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Weavers of the Clouds: Chelsea Textile Design students to exhibit at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Women at an assebly in Peru, above the Patacancha Valley, Photograph by Max Milligan
Women at an assebly in Peru, above the Patacancha Valley, Photograph by Max Milligan
Max Milligan, Women at an assembly in the heights above the Patacancha Valley. From the book 'Realm of the Incas'. Max Milligan (detail)
, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL
Written by
Hannah Alton
Published date
09 May 2019

This summer the Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street will be hosting Weavers of the Clouds, an exhibition that explores the processes and practices of both historic and contemporary Peruvian costume via garments, textiles, photographs, tools, illustrations and paintings. Twelve students from BA Textile Design at Chelsea College of Arts will be amongst the exhibitors as they proudly display the end result of an in-curriculum project sponsored by contemporary Peruvian textile and clothing company KUNA.

KUNA work with designers to create garments from Andean fibres – alpaca, vicuna, llama or guanaco. Alpacas are kept in herds on the flat Andean plains between 3,500 and 5,000 feet above sea level. They were domesticated 5,000 years ago, and there is speculation that the fibres of their wild ancestors were used for spinning cloth by people up to 4,000 years before that. The fibre from their coats is exceptionally light, warm and soft, and the history of alpacas and the people who have expertly farmed them for so many generations is closely intertwined. Their impact on the natural environment is low, and they provide one of the few reliable sources of income in this remote area of the world.

KUNA helps to ensure the conservation and breeding of these South American camelid species by the Grupo Inca is supported, and by choosing to work with them in this way they keep the amazing historical lineage of traditional Peruvian textile design alive in contemporary garment ranges.

Ornate contemporary Peruvian shawl by Kuna
Kuna, Origin collection, KUNA
, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL

It is this contemporary, innovative design outlook at KUNA that made the partnership with Chelsea’s BA Textile Design course such a natural one. Students on the undergraduate course are introduced to all aspects of textile design including dyeing, knitting, screen printing, stitch and mixed media textiles, digital embroidery and weaving. With support from leading practitioners in textile design, they are encouraged to use in-depth research to support their design practice, and to consider their work in the wider context of social, cultural, environmental and historical contexts. Access to in-course ‘live projects’ such as this one gives students vital commercial experience and helps them to locate their practice in a professional context.

Following a briefing to students at the end of 2018, KUNA donated the natural fibre to be used in the design project and asked students to make designs and fabric swatches that were influenced by Peruvian culture. As well as twelve places in the Weavers of the Clouds exhibition, KUNA also offered a two week internship at their company headquarters for two students (who will be recent graduates when they travel in July) to really get a hands-on experience of what it means to work in a luxury textile design environment that is firmly rooted in its community. Judges of the submissions were impressed by the “clear thinking, in-depth research and technical mastery” demonstrated by the students.

Takanakuy peruvian women in traditional dress
Photograph by Sebastian Castenada, Takanakuy. Photograph by Sebastian Castenada
, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL

Winner Ella Wall said of her research experience “I was inspired by the use of bright and impactful colour in Peruvian textiles. I found that traditional Peruvian dress contained an amazing combination of colour and pattern that came together to create a cohesive appearance that seemed to unify a community. I felt that the use of these bright colours was something I should carry into my own work. I looked at imagery of Peruvian people in brightly coloured clothing standing in vast landscapes that were built up of much more muted, earthy tones. This inspired me to use the alpaca yarn in its already beautifully natural shades alongside very brightly coloured dyed cotton, which I felt echoed the imagery I had been inspired by.”

Ancient Inca tunic textile art
Courtesy of Paul Hughes Textiles, Tunic (Unku), Inca Culture, circa 1400 AD. Courtesy of Paul Hughes Textiles
, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL

The Fashion and Textile Museum is a cutting edge centre for contemporary fashion and textiles in London. It's base is on Bermondsey Street - an area of London that has links to the textiles and associated industries (wool stapling, glue making, leather tanning) that can be traced back to Roman times. Founded by designer Zandra Rhodes and now operated by London’s Newham College, the museum showcases a rich programme of exhibitions and provides a hub to inspire the next generation of designers.

The exhibition Weavers of the Clouds: Textile Arts of Peru will include the winning designs by Chelsea students, as well as work by Meche Correa and Chiara Macchievello, photographs by Martin Chambi, Mariano Vivanco and Toni Frissell, never before seen costume illustrations by Francisco Gamarra and paintings and illustrations by Pancho Fierro and Elena Izcue.

Weavers of the Clouds will be at the Fashion and Textile Museum 21 June - 8 September 2019.

BA Textile Design students’ work can also be seen at the Chelsea Undergraduate Summer Show, 14 - 22 June.

Find out more about studying BA Textile Design at Chelsea College of Arts.