Woven Festival in Kirklees: The festival encouraging Yorkshire folk to get creative in their garden

The Woven festival is once again looking at all things connected with the region’s rich textile history, from knitting to quilting, to stitching and crochet . Yvette Huddleston gets weaving.

Over the past month the people of Kirklees, and beyond, have been enjoying the third biennial Woven festival.

Launched in 2019, the festival celebrates innovation in textiles across Kirklees, an area that has strong historical connections with the textile industry.

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The festival, which features events, workshops, exhibitions, talks, tours and performances, showcases community textile projects ranging from knitting and crochet, to yarn bomb, quilting and stitch groups, working with schools, artists and workshop leaders.

Growing Colour Together aims to create the UK’s largest ever dye gardenGrowing Colour Together aims to create the UK’s largest ever dye garden
Growing Colour Together aims to create the UK’s largest ever dye garden

To highlight the environmental impact of textiles on the planet, the themes of the festival this year are Growing and Sewing and there are more than 100 free and ticketed events to choose from.

Among those taking part in the festival is the Meltham Quilters Group who have been involved in the Quilts for Care Leavers project making quilts for young people aged between 18 and 24 who are living independently after their time in care of the Local Authority has come to an end.

“It is such a meaningful project to be involved in,” says Liz Simmonds, one of the founders of the Meltham Quilters group which was set up in April 2022. The project, which is a national one, grew out of the annual Christmas Dinners for Care Leavers programme run by the Gold from the Stone Foundation, established by poet and playwright Lemn Sissay who himself spent part of his childhood and teenage years in care.

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The foundation’s stated mission is to ‘make sure that no care leaver feels alone’ and the quilt project certainly aligns with that aim – the quilts are a beautiful symbol that someone cares.

Quilts for Care Leavers; a quilt in production with Meltham QuiltersQuilts for Care Leavers; a quilt in production with Meltham Quilters
Quilts for Care Leavers; a quilt in production with Meltham Quilters

“Lemn once said that all that care leavers want is a hug and that is how the project started. We see the quilts as lovingly handmade hugs,” says Simmonds.

“We were involved in giving out quilts at the Christmas Dinners initially and now we work with Kirklees Council and the social workers who look after those young people leaving care to distribute the quilts and make sure each of them receives one. It is something personal and made specifically for them.”

The Meltham Quilters meet on the first Friday of each month at their local village hall. “There are around 12 to 15 of us who are there every month and we have around 30 on our mailing list,” says Simmonds.

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“We tell people that if you can sew a straight line, then you can quilt. We have ladies with around 40 years’ experience and some who have never done it before in their lives, and ages range from 30s to 70s, so it is a diverse group.

"We all love sewing but it is a real community – one of the ladies who comes lost her husband last year and she said it’s been a lifeline for her. It is very social and supportive and there is no pressure at the meetings, you can just come for a natter, if you like. ”

The group is holding an open day during the festival, inviting anyone who might be interested in quilting to come along. “It will be a showcase of what we do and it will demonstrate that we have all different abilities in our group.”

Also taking part in the festival is textile artist, teacher, designer and maker Nicola Perren. She is fascinated by quilts, especially whole cloth rather than patchwork quilting, and she makes both functional and purely decorative quilts.

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As a teacher she works with community groups, this is an area of research interest for her – she has a PhD in communal practices in crafting.

“I’m particularly interested in quilts as a process for communal working,” she says. “Quilting is about coming together and making together. That’s the approach I have to quilting and as far as I’m aware it is unique in this country.

"In the groups I work with we hand quilt together, build connections together, learn about and from each other and about making. We all work together to develop our ideas and we quilt alongside each other, working on one project at a time together.”

When Perren first became interested in community crafting, she struggled to find much information about it. “Then I found a 1940s American documentary film about making quilts by hand and I watched that film over and over again. I made drawings and from that I developed my collaborative way of quilting which came very much from an American approach.”

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Perren is also currently involved in Woven’s Growing Colour Together project – the ambition is to create a district-wide natural dye colour garden. “Kirklees is attempting to become the first region to create specially designed colour gardens which contain plants that can all be harvested to make natural dyes,” she explains.

The project ties in with the festival’s aims to highlight the environmental implications of chemical dyes and to find a more ecologically sound and sustainable way of doing things.

The festival is encouraging Kirklees residents to get involved and take the opportunity to ‘have a grow’, whether they are an experienced gardener or not, to create a colour garden in whatever space they have available – from a pot or window-box to an allotment, school garden or community space.

The natural dye harvested from the plants can then be used as pigments and stains for textiles, knitting yarns, even artist paints and prints. Perren is working on the project with Sheffield-based artist Seiko Kinoshita.

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“We were commissioned as a local and non-local artist to work together and with the community to make natural dyes, it’s been really interesting,” she says. “And we also have an exhibition opening at All Hallows Church in Kirkburton where we have developed an artists’ installation and we have created a wardrobe-based collection – looking at wardrobe basics and dyeing as a sustainable model for updating your wardrobe.”

The Woven Festival in Kirklees runs until July 9. Nicola Perren will be in conversation with fellow textile artist Dionne Swift about their work and the Growing Colour Together project on July 5. The Kirklees Quilts for Care Leavers Open Day takes place on July 7. For full programme details visit woveninkirklees.co.uk