Thursday, 10 October 2019
Weaving the Future
There is currently a truly remarkable exhibition, 'Weaving the Future', in the roof space of Salts Mill, commissioned for Saltaire Festival. With absolutely stunning photos by Tim Smith (printed on woven textiles), it shows how our local textile industry - the driver for the first Industrial Revolution but having declined in the late 20th century - has now adapted. Local mills produce very high quality and distinctive fabrics, from wool, cotton and other fibres, for specialist markets around the world. Together with researchers at some of our leading universities, they are spearheading a new revolution, adapting traditional technologies to create innovative materials: weaving silk to make heart valves and knee cartilage; new fabrics for use in aerospace and construction; electro-spinning to produce dense membranes of extremely thin fibres which can be used, for example in wound dressing or to filter toxins from drinking water. It was fascinating to see some of these innovations.
The exhibition also makes the link between the binary systems that drove the old textile looms (illustrated by the pattern cards of punched holes that you can see on the left of my photo below) and the digital computer technology that now underlies almost every facet of modern life and industry. Many of the businesses that now occupy much of the floor space in Salts Mill are involved in innovative digital technology, like Radio Design who design, manufacture and export wireless communications systems used, for example, in mobile phone masts. Serendipitous...
Images in my two photos above were taken in local mills and show the processes of spinning and dying yarn. In the background of the top photo is a picture taken in a factory that makes cycle frames from woven carbon.
Below are some of the specialist fabrics produced locally: felt damper pads for pianos, green baize for snooker tables and biodegradeable wool coffins.
The photography on display is superb, as is the video installation that shows dancers performing movements inspired by textile workers, overlaid with footage of textile processes. It has a sound track of music made in response to the sounds and rhythms of mill machinery. It is so beautiful, graceful and evocative that it brought tears to my eyes.
All this feast for the senses is in one of my favourite spaces: the roof space at Salts Mill, originally the longest weaving shed in the world. The exhibition is on until 20 Oct, weekends only.