About the workshop – University of Copenhagen

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Hungarian Kepenek. Photo: Jorie Johnson

About the workshop

Four complementary themes
The workshop
Workshop excursion


Textile craft and textile design have always had an important social, cultural and economic impact on both individuals and societies. The cultural heritage of textiles does not end with preservation and collection of costumes and other textiles in museums.
It includes living traditions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts, and the language and terminologies used to describe both the activities and the material outcomes.

Cloth and clothing have always been of interest to anthropologists and archaeologists. From both sides we are aware of each other’s research, in the same way we are aware of crafts people and their advocators. However, we tend to discuss our work in isolation: archaeologists have their forums and anthropologists theirs.

One of the primary aims of this workshop was to bring together archaeologists, anthropologists and craftspeople to better understand each other’s approaches, uses, theoretical frameworks and the practical realities of craft.
It explored the use of traditional textile craft across time and space with the aim of exchanging knowledge and gaining insights into each other’s agendas in order to have a better understanding of traditional textile craft and heritage frameworks.

This raises two related issues:

  1. Definitions of traditional crafts: we accept the widest definitions but as archaeologists our main focus is, on one-hand the knowledge we can gain from contemporary practices in order to understand the past and, on the other, how our experience of archaeological textiles can provide a framework for understanding traditional craft in the present.
  2. The study of traditional craft in disparate disciplines: in order to understand our shared cultural heritages and the possibilities, cultural diversity and continuation of textile craft there is a need for interdisciplinary dialogue and action between archaeology, anthropology and craft practitioners.

The questions we raise require global thinking on a number of levels. The workshop brought together experts from across the range of interests to discuss the issues faced in preserving, conserving, maintaining and developing textile crafts and the culture they engender, embody and express.

Together with the participants, we created an interactive, international and interdisciplinary network and platform for knowledge exchange which will allow approaches that are wide ranging and innovative in this area. This will make the importance of textile crafts and textile histories more visible than hitherto with a clear recognition of the intertwined relationships between textiles, textile crafts, people and cultural heritage.Til toppen

The workshop consisted of four complementary themes:

Theme 1


Jorie Johnson

Definitions of Traditional Craft-practice and the use of Terminology

Today the use of traditional textile craft and design often equates with an end product of high value, encompassing the notion of excellent quality combined with complicated techniques. It embodies time-consuming processes of production (the longer time it takes to make an item, the higher the value). On the other hand, a historically traditional design or craft technology can also be perceived as old-fashioned, expensive and conserving the old for its own sake instead of being seen as a part of a living creative dynamic. Traditional textile design might be considered conservative; textile crafts are often part of the identity of the community, and costume in particular is used to express belonging and exclusivity. The retention and re-use of traditional terminology and the invention of new terms can be used to track continuity and change. Terminology can also be cross cultural and used to uncover shared cultural practices from the past.

Theme 2

Photo: Thelmadatter

Relationship of Traditional Textile Craft to Modern Fashion Studies

Today there is a consciousness of the importance not only of preserving craft objects but also of encouraging craftspeople to produce and to pass on their skill to others. This is a challenge. Thanks to the industrial revolution, textiles have never been as cheap or as easily mass produced, with the sad consequence that traditional textile craft skills and knowledge are not always valued.
The skills required for the complexity of textile craft are partly forgotten. It is, of course, very time consuming to produce a textile by hand, and such textiles have become expensive with few people being able to afford them. The market for them thus becomes ever more restricted with the result that it becomes less advantageous for craftspeople to maintain their skills. As old (traditional) designs go out of fashion and it can be difficult for the craftspeople to use traditional techniques to produce new designs.
There is a negative circle of cause and effect which result in the diminution of traditional textile craft and a loss of knowledge. This loss is often invisible. However, many designers are now exploiting the potential of traditional craft in their work and revitalizing practices often with very ‘non-traditional’ ends. This theme will examine the dynamic between ‘tradition’ and modern fashion.

Theme 3

Photo: Alejandro Linares Garcia

The use of Traditional Textile Craft and Craftsmanship in the Interpretation of Ancient Societies

Textile implements often constitute the single most important type of evidence for assessment of the scale of production and technology of the textile industry in the past. These implements include tools associated with various stages of textile manufacture.  By combining textual, iconographic and archaeological evidence with research on textile technology we have a fantastic possibility to include textiles and textile production in general archaeological research even if no actual textiles are preserved. However, from this archaeological and historical point of view we need knowledge about traditional textile crafts in order to understand the techniques and the textiles produced in the past, and also to understand the powerful, but often invisible, influence of craft on societies.

Theme 4

Photo: Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Preserving Traditional Textile Heritage
and making it Visible

It is essential to preserve this knowledge and skill and also to make its importance more visible to a wider audience. In this workshop different aspects of the use of traditional textile craft and its importance will be explored in order to demonstrate the complexity of traditional textile craft and the many ways it is and can be used. The aim is also to discuss how we can collaborate in order to safeguard a traditional craft and also to create new and exciting possibilities within the field, and finally to make traditional textile craft more visible. This will involve textile researchers, museum curators, textile conservators, crafts people, textile designers and textile collectors from a wide range of disciplines and areas, museums, archaeology, anthropology, history, textile craft workshops, design schools. It is of course essential to collaborate with people who are active in traditional crafts now and we also recognize that there needs to be more dialogue that crosses the boundaries of economics, culture, heritage, design, tradition and the simple need to make a living. One of our aims is therefore to investigate the possibilities of creating a platform for this dialogue.Til toppen

The Workshop

The workshop lasted three full days with all participants engaging in every theme. Our aim was to engage all participants as active members throughout the workshop. 30 speakers and 20 additional interested and committed individuals were invited to attend. We designed a format that would make sure that all those who attended were prepared to speak to the subjects.
To this end, the invited speakers were asked to suggest relevant reading/research for the other participants, so everyone was prepared and up to date on the topics. This was of particular importance as we were entering new fields. Each theme had a series of 15 minute presentations followed by a general discussion session. After this, the participants were divided into break-out groups to continue the discussion led by experts in the theme.
Finally the break-out groups would present their approaches and perspectives will be summarized. Digital records will be available for all the groups so that a record of the discussions can be transcribed later.Til toppen


In the final session on the afternoon of day 3 the organizers presented a summary of the range of discussion and invited final responses. The outcome of the workshop will be presented on a website which will also present short videos of the presentations, and transcribed records of the various discussions. The website will initially be hosted by CTR, University of Copenhagen with the aim to make all proceedings as widely available as possible but also to give a possibility to continue the discussions. We think a website is the optimal way to facilitate the continuation of new networks and relationships created by the workshop.Til toppen

Workshop Excursion

To add to the dynamic of the workshop we arranged a post-workshop excursion 28th-31st of March to visit textile workshops but also some of the famous and exiting culture heritage Jordan.

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