Written by Dani Abulhawa

During the summer I became involved with a project by artist Hannah Leighton-Boyce, which was centred around Helmshore Mills Textile Museum and the local community of Helmshore in Rossendale, Lancashire.

Helmshore Mills Textile Museum was once the site of two cotton and wool production mills. The Museum is wonderful – there is a wealth of historical information and really fascinating demonstrations of the machinery.

For Hannah’s project she became fascinated by a particular part of the production process – the carrying, hanging and drying of huge folds of fabric on tenter frames, which were located on the fields at the back of the mill. This would have been a group activity for mill workers, and the massive tenter frames hung with fabric, sitting 70-feet wide on the landscape, were said to have looked like huge sails.

The area of land used as tenter fields is now a housing estate. Hannah was donated an old aerial map of the area, which also mapped the lines of the tenter frames across the landscape. From this map, she worked with the people of Helmshore, and particularly the people living on what were the tenter fields, to map the placement of the old tenter frames through their homes and gardens.

Hannah’s idea for The Event of the Thread was to spin dozens of metres of woollen thread – made with wool from Helmshore sheep – and to work with the local community to pass the thread along the lines of the former tenter frames and through people’s homes and gardens, after which participants, neighbours and visitors gathered for a Jacob’s Join – a Lancashire term for a pot-luck buffet.

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The Event of the Thread was a wonderful project to experience. It took several months of preparation, and relied heavily on the generosity of the local community. Their interest in connecting with the history of the landscape, through bringing stories and objects relating to the mill that had been passed down through the generations, and their help and enthusiasm in organising and completing the final punctuating event.

I was particularly drawn to the project because of the way it approached social engagement by making connections with people in the local community and from the community to the shared history of their landscape.

Hannah is currently producing documentation of the event in the form of an artist book. For more information about the project and Hannah’s work, please visit: http://www.hannahleightonboyce.com/the-event-of-the-thread/

Image credit: Hannah Leighton Boyce

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