Welcome to Expressive Pockets

Welcome to Expressive Pockets

By Malcolm Hamilton, 6th June 2023

In this blog post, Malcolm Hamilton – lead of the Expressive Pockets project, offers a window into the project’s progression through their emotive fabrics co-design workshop process. Throughout their work so far, the team have been collaborating with a number of Connecting Through Culture as We Age co-researchers online and in-person at Knowle West Media Centre Factory Makers Space.  

Our prototype project draws on shared cultures of embroidery, knitting and other making and adapting of fabrics. We’re using the embellishment of fabrics as a medium to express our identities and hold conversations related to identity as we age. The team is made up of designers, facilitators, creative technologists, textile artists and co-researchers with lived experience of later life who are interested in fabrics. The whole wider project is immersed in the ethics of codesign and gives us an opportunity to really lean into that context and challenge ourselves- where process and inclusion are at the heart of the work, rather than using it as a term to allude to community cohesion.  

We have been exploring the theme of ‘Age Rebellion’ through the process of making a personalised pocket for a jute bag. The idea came from Fanny- co-researcher and linchpin of the project. “Once a shopping bag was loaded with groceries, my keys always sank to the bottom and were hell to find, rummaging through the shopping when I got back to the front door!” She sewed a pocket onto the outside of the bag to hold them. 

Having developed an in person workshop process at KWMC Factory Makers Space we are now playing with a hybrid version that could involve anyone at home, using a box of materials we send them and anything else they have to hand. It’s a process many of us played with over lockdown- we loved inviting people to utilise the ‘craft materials’ contained in that kitchen drawer full of gubbins we all have. (You can see Play:Disrupt version of that here)  

For Emotive Fabrics, participants choose an image and 3 words linked to a conversation starting theme (Age Rebellion for instance); we UV print the image onto a fabric patch at the KWMC Factory and make iron-on vinyls of the words, plus a few themed icons. We post the kit to participants, then in the workshop embellish the image- ironing on vinyls and attaching whatever else one has to hand, in whatever way one can. All the while we facilitate a conversation around the subject matter. People feed into the conversation and share discoveries on the craft process.  

Half of the participants were online, half in person at the factory makerspace. All participants were co researchers on the Connecting through culture project – older, marginalised citizens.  

The impact the process has had on participants, has been really illuminating. For Amy it brought back memories of working in textiles in Hong Kong as 15 year old. Erica had been hesitant to join as she imagined fabrics meant sewing- inaccessible to her with failing eyesight, but the process was inclusive and she really enjoyed it. In Ruby’s case, she wanted to emulate peace and calm as a way to cope post stroke. It was a simple process, with easy to access tools at home, that allowed for deep conversations about identity and ageing and offered a hands-on, enjoyable creative experience and end product for the participants.  

One of the most interesting elements in terms of codesign learning has been through conversations around Age Rebellion. We had been looking for a focus- a provocation or theme to provide inspiration and a starting point for the pockets. Drawing on the idea of Craftivism we had been looking at gentle protest and activism, but none of these words felt right for this participant group. We settled on Age Rebellion as it had been a theme in an earlier CTCAWA workshop. For some this worked well- what do we mean by Age Rebellion? But to others it was challenging and felt inconsistent with the direction of the project. This is where codesign gets really interesting- it holds space for our lived experience, our heritage and life journeys and how they affect our relationship to the connections and crossovers we experience all the time. Age Rebellion can link to Extinction Rebellion- protest and non violent activism- but for some of the group, Rebellion is really about war, blood violence and death. Carmen-a Jamaican participant voiced this really well – “This is deep, it’s deep for me, this is where I came from. If it wasn’t for the slave rebellions in Jamaica I might not be here”

For another, of Chinese Hong Kong background, Rebellion also felt uncomfortable in terms of ageing. As a conversation provocation it was rich and useful, but going forwards we might look at subversion, expression or something else. There is a balance of being mindful of the impact words can have, and creating a space where all feelings can surface and be shared. Carmen had two images- one of her playing music with the words ‘I am Here’ – visibility and identity and life- and one of Paul Bogle -a national hero who led slave rebellions. She had found the word rebellion tricky, but when showing the pictures connected them. “I am Here’ is also linked to Paul Bogle- because he is why I am here.”  

The invitation to take different roles in the project has been refreshing. From a personal perspective- although I am ‘project lead’ – I am not designing and facilitating workshops- which at Play:Disrupt is one of my main duties. The team is full of skills in these areas, so I am able to step back, have an overview, and put time into ensuring team members- particularly co-researchers- are comfortable, have transport, refreshments and that the lines of communication are clear. One of our researchers started in the role of ‘tester’- she did not want to be involved in the planning and design or developing the business case- she wanted to play with the toys. Now, roughly half way through the project, she has asked to be more involved and is joining the core design team. This was about confidence building and about understanding what the new role might require. We are all able to flex in the roles to make it work.  

Connecting through Culture as we Age is the name of the wider project and it has been beautiful to observe the myriad of ways that participants find to connect, particularly in a hybrid setting where the initial foundation of a video call is already somewhat stilted.  

  • Poem in a pocket – Karen is a poet and based in north Wales, some distance from the rest of us in Bristol. It transpired that the day of the hybrid workshop- 4th May was Poem in your Pocket day in the US. Fanny was delighted at the coincidence and wrote a piece which she then read to the group.
  • Scarves. One of the participants is of Hong Kong origin and uses a translator to support her in the sessions. For her ‘Age Rebellion’ theme, she had chosen an image of her scarf collection and the words ‘Classic never goes out of style’ Jeanne was concerned that Amy may feel somewhat distanced from the group with communication obstacles of Zoom and translator, so suggested that we all wore scarves in the workshop to connect with Amy.

Our aim is to develop a process, with helpful assets, that organisations connected with ageing populations use as an activity to connect. We’ll also include simple tips for hybrid workshops, such as sitting with light in front of you and placing the camera on a table where viewers can see what you are making with your hands- this presenter style set up really helps to connect the group via interesting moving image, rather than a grid of heads facing forwards. Assets will include video demonstrations and walk throughs, Flow charts and Miro boards to take you through the process and perhaps even packs to post out- drawing on our Balance Box work with KWMC in 2021. There will be many more discoveries I’m sure, as we develop the process, the assets and find the best way to share it with the world.  

A Pocket full of Memories

Youths’ vivid golden days

Filled with new adventures

Learning Life in myriad ways.

A pocket full of memories

Some secrets never told

Hints at past misdemeanours

When foolish but bold.

A pocket full of memories

That created the now me

And future escapades and follies

Risk falls and damaged knee.

Fanny Eaton-Hall

The ‘Expressive Pockets’ team is:  

Annie Lywood,; Becca Rose,; Fanny Eaton Hall, Carman Groves; Ruby Bennet; Dani Hale KWMC – Knowle West Media Centre and me – Malcolm Hamilton

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