Megan Allan (she/her)
Recent attempts to integrate ‘sustainability’ into the teaching of textile design in Higher Education (HE) are limited to material-centred solutions that continue to function within harmful systems of overproduction and consumption. Shifting focus to embrace the social and tactile nature of textile making could promote innovative practices of care, consideration, and community to facilitate long-lasting change.
This research questions the definition of ‘sustainability’ and gathers the perspectives of GSA textile design students, educators, graduates, and practitioners to summarise a collective interpretation of sustainable textile design. It highlights a need for comprehensive teaching about the environmental and social impacts of designing and making textiles to ensure sustainable resources are accessible to all.
Insights from the fieldwork reveal the significance of critical thinking and reflection when learning and teaching textile design. It also underlines the importance of GSA developing a tailored curriculum that reflects the values of its students, staff, and local community.
The research aims to provoke holistic change to learning and teaching in design HE and presents four ‘sustainable sensibilities’ of textiles to act as building blocks for future curriculum design within the GSA textile design department.
Phase One: Familiarisation
The research consisted of two phases of fieldwork; Familiarisation and Contextual Immersion. The Familiarisation phase involved one-to-one interviews with participants including textile design HE subject leaders, students, practitioners and researchers.
A topic guide was used to direct the conversations, allowing me to identify the participants’ interpretations of sustainable textile design and opinions of their learning and teaching experiences.
Phase Two: Contextual Immersion
The Contextual Immersion phase involved a weekly focus group with GSA textile design students. The purpose of the group was threefold: to better understand the specific barriers that students face when engaging with sustainability; the possible solutions that could enable students to explore sustainability; to provide an opportunity to test the effectiveness of facilitating a sustainability focus group.
The participants shared their knowledge, raised questions and discussed their concerns surrounding the impact of their design practice; they shared examples of best practice and resources; and took part in a peer-led skills sharing activity where one participant demonstrated how to turn an old t-shirt into new yarn. The focus group was a safe space for participants to share their interpretations of sustainable design, alongside opinions of their learning experience as GSA students.
Sustainable Sensibilities of Textiles
Findings from the research highlight that holistic approaches to learning and teaching; which balance theoretical and practical study, prioritise experimentation, knowledge exchange and creative community, are most effective at empowering students to explore what sustainability means to them and their practice. Having the space and time to investigate their personal motivations allows students to successfully articulate why they design and make textiles, highlighting that discussion and disciplinary literacy can strengthen our understandings of alternative, truly sustainable approaches to design.
I suggest that the GSA textile design department utilise 4 ‘sustainable sensibilities of textiles’ as building blocks for future curriculum design. The sensibilities were informed by findings from the fieldwork and highlight the necessity of GSA, and all educational institutions, to develop a whole-school, tailored approach to sustainable education that reflects the values of their students and staff.