Four-year-old nursery children are not the students you typically find in Glasgow Clyde College’s weaving studio, but this week, accompanied by children’s author Malcolm the Weaver, a group of children from the college’s own nursery got their introduction to the Scottish textile industry.
Malcolm, whose real name is Malcolm Campbell, not only gave the children a hands-on experience of weaving their own cloth, but also shared his life story with them, read from his first book, Weaver of a Life in Colour.
Mr Campbell, originally from the Isle of Lewis, tells TESS that although family members had encouraged him to join the police – largely because of his height (6ft 7in) – he had been inspired by his mother, a mender of cloth, to follow her into textiles. He is now looking back on a 45-year career in the trade, which has included developing his own brands and a Harris Tweed tartan.
Mr Campbell – who picked up his nickname from the Queen herself, when he attended a Buckingham Palace function – believes that children these days rarely know how to create cloth, and says that a lot of schools have taken textiles off the syllabus.
In further and higher education, he says, there is also a tendency to turn technical courses based around textile designs into modules more focused on art and design to attract students. “My concern is that they are losing the technical aspect,” he explains.
Mr Campbell adds that much of the work to engage pupils, particularly from colleges and universities, focuses on 15- and 16-year-olds. “My philosophy is that the four- to eight-year-olds are the students of 10 years from now and the apprentices of 15 years from now. If we don’t catch them now, we have lost them,” he says.
“When I present the books to the children, it is just magical,” says Mr Campbell, explaining that the experience caused some of his young audience members to change their ambitions. “By the end of it, they want to be artists and designers. Often, their favourite colour changes.”
Mr Campbell’s visit to the college, during which he teamed up with staff and students from the textile department, is the latest of a number of initiatives run by the college to inspire an interest in the textile industry.
According to Scottish Enterprise, the sector has about 540 companies employing some 8,400 people; the industry is worth an estimated £835 million annually to the Scottish economy. The total production value of UK textiles is just under £9 billion, and is growing.
Jaqueline Farrell, head of fashion, textiles and jewellery at Glasgow Clyde College, says: “If you plant that seed really early on you can get them interested in careers in textiles.
“It is about getting them to do an activity that they would never get to do. It is about getting children interested in making things.”
She adds that it is important to encourage pupils to interact in projects that develop their hand skills. “That [skill] is being lost because children play digitally,” says Ms Farrell.
The impact of initiatives like Future Textiles, which gives pupils access to sewing workshops to introduce them to the industry, is already visible, she says, but the project with Malcolm the Weaver is “taking such outreach to another level”.
Carol Rankin, a first-year textiles student who was among the group that helped to teach the nursery pupils, says that she believes the experience could inspire the children. “I had no experience of weaving before I got to college, we did nothing like this in school,” she explains. “That would have made it a lot easier to get your head around it.”
A spokeswoman for the Society of Dyers and Colourists says: “The Malcolm the Weaver project is a great example of how we introduce children to the wonderful world of colour and textiles, and we support this and extend the learning with a range of educational resources and materials. By holding an event like this in an FE college, it is an opportunity to extend the educational reach even wider.”
The Scottish textiles sector
Around 8,400 employees
Value to the Scottish economy: £835 million per year
Exports value: more than £365 million
Total production value of UK textiles: almost £9 billion
The number of modern apprenticeship starts in fashion and textiles heritage: 105 in 2011-12; 209 in 2014-15
Source: Scottish Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland