Final thoughts

The Fabric of Bradford project has now come to an end. In two years over 500 Bradford residents were engaged directly and indirectly with our work exploring the textile dyeing heritage of the city.

Participant responses were very positive about engaging with heritage through learning activities. The diverse communities engaged during the project meant that there were a multitude of personal narratives that participants brought to the sessions and this is evidenced by some of the evaluations we recorded. Links were made between the nineteenth century newly industrialised city and the changes that were experienced by the community then, and with some of Bradford’s needs as a post-industrial city now. Several projects used sessions to explore the working patterns and immigration history of the city in the context of the nineteenth century and personal experiences of coming to Bradford were also shared. These were unforeseen outcomes but showed how embedding stories of community and industrial history in a project can strengthen connections for participants lived experiences today.

‘It’s quite exciting and I’ve not done anything like this before but I remember people dyeing from my childhood in Pakistan. Our history is all there, my mother dyeing scarves and cloth in the back garden, the history of Bradford.’

‘I didn’t grow up in Bradford and didn’t know any of the textile history. It has been amazing to learn all these new things. I have gone on to share this information with members of my family. The course has given me roots in my community. I was fascinated by our visit to the Colour Experience and the discovery of mauveine dye in 1856. I have been looking at colours and wondering when each colour was invented.’

‘This project has made me more aware of the community around me. It has brought the community to life for me. There should be projects like this everywhere, linking up with other ones, sharing stories so we can do things together. There’s a story in every pocket in this community.’

This resource will remain available to view and we are happy to share a short film by Ruth Webber made at one of our community projects in West Bowling. The project in this area explored the heritage of Bowling Dyeworks and the village that was built alongside it, Ripleyville. Participants worked on communal textile projects and had the opportunity to explore their own heritage and narratives of coming to live in the area alongside learning about the past.

We are continuing to work at one of our community dye garden sites at Hive in Shipley, a space that now grows 45 plants with a connection to textile dyeing or processing heritage. There will be an open garden on Friday 26th June 1-4 as part of Shipley Festival. All are welcome.

A publication about the project will be available as a PDF, if you are interested in viewing a copy please leave your details in the comments section of this post.

It has been a pleasure working on The Fabric of Bradford. As the co-ordinator of the project I would like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the work we have done, all our partner organisations and volunteers and the community-based participants who generously gave their time and shared their experiences.

Claire Wellesley-Smith



Our project is coming to a close at the end of this year. To celebrate the work that has been done we are exhibiting images and work from the project in Bradford over the next two weeks.

The project has explored the textile dyeing heritage of Bradford with participants from around the city for the last two years. We have used a combination of textile-making activities, community-based reminiscing projects, the creation of dye plant gardens and archive research as our process.

The exhibition is at the Colour Experience, Perkin House, Bradford BD1 2JB. We will be open between 1 and 4pm on November, 11, 13, 17 and 18. All welcome.

The image above is of Sow: Sew, a collaborative community textile made with the input of sixty stitchers and many others who nurtured and cultivated our dye gardens. It is displayed on the railings at our Hive dye garden.

Sharing histories


In West Bowling The Fabric of Bradford has been working with members of the local Nepalese community. The participants have been sowing seeds for the little dye garden that was started last year.

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The group has also been dyeing wool for a knitting project, working with culinary dyes from kitchen waste and spices. We have discovered that there are many similarities between the traditional dyes of Nepal and those that were imported to be used in the Bradford Trade (specifically indigo, madder and walnut).


The group is creating a knitted garden with the yarn they have dyed.


Inspired by the stories of Bradford, the textile history of the city, and their Nepalese heritage, two men in the group made us a spinning wheel. They collected scrap timber around West Bowling and worked from memory to make this fantastic tool for the group.


Here Maya is shown spinning yarn (from local sheep).

Words and textiles


The language we use is full of clues to our past and to the heritage of the places we come from. Within the English language connections to textiles feature frequently. Even the word ‘clue’ is derived from the anglo-saxon ‘cliwen’ or ‘clew’ which came to mean ball of yarn. Some of our Fabric of Bradford groups have been exploring our language and heritage through the words that we use. We have discovered that from fairy tales to tales from Bradford mills, fabric and textiles play a big part in our daily communication in ways that we might not notice.


We have looked at common phrases, sayings, words, figures of speech and stories that come from fabric and thread. Each group has thought of something different. We have also looked at language very specific to the textile processes used around Bradford and West Yorkshire. As some of our participants worked for many years in local mills we are learning about scrooping, rouzing, doffing, crabbing and flyping, and the work done by scavengers, lap-joiners and piecers*. We’ll be drawing together these ‘loose ends’ (*and defining all these words!) as part of our exhibition later this year.

A new year


Hive community dye plant garden, January 2013


Hive community dye plant garden August 2013

The Fabric of Bradford is now beginning the second year of projects and activities based around the city. We have set up traditional dye plant gardens in Shipley (at Hive), in Manningham (Midland Road Nursery and Children’ s Centre), in West Bowling (St Stephens Community garden) and at community allotment projects. Traditional dye plants have also been planted in the permanent displays at Roberts Park. Participants have tried traditional dyeing using locally grown dye plants and locally produced fibres and fabrics; ‘Talking Textiles’ sessions have included recording of oral histories and textile-making activities, and sessions exploring contemporary issues around sustainability and textiles have also taken place. We have also delivered shorter term events raising the profile of the project including: delivery of family activities at Saltaire World Heritage Weekend; a two day event at Hive for families with younger children; and taster and peer-to-peer skill sharing sessions at a refugee allotment project and at local libraries. Our partner organisations have provided sessions as part of these learning activities including talks and workshops at the Colour Experience and Bradford Textile Archive and regular horticulture sessions from BCEP about growing and using traditional dye plants. These projects and sessions have been delivered to families, schools, older people, mental health groups and BME community organisations.

The feedback from our participants has been really encouraging:

‘I only had a patchy idea of the textile and dyeing heritage and now I have a bit more. It’s been an absolute pleasure to approach heritage through this route.’

‘I’m fascinated by what we’ve been introduced to and the wealth of archive materials and links with the global textile industry.’

‘I have really enjoyed finding out about the history of West Bowling and particularly the dyeing heritage. Learning about dyeing has made me think about other things I can try and do.’

In 2014 we will continue to work across Bradford in a variety of community settings including InCommunities and with Age UK. There will be an exhibition of work from the project in October (venue to be confirmed) and an online and paper resource will also be available.

Would you like to get involved in the Fabric of Bradford? If you are interested in participating, volunteering or you know of a group who would be interested in taking part in the project please contact Claire Wellesley-Smith at Hive tel: 01274 598928.

Talking Textiles

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The view from St Stephens Church West Bowling where we have begun a new phase of our project called ‘Talking Textiles’.

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Participants have been using maps from different periods since the early nineteenth century to think about their community and the changes they have experienced while living there. It is particularly interesting to see the growth of Bowling Dyeworks and the appearance of Ripleyville, the industrial model village for the workers, on these  maps.


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We have been translating some of our memories into stitches, to add to a community cloth that celebrates the area and the heritage. Recording some memories of the area and how people used to live and work there has also begun.  For those newer to the area it is great to hear these stories and to gain a sense of the history of the place. Newer arrivals have been able to share the journeys that have brought them to West Bowling.




French marigolds and weld grown at Wibsey Community Garden with a group from BCEP


Flax, Japanese indigo, weld and french marigolds from the Hive garden.


Collecting berberis.

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A bumper crop of woad.

At our Fabric of Bradford dye gardens around the City it is harvest time. Excellent summer weather has given us great crops to work with.  Groups in Wibsey, Manningham, West Bowling and at Hive have had the opportunity to dye using fresh plants, or prepare them for use at a later date.

Working directly with the raw materials has given us the opportunity to talk about how the processes and colours  were relevant to the Bradford Trade. A new series of workshops starts next week called ‘Talking Textiles’ which will draw on the huge community based knowledge of the textile heritage of the area, through reminiscing and making activities.

August dye garden

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Sun and rain in abundance has given our dye plants a great boost.

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The yellow bed is full of blooms and we are regularly collecting them for drying and dyeing with later in the year.

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It has been interesting to see the habitat for insects and birds develop – we have lots of butterflies and bees, goldfinches and a pair of magpies who particularly like the red bed.

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To enhance the habitat further a group at Hive put together an insect hotel.

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Weld plants flowering in their first year. As a biennial plant this is a bonus crop for us.

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Flax, indigo and woad are thriving.

We welcomed visitors from the Society of Dyers and Colourists and Bradford Textile Archive to the garden last week. Both organisations are partners in the project and have kindly provided sessions for some of our groups. It was great to be able to show them how much the project has developed and also to use some of the plants to do some indigo dyeing.

Dye garden in July



Indigo, flax and woad.



Violas in the blue bed.



A kind volunteer made us some new plant labels.



Teasel, one of our collection of plants related to the textile trade generally. They were used for carding wool.


Looking up at the elder, soon to be a wonderful crop of berries for the birds, and for our dye pot.

We are having some wonderful weather in Yorkshire and it is a busy time in the dye garden. Watering and harvesting flowers is a daily activity and we are looking forward to starting some on site dyeing very soon.  If you are interested in getting involved with the project please get in touch with

A day in Saltaire

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Dye workshop for the day, a shelter in Roberts Park.

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Students using the indigo vat.

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Discovering designs on fabric.

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Logwood dyed samples on the line.

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We spent the day yesterday in Roberts Park, Saltaire, as part of a personal development day for Year 7 students at Titus Salt School. The day was designed so that students at the school could learn about the textile heritage of Saltaire, and about the dyeing process in a fun hands on way. As part of the experience students had a heritage walk around the village, planted dye plants in the park that will become part of the permanent display, and designed and dyed fabric samples using dyes with a strong connection to Salts Mill and to the park itself.