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Students working with weaving equipment

UAL textiles students partner with India's NID and traditional weavers

Written by Cat Cooper
Published date 20 April 2020

Earlier this year, BA Textiles students from UAL’s Central Saint Martins and Chelsea College of Arts took a visit to India for field research as part of a unique co-design project with UAL international partner institution, National Institute of Design (NID).

Supporting traditional livelihoods

The UAL and NID students spent time with ‘dhurrie’ rug handloom weavers in the ‘Jawaja’, Rajasthan, a region rich with traditional craftmaking, where they met with local artisans and learned about the techniques of this centuries-old traditional dhurrie craft.

Their brief was to co-develop ideas and materials that the weavers can use to diversify their product range, applying their design and weaving skills to new products such as blankets, using cotton and wool.

Sustainable design

The project was guided by sustainable design throughout, with the students co-developing new products and that are a match between the sensibilities of the artisans and the markets identified for these items. The aim was to co-develop high quality products that are manufactured in ethical conditions and have a long lifespan and low carbon footprint.

In preparation for working with the weavers, the students had lectures and reading at NID on the ethics of co-designing with artisans and methods of craft/ field documentation.

Student perspectives

Michaela Johnston, CSM:

This small adventure was one the most amazing experiences and learning opportunities I have ever been involved with. India is a haven for weavers and any sort of craft/art based students, as well as a brilliant place to visit.

The project was a big learning curve for me, the other students were very interactive and worked extremely hard and it was lovely to be surrounded by such passion. We hoped to generate ideas alongside the weavers, through co-designing, whose success would outlive the time we spent there, so they could become self-sufficient in expanding and supporting their practice and livelihood.

Caitlin Hartmann, Chelsea College of Arts:

The ‘heritage’ project we engaged with was so different to anything I’ve undertaken at UAL and approaches design from a very different perspective so it was a really eye-opening experience.

The way of learning looked very much at the holistic nature of textiles and how we as designers are at the forefront of stimulating change within the design world and helping others with more challenging facilities to do this too. There was also a heavy focus on the business and professionalism component of the project as we were meeting a real brief for a real community of people whose livelihoods were depended on the success of our design innovation  - which was challenging but a very positive and humbling experience.

It broadened my understanding of what it means to be a textile designer so it really added to my experience of studying textiles overall as well as all the positives I gained from living in a new culture and society and all the friends and connections I made there.

UAL in India

India is a primary market for UAL and we are working to grow and secure our partnerships there, including our collaborative partnership with the National Institute of Design.

UAL is engaging further with NGOs, local and national government initiatives in India, and developing sustainable networks for teaching and learning collaborations, research and knowledge exchange.

The aim is to develop more of these kinds of exchange and collaboration across UAL Colleges, increasing student project activity and catalyzing international engagement alongside new research opportunities and challenges.