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Fabrics and those F-words

Patricia Tarrant-Brown asks why is textiles so undervalued. Textiles is the perfect vehicle for design and technology activity. A compliant material, it can adapt itself to the rigours of disassembly and shaping to designated tolerances as demanded by the national curriculum.

Working with fabrics takes the student into the world of specifications testing or evaluation in just the same way as working with plastics or metal. Why then is textiles still under-resourced and poorly positioned on DT curriculums?

The problem is one of perception, not just in the eyes of those with the purse-strings and the power, but also with its deliverers.

Applying the F-word theory, textiles is about fabrics - flimsy, frilly, feminine and frivolous. In a CDT world, it can be seen as a foreigner, a felt-making irrelevance. But the blame also lies in the home-made shopping bag mentality in which it is sometimes delivered.

While we persist in emphasising traditional dressmaking skills to a designer label generation whose understanding of manufacturing comes from such dynamic programmes as The Clothes Show, or producing textile outcomes with no marketable relevance, then the subject will not acquire the status and resources it deserves.

Sadly, textiles teachers cannot avail themselves of the kind of support, publications and training, offered to resistant-materials specialists by the Engineering Council.

The various national textile organisations have different agendas. The Textiles Institute has worldwide influence but shows little interest in secondary education. The National Textile Training Group wants to encourage textile education but this is beyond its remit. The British Apparel and Textile Confederation, with the Department of Trade and Industry, is poised to contribute material for use in primary and secondary schools. But teachers need more support to develop their subject and effect change in DT education.

Another stumbling block to progress is the dual nature of textile activity. It is found in both design and technology and art and design departments. Often teachers struggle to find the dividing line between these two activities and this uncertainty can be misinterpreted by timetablers to mean a lack of purpose and direction.

But there is such a strong case for the use of textiles in DT curriculum that it's about time more specialists harnessed their enthusiasm for their subject and said so.

As F-words go, forward-thinking and front-running are some which ideally describe its potential. Any opening of the debate in this area is to be welcomed.

Patricia Tarrant-Brown teaches textiles at Brownhills Community School, Walsall.

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