Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting TANEWS to 80360, or email
Sew you think you know about history of textiles...
A project exploring the history and heritage of dressmaking in Asian communities in Bradford will culminate in an exhibition of costumes.
When women followed their husbands over from the South Asian sub continent in the 1950s many found themselves isolated at home in a strange country, far away from family and friends.
Dressmaking was a skill women were able to develop in the home and pass down from generation to generation.
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, many women in Bradford’s Asian communities made clothes for themselves and their families, and also ran dressmaking services from their homes. The world of home sewing empowered them, from adapting and tailoring fashion trends to earning a small income and getting to know other women.
Earlier this year Bradford community centre Womenzone was given a £49,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project aimed at preserving the memories of older Asian seamstresses for an oral history archive.
The project focuses on traditional South Asian garment the shalwar kameez – the traditional tunic, scarf and trouser suit – how it has changed over the years and its association with the British cotton industry from the early 1950s.
“Through making clothes, women developed links outside their immediate structure,” says project co-ordinator Mandeep Samra. “These women are now in their 70s and 80s and we feel their stories should be told.
“Today the shalwar kameez has become more of a celebratory dress, often coming ready-made and ordered online. Home sewing skills are no longer passed on.
“As well as preserving memories, we're trying to inspire younger women. We hope to create a legacy of young girls taking up sewing, and looking at designing and making clothes as a potential career.
“The world of home sewing in the South Asian community allowed women to empower themselves in a range of ways. Our project is capturing the history of home sewing, and the stories of the women who came to settle in Bradford and brought these skills with them.”
The first phase of the project has involved interviews with older women and reminiscence sessions.This summer a dressmaking programme is underway, leading to an exhibition later this year, showcasing shalwar kameez-inspired designs.
Bradford-based textile artist Naomi Parker is working with a group of women on sharing memories and traditional sewing skills.
Naomi’s projects include carnival and theatre costumes and a giant coat depicting the history of Bradford, on display at the Industrial Museum in Eccleshill . The women she’s working with will be researching, designing and making two very different shalwars – one traditional, and one super-modern – for an exhibition exploring how South Asian women settling in Bradford made use of their dressmaking skills.
“We’re drawing on women’s memories and ideas,” says Naomi.
“It’s our opportunity to make something really creative and theatrical. We’ll be researching the history of the shalwar kameez, sharing skills and learning new ones. Working with the group is great because each person brings something unique.”
The exhibition will be held in a city centre location in November.