Creative Making

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We’re Losing the Technical Skills

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I recently conducted research, in which I was talking to secondary school textiles teachers as well as higher education course leaders about the loss of textiles as a GCSE subject. It was pretty clear from what they said, that technical skills in students is diminishing. These reflections were supported by the higher education course leaders, who say that by the time students start their degree courses in fashion and textiles, the technical skills they come with are less than they use to be. The technical skills we are referring to are sewing machine skills, hand stitching, embroidery as well as pattern cutting knowledge and ability.

Since 2017, Textiles has been offered as a GCSE only as part of Design Technology in many schools across the UK. Unfortunately, the subject is taught as a quick 6-week stint as part of Design and Technology, seen as just another material to be worked with. Of course, this is true to a certain extent, textiles are just one material to be worked with, but what if you are a budding interior designer, fashion designer or you just plain prefer working in textiles, you would have to suffer the whole two years with just six weeks in the whole course dedicated to your material of choice.

However, many schools which offer the Design and Technology GCSE, ask the students to choose from the outset, which discipline they would prefer to focus on. That way their coursework, which comprises of fifty per cent of the total GCSE grade, can be worked on in the avenue they prefer, whether its resistant materials (wood and plastics) or textiles.

Perhaps the lack of interest in schools to teach Textiles as a subject is the perception of what textiles is and what the potential is for students who study it. As a textiles teacher having worked in secondary schools, I have memories of talking to confused parents whose children were doing exceptionally well in textiles. The parents at a nameless grammar school seemed to wonder why in fact they were sitting in front of the textiles teacher. When I revealed to them the list of careers available to their children if they pursued textiles at GCSE, they appeared shocked. Perhaps they had never heard of the careers I mentioned, or perhaps they had heard of them but hadn’t made the link between textiles in school to an industry career or realised the feasibility of those career choices.

Often when we talk about textiles technical skills, they can be associated either with being a dressmaker or simply traditionally mother roles such as darning socks or mending buttons for the family, which now seems outdated as new items are now available at the same price as a button used to be. As men and women now have equal roles in domestic duties, everything that has connotations

of preparing girls for domestic life, or hints of sexism have been scrapped. But the cost is disregarding the skills that used to be assigned to women. By scrapping or cutting down these skills entirely are we not effectively saying that what women traditionally used to do is less important.

Perhaps the outdated image of textiles is holding back all students who might consider doing textiles if they knew what it entails. Several teachers have declared during their discussions with me, that when they tell students the vastness of the textiles industry, boys as well as girls are surprised. From aviation to automotive to health and safety to furniture, art to agriculture, textiles are linked to everything. Once learned, the technical skills are an important tool in the belt of a graduate, who will not necessarily be a technician but even managers and co-ordinators within the fashion and textiles industry need to appreciate and understand them. Who will supply these roles if students and parents and even teachers don’t know what textiles is and the power of these technical skills.




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