The conservation grazing program in Brighton and Hove is designed to protect chalk grassland in and around the city. The project relies on the collaboration of volunteer shepherds (The Lookerers) who are trained to help care for the sheep. Usually in the mornings and afternoons, the Lookerers spend some time making sure that the sheep have got all that they need to graze happily. They are the protagonists of this cloak-tale about traditions and identity.
The idea of the Cloak was born from wondering about:
How a garment could be created to tell the story of a group of people? How this textile artifact could hold and transmit information about these people? These ideas grew and other thoughts like locality, interests and shared activities were incorporated into the project to define the community.
The Lookerers were an interesting group to investigate because they were already part of a local textile chain; and lookering, as an activity, would provide the criteria for the design; reflecting and informing the details of this activity.
The Cloak, as a shape, celebrates one of the most antique structures found in the history of dress. It is also associated with shelter; ancient shepherds had tent-cloaks made of felt to safeguard themselves on cold nights. The cloak was a perfect shape to symbolize the idea of legacy that was sought.
The shell is made from a reclaimed tent and industrially mounted. The tent provided the right character as a material for an outdoors garment (waterproof and windproof) as well as meaningful in the idea of ‘keeping safe’, meeting the criteria of heritage that was pursued.
The lining of the cloak is handmade felt; a mix of Romney Marsh and Wensleydale fleece from a local sheep farm. The felt has been traditionally produced and the montage has been entirely done by hand needlework.
The interior image where we can see the map of Brighton and Hove council and the ‘sites’ where the conservation grazing points are located has also been handmade using techniques of couching (stitching a thick thread on a fabric with a thin thread) and needle felting (interlocking and compacting wool fibers by using pointed barbed felting needles).
Time and Space:
The space informed the local materials and possible craft skills to be used. Wool, as one of the ancient textile resources of Sussex, was the perfect material for the cape and felting was the textile skill that better represented the shepherd’s gear.
The idea of space is also found on the map designed on the interior of the cape.
Time has been represented by the practical and esthetical fusion of past and present; melting the contemporary lookering activity with the inspiration of past shepherding.
The time applied into the learning process of creating the Lookerers Cloak, was highly respected and enjoyed and seen as one of the outcomes of the project. Also the strategy used to build the cape was related to: exploring the experience of ‘real time’.
How long it really takes to hand-make a garment? The understanding of ‘real time’ was the journey from gathering the wool to making the felt and sewing the cloak.
As an alternative to todays fast culture, the slow design movement suggests slowing down the speed of our consuming behavior to reach a more harmonic way of living.
The Cloak has been inspired by three of the six principles of slow design:
3-Reflect: Slowly designed objects induce ‘reflective consumption’.
4-Engage: Slow design processes are ‘open source’ and collaborative.
6-Evolve: Richer experiences can emerge from dynamic maturation of artefacts over time.
There is knowledge, that almost like rituals, people used to put in practice. Increasingly, many of these ‘rituals’ are getting lost in time, without the opportunity to be transmitted and kept alive.
This project talks of the small stories that we can keep alive, the knowledge we inherited from our ancestors that we can transmit to our descendants.
When we are talking of end of tradition, we are talking about neglecting identity, the kind of identity, which we are responsible for, the one we should proudly sustain and create. And in times when the formation of the identity of a society lies in the hands of a profit and growth paradigm, the urgency of remembering who we are should be on the horizon.