top of page
  • Writer's pictureCraft Cotton Co

British Textile Biennial - Cloth Cultures

"The British Textile Biennial throws a spotlight on the nation’s creativity, innovation and expression in textiles against the backdrop of the impressive infrastructure of the cotton industry in Pennine Lancashire."

We visited one of these brilliant exhibitions, it was the Cloth Cultures: Stories of Movement, Migration and Making and it was held in a former mill owner's house, Haworth Art Gallery in Accrington. This exhibition was curated by fashion historian Amber Butchart.

This breathtaking portrait banner outside the gallery was created by Preston born artist, Azraa Motala. As a descendent of two generations of mill workers in Lancashire, Azraa invited other British South Asian women living in the North West to be painted wearing clothes of their choosing.

The group of powerful portraits by Azraa are at The Harris in Preston.


The first material highlighted was wool as it played a crucial role in medieval English economy and was so important it became entangled in the politics of the day. Wool can teach us about empire and colonialism, from paisley India to Scottish tartans.

Fine woven Kashmir wool shawls from India indicated a higher status symbol in 18th century Europe. Towns like Norwich, Edinburgh and Paisley became known for their mechanised shawl making.

Through trade, migration and the Atlantic slave trade, tartan has travelled across the world becoming identified in different areas and ethnicities from Scotland to Paris, Kenya, South Africa and the Caribbean. This jacket, designed by French designer Christian Lacroix is a modernised tartan from the early 90s, with highly embellished pockets and buttons.


Linen cloth was produced throughout Lancashire and Manchester by weaving flax from the medieval era, and by the late 16th century it was a major centre of linen production. It was often worn close to the body for hygiene and practicality reasons - it was easy to clean unlike harder materials like wool or silk.

The 'smock' began as rural workwear for men, but then developed into fashionable garments for women.


From the 18th century, mills were built across the country as the process of spinning and weaving cotton was mechanised, first water powered, then steam fuelled by local coalfields. The impact of the cotton industry in Lancashire had global consequences, the cotton plantations of the American South, harvested by enslaved labours taken from Africa provided the raw materials that fuelled the industrial revolution in Britain.

Adire cloths are dyed with indigo using resist techniques and are created throughout the Yoruba regions of Nigeria.

Chintz fabric and William Morris.


Silk cloth, fashioned from silkworm cocoons has been a luxury product for millennia, desired by many cultures around the globe for its soft luscious nature. Silk yarn was produced around Lancashire from the mid 17th century lasting until the 19th.

This Qing era robe with square sleeves cut in one with the body is a great example of the silhouette that became popular in European fashion at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Robes from China and Japan has previously influenced men's informal clothing such as the banyan, a garment that many gentlemen close to wear in portraits.

Overall the exhibition was really interesting and we would definitely recommend visiting, here is the website link for more information -

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page