Dry stone walls, socialism and social conscience, history of strong women, rain, music. This is what Pendle means to the ‘Banner Women’ of Nelson. Elena Adorni talks about their project with textile artist Zaneb Khatun.
Every Monday morning at 10 am, a group of retired women gather together in the back room of Christ Church in Nelson. Anne, Frances, Doris, Helen, Susan and Mary met for the first time 12 years ago to make a banner for the altar and they’ve been meeting every Monday since. They all live and grew up in Nelson and a few of them used to work in Lancashire cotton mills. Each ‘Banner Woman’, as we have nicknamed them, has expertise in a specific textile technique. Whether it is embroidering, patchwork, crochet or knitting, they bring their tools, fabrics and hands to the table to create tridimensional, imaginative and colourful banners.
I have been in the banner warehouse a few times. As they showed me the pieces of work, my hands wanted to touch the fabric to feel the different textures, whilst my mind started thinking about the amount of effort and meticulous work that the group has put in. If you join one of the sessions, time flies and you can actually understand why they have been meeting for twelve years. Helen has always interesting and funny stories about life at the time of the cotton mills, whilst Doris silently smiles and patiently keeps embroidering. Susan makes tea and biscuits at 12 and sometimes she unveils beautiful pieces of fabric on the table, whilst Anne and Frances have a laugh sawing pieces of patchwork together.
Each ‘Banner Woman’, as we have nicknamed them, has expertise in a specific textile technique. Whether it is embroidering, patchwork, crochet or knitting, they bring their tools, fabrics and hands to the table to create tridimensional, imaginative and colourful banners.
Since the beginning of May, the ‘Banner Women’ have been joined by a special guest. Zaneb Khatun is a young Pakistani Muslim Community Artist from Nelson. After having studying at Manchester Metropolitan University and Central St Martins in London, she focused her practice in delivering fashion and textile projects in the North West, especially in the Pendle area. As a contemporary designer, she specialises in modern techniques like dyeing, digital printing, screen printing and laser cutting. Super Slow Way set up a skill sharing project that saw Zaneb working together with the ‘Banner Women’ for over six months.
Zaneb and the ‘Banner Women’ developed a fantastic relationship. “Frances took my skirt home to mend,” Zaneb told me during one of my visits. “They like my sense of humour and they told me really good stories about their lifestyle. I think they learnt a lot about my culture as well.” The artist defines herself as “a modern muslim woman, quite westernised in fact”. When I arrived to the Church during my last visit Susan asked Zaneb:” why were they marching yesterday?” She referred to a march that a particular sect of Islam enact to celebrate Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday. A crowd of men, women and children marched in the streets of Nelson on a Sunday to celebrate Mawlid, which also means ‘togetherness’ and ‘cohesion’.
The banner that the group is working on will be called The Weaving of Pendle and will be permanently exhibited at the ACE centre in Nelson from the end of January. The work displays the combination of techniques that the group have been sharing: printing, stitching, piquét, embroidery to represent the cultural exchange that is at the hearth of the residence and inner in Nelson community.
A lot of this generation started working at 15 straight in the mills. My mum used to make all the curtains for the house and clothes for us as they used to be very expensive.
During my last visit to the group before Christmas I asked the Banner Women how they learnt their amazing skills. Anne learnt how to use a sewing machine when she was seven. Frances and Mary went to night school classes after work, choosing something different each winter. “Adult classes have pretty much disappeared now,” says Anne. “A lot of this generation started working at 15 straight in the mills. My mum used to make all the curtains for the house and clothes for us as they used to be very expensive.” They told me I can go and join them every Monday so that I can learn knitting and embroidering. Before I go, Anne shows me a collar she bought from Gawthorpe’s Collection. It is beautifully manufactured with intricate knots and white embroiders. Anne looks at me and says: “You see, we don’t want this to get lost.”