professor Helena Hyvonen (Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture), who happened to be visiting at the time.

Photo credit: Karen Zhang, Donghua University

What was inspiring was that during this 2-hour session (which was optional for the students to attend), academic staff and students were all working together.

My carefully planned workshop became a much bigger, inspiring, noisy, slightly chaotic workshop space in the Textile Museum. Museum staff had to rush out to the Fashion department at Donghua University to get more needles, and I quickly had to cut and create many extra blanket samplers for the group to work on: this was totally unexpected.

Stitching for the first time. Photo credit: Karen Zhang, Donghua University.

Despite my expectations, the majority of the students had never stitched before so I had to improvise my workshop. I involved some of the participating academic staff to demonstrate to the students some of the stitches. I encouraged staff to exchange what they had done with the students, who then exchanged what they had done with other students and staff. At this point in the workshop, there was a lovely exchange of knowledge between staff and students.

Staff and students working together. Photo credit: Karen Zhang, Donghua University.

The wonderful thing about this workshop was that, after about one hour of almost frenzied activity, there was a calmness and you could quite literally ‘hear a pin drop.’
That was the point when I knew that I had got complete concentration from all the participants. Everyone was enjoying simply stitching. In this noisy, vibrant city of Shanghai, we had managed to find a moment of complete and utter peace.

During the workshop, there were some very interesting discussions on hand skills and personalised mending techniques. Many of the students had never handled 100% wool Ayrshire blankets so were interested to keep the samples, with most of them choosing to either give them to someone special or continue to complete their stitching.

Participants, Shanghai Textile Museum. Photo credit: Karen Zhang, Donghua University.

Reflecting on Unexpected outcomes

  1. I thought the students would all have some hand stitching skills, and I thought they would have been shown how to stitch from a parent or grandparent, yet this was not the case.
  2. I was really surprised that the student attendance rate was over 30; only 10 students had planned on attending the workshop.
  3. The intended audience was the fashion textile students at Shanghai International College of Fashion but, due to the mix of academic staff and students, the participants experienced a very special exchange of knowledge. This really was totally unplanned and unexpected.
Feedback from students and staff. Photo credit: Karen Zhang, Donghua University.

Future directions

Looking to the future, we are working towards further exchanges of hand skills digitally with AMFI, Laselles and Donghua. There will also be an exhibition of sustainable student projects in April 2020.

Shirley Mclauchlan

Shirley Mclauchlan is a Lecturer in Textiles at Edinburgh College of Art. She studied Textiles at The Glasgow School of Art and St Martins London. She was a partner in the successful print studio Kim Clark Design in London, designing collections and selling prints internationally for over twelve years. On return to Scotland in 1997, she set up her own practice designing ‘Modern Family Heirlooms’ working with a range of clients. Her design philosophy is embedded in sustainability. She strives to work as a commercial, sustainable designer making pieces that are valued and ‘tell a story’, and is the published author of ‘Girls Get Stitching’ 2013. Recently, her film Stitching Stories was screened at the V&A Dundee as part of Fashion revolution week.

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