Behind the Scenes of the Fashion & Textiles Store

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The Museum Collective is group of young people aged 15-14, who meet regularly at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. One of the activities on offer to this group is regular creative workshops, inspired by our collections and buildings. Recently the group had a behind the scenes tour of the Museum’s Fashion & Textiles store, and were treated to a peek at the extensive fashion collection dating from the 16th century to present day.

Feeling inspired, the group decided they’d like to have a go themselves, and booked Traid to come and do a workshop with them in the Easter holidays. Traid are a fantastic charity working to stop clothes being thrown away.

Museum Collective member Elizabeth Carr, aged 18 will tell you more……

Most people don’t appreciate where our clothes come from, and t-shirts are especially bad for the environment. The making of one t-shirt uses as much water as we drink in 3 years! There’s also issues with the ways in which they are made – sweatshops and workers’ rights spring to mind but I’m sure there are many more issues to worry about.

So, if you’re going to buy t-shirts, it’s important to make the most of them, so upcycling is a great skill to have, and I’m really glad that Traid were able to teach us. One of the best things we discovered was how to make t-shirt yarn, which is very versatile. The easiest thing to do with your yarn is finger knitting, which we all managed to some degree – this can make jewellery, belts and handles for bags among other things. If you have something to weave on then yarn can also be woven.

The other key item we looked at making was a t-shirt bag. This was surprisingly easy, just a matter of cutting sleeves off and sewing up the bottom of the t-shirt. You could embellish them by sewing on other fabric or embroidering.

As soon as I got home, I wanted to share my newfound skills with my family and managed to find some old t-shirts – now I have a knitted t-shirt belt, two t-shirt bags and lots of yarn! If you ever get an opportunity to do an upcycling workshop, I would definitely recommend it!

Elizabeth Carr, Museum Collective member

Zoroastrian Marriage Apron, World Stories: Young Voices Gallery

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My Name is Neda, and I came to the UK from Iran in 2010. I am researching some of the historic objects in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery which have not been on display before.

One of these objects is, according to the auction house it was purchased from, a Zoroastrian marriage apron.

It is a large flat textile, formed of a red silk background square with two side panels which have been sewn onto it. The red square is embroidered with different symbols such as sun-faces, couples beneath trees, animals (cat, fish, bird, etc),  flowers and cypress tree leaves. The cloth consists of five panels; the two side panels have a green background with a floral pattern. I have not seen anything like this before in Iran, but my research revealed that dresses were sometimes re-cut and fine embroideries were reused after their initial use. Rebecca Bridgman, Curator for Islamic and South Asian Arts for Birmingham Museums viewed the textile later and said that she thought the silk brocade green panels may date from the seventeenth or the eighteenth centuries, and the red panels attached later on.

According to Mr Jabbar Farshbaf, a painter and specialist in Persian rug design, this needle work is called Zoroastrian stitching (zartoshti doozi). The Zoroasters believed that decorated cloths protect them from surrounding evils, and the more decoration on the cloths the more protective they will be.

The symbols reflect enduring concepts in Persian culture and originally may have been understood to tell stories. For example the sun with the lion face may symbolise masculinity. Cats, on the other hand, are associated with femininity, and their tail in a circular ring shape gives them spirituality. All plants, especially the cypress trees, symbolise strength and fertility.

Zoroastrian stitching is a style that is still being practiced in some areas of Iran especially in Yazd and Kerman where most of the Zoroastrian population exist.  During my research I found out about a workshop held among textile students at Tehran Art University in 2010. The workshop aimed to teach traditional embroidery techniques. According to the educator, Shirin Mazdapoor, who graduated in Designing Fabric from Yazd University, Zoroastrian embroidery has been used for centuries. At the birth of every girl relatives would begin to make her wedding clothes. Thus this art can be evidenced in a bride’s dowries and in celebration costumes. Silk thread is usually used with bright colours such as red, green and white. Zoroastrians do not approve of dark colours such as black. The symbols used refer to nature and include plants, flowers and cypress trees, or animals such as fish, peacocks or cats. A design is first drawn on the cloth, and then the embroiderer follows the designs in thread.

What is Zoroastrianism?

Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian religion. In Zoroastrianism, ab (water) and atash (fire) are agents of ritual purity. According to Zoroastrianism water and fire are respectively the second and last elements to have been created. Religious scripture describes fire as having its origin in the waters. Both water and fire are considered life-sustaining, and are represented within fire temples. Zoroastrians usually pray in the presence of some form of fire or source of light. Fire is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained. Fire is regarded as a great purifier and a means of communicating with Ahura Mazda (God); the fire itself is not an object of worship. Water is considered the source of that wisdom. Zoroastrians have enormous respect for the environment and the elements: earth, wind, fire and water.

Neda Kahooker, Researcher, Iranian collections

Gorilla Welfare at the Booth

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The Booth Museum has welcomed a visiting scientist to its collections once again, this time matching Professor John E. Cooper to the Keeper of Natural Sciences John A. Cooper! Professor Cooper wanted to see our collection of Gorilla material which consists of about 20 specimens including skulls and other parts of their skeletons. He brought his grandson Moses to see behind the scenes too and he proved to be a very able assistant.

Professor John E. Cooper and grandson Moses.

Professor John E. Cooper and grandson Moses.

Professor Cooper is a wildlife veterinarian with specialist training in comparative pathology and tropical medicine. He and his wife have lived in Africa, Arabia, Europe and the Caribbean. In particular he worked and lived in East Africa including Kenya and Rwanda where his expertise was used in the study of gorillas. He especially worked towards a better understanding of the factors that affect the health and welfare of these marvellous creatures. Now living in the UK Professor Cooper and others formed a Gorilla Pathology Study Group and amongst their work is the inspection of collections such as those in the Booth, looking for signs of disease for forensic studies. The Group will eventually publish their work, aimed at prima­tologists, veterinarians, biologists, osteologists and conservationists.

Professor Cooper’s visit will be the first of many that he will make as his studies of the Booth’s material grow in depth.

John Cooper, Keeper of Natural Sciences

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