The British Textile Biennial exhibition celebrates Lancashire’s industrial heritage

T-shirts have long been used for promotion and propaganda

T-shirts have long been used for promotion and propaganda - Credit: not Archant

British Textile Biennial director Laurie Peake explains how the festival will make the best of Pennine Lancashire’s industrial heritage assets.

With its epic mills, grandiose civic architecture along the country's longest waterway, the Leeds-Liverpool canal, the Lancashire landscape tells the story of textiles. This first British Textile Biennial celebrates that story, bringing it up to date with artists, designers and the community that has textiles in its DNA and all centred on the handful of towns that in the 1880s were producing 85% of the world's cotton goods.

A whistle-stop tour along the M65 might just cover the highlights in a (long) day but each town has its own special weekend packed with events and workshops to enjoy - all free of charge.

A sample itinerary might start in the east, in the huge spaces of Northlight, the former Brierfield Mill in Pendle. Banner Culture! is the biggest gathering of these iconic cloths ever staged, brought together by a national call-out to heritage collections and campaigning groups in partnership with Mid Pennine Arts and Pendle Radicals. Banners have long been used as vehicles for personal and collective expression, from traditional 19th century processional banners to contemporary D.I.Y. messages of protest.

Queen Street Mill in Burnley, features Heirloom, a display of shirts embroidered by local men, telling personal stories of textiles and migration, alongside works and events by international artists Daksha Patel, Anna Ray and Reetu Sattar in the UK's only operating Lancashire loom weaving mill. Down the road at Turf Moor this season, fashion lecturer Jacqui McAssey has been snapping the female Clarets fans, throwing a spotlight on them and their place in football culture in her ongoing project, Girlfans. Jacqui showcases how Burnley FC's female supporters express themselves through their clothing in a specially produced fanzine alongside an exhibition of their portraits at the Burnley Mechanics.

Monumental textiles in the form of large-scale narrative embroideries such as the Bayeux Tapestry, have been long been used to illustrate contemporary events to become enduring material chronicles. In Gawthorpe Hall's Tithebarn you'll find Alice Kettle's Thread Bearing Witness, a major series of large-scale colourful and detailed embroideries which stitch together the stories and cultural heritage of refugees.

Stop off at a lesser known historic building in Accrington to see Frederick Gatty's historic experimental dye house at Elmfield Hall where artist Claire Wellesley Smith has been working with local residents exploring the dye techniques he pioneered, including the Khaki dyes used in manufacturing uniforms for the troops during World War One, and reimagining the abandoned dye house as it might have been when he was alive. Meanwhile, Eggs Collective are in residence at Accrington's beautiful Victorian Market Hall. Over the summer this trio ran a clothes stall that traded in conversation not cash, collaborating with market traders and customers to weave stories together to create a new performance that explores how cloth shapes the fabric of our lives, premiered on October 26 - for one night only!

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A short hop to Blackburn takes in T-Shirt: Cult, Culture, Subversion, an exhibition created by the Museum of Fashion and Textile and The Civic, Barnsley, that explores the multi-faceted role of this humble garment. Since its earliest incarnation at the start of the 20th century, the T-shirt has served as a means to broadcast social, musical and political passions and this exhibition spans over 50 years, featuring rare and ground-breaking examples in the extraordinary crypt of Blackburn Cathedral. And in the magnificent Cotton Exchange, the adidas Spezial exhibition celebrates the training shoe and its legacy as an important marker of when the young working classes found cultural expression in an item of clothing. Darwen born and bred adidas Spezial designer, Gary Aspden, presents the evolution of adidas footwear in this remarkable display, featuring over 1000 pairs of trainers, including numerous versions of the vintage adidas 'City Series' models and a full archive of the adidas Spezial range. Just across the road in the museum, stop off at Katab, an exhibition of Gujarati quilts, both contemporary and historic, and have a go yourself in a Saturday workshop. Meanwhile, the biennial's artist-in-residence, Jamie Holman gives an insight into the culture of Blackburn's working classes starting with workers' banners and the 19th century Blackburn artists, James Sharples and William Billington, through to the creative outpouring in the warehouse raves of the 1980s when the grandchildren of cotton mill workers transformed former workplaces into spaces of joy and liberation.

The British Textile Biennial runs from October 3 to November 3 and there are many more things to see and do across the area, including unique events and performances to be announced nearer the time. To find out more, go to

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