Raw Materials traces the forgotten industrial history of east London along the River Lea, supported by The National Lottery with funds awarded through the Heritage Lottery Fund. This year followed the textiles trail from the 17th Century to the present day, uncovering the stories of silk-weaving, calico printing, jute spinning and the invention of dye colours.
The exhibition includes the first ever synthetic dye – mauveine, invented on Cable Street – William Morris’s original River Lea design, an original Georgian calico printed in Old Ford on loan from the V&A and incredibly Mahatma Gandhi’s spinning wheel, which he donated to east London’s Kingsley Hall after staying there in the 1930s. The show is also a chance to listen to east Londoners’ memories of the Jewish tailoring industry, with several émigré decedents sharing their stories of family businesses.
Newly commissioned artwork accompanies the historic displays from artists in residence Freya Gabie – whose 100-metre-long coiled rope incorporates a single gold thread, representing the golden fibre of jute – and Sarah Desmarias, whose textiles use traditional dye and printing methods.
The exhibition – with its accompanying map and walking / boating trails – aims to bring the industries that once filled Hackney Wick, Stratford, West Ham and Walthamstow alive for visitors, remembering the innovation and creativity of a trade that was once at the heart of east London.
Raw Materials: Textiles highlights a fast disappearing history and includes heritage maps, an online resource and a programme of events including walking and boat tours, artist-led workshops and discussions.