Between 16-24 September this year, the Leicester Textiles Festival will transform the city into a vibrant and creative textile canvas, weaving together sustainable artistry, community engagement, and the rich textile history of Leicestershire.
In an engaging conversation with the festival's project manager, John Coster, I set out to learn more about the festival in detail.
Walking the textile trail
A central feature of Leicester's Textile Festival is the textiles trail, which will guide audiences around sites in Leicester and connect the community through various activities and events.
John describes the festival's heart in this outdoor textile trail: "We have three outdoor venues, which are Jubilee Square, Orton Square and The Circle, which is at the bottom of New Walk by Mattioli Woods".
The streets of Leicester will turn into a canvas of creativity that people can wander through, take it all in, and learn more about the different variations of textile crafts.
John explains how these spaces will be decorated and used to honour textile arts. "Jubilee Square will be where the yarn bombers are.
"We’ve commissioned six artists and workshop leaders to go out and work with six different communities, and they're creating stuff that will be hung on triangular Heras fencing [temporary fencing].
"At Orton Square, there will be another Heras fencing, but in a 4-pointed star shape that Ali and Rebecca are specifically dressing.
"At the bottom of New Walk on The Circle, there's more of a performative space. So, there'll be a chair that people can patchwork and sit in and tell their story about being connected to Leicester".
John also describes some of the activities set to appear at these three sites.
"We’ve managed to connect these three spaces together with a trail that you can go around, and, on that trail, there are things like a film programme at the Phoenix during which the festival will play three films: The Devil Wears Prada, Zoolander and the Nettle Dress, which is a documentary".
"We've also got a shop at the Haymarket during that time, which is being run by two different pop-ups and the same at the High Cross with two different pop-ups".
"The second pop-up is being run by the Ukrainian community, who are taking it for four days. I've given it to them to be able to promote who they are as Ukrainians and what they wear and not be dominated by the mainstream media narrative".
Fashioning a sustainable future
In an era of making environmentally conscious decisions, sustainability sits at the core of Leicester Textiles Festival's ethos, from its upcycling practices to implemented actions to reduce the festival's carbon footprint.
John describes a real commitment from organisers Alison and Rebecca to showcase a festival committed to reducing waste, inspiring sustainable fashion choices, and promoting ethical practices that could reduce our collective carbon footprint.
"We've got somebody going to run a workshop called 'plant your underpants', which is almost like a STEM project". This creative initiative will combine science, technology, engineering, and math with a touch of humour and eco-friendly awareness.
"There's the charity shop tour, and that's fascinating because that's very much around how to go about creating a sustainable wardrobe and those sorts of things.
"With the pop-up shops we've got, they include clothing and items that have been intercepted on the way to the landfill, like vintage stuff that's been repurposed".
The physical movement throughout the nine days of the festival will focus on eco-friendly practices by using city cargo bikes to help move materials and structures around the festival sites.
"All of the movement within the festival should also be through the cargo bikes from Leicester City Council, which I've got a grant to be able to access. So, we're trying to make our movement within the nine days for the festival sites by bike and using specifically cargo bikes".
According to John, these steps will further normalise sustainable behaviour, and he hopes this will encourage other event organisers to implement similar practices and an eco-conscious mindset.
"We're trying to reduce our carbon footprint, but wouldn't it be great if any of the other festivals in the city turn around and go, 'I didn't know we had cargo bikes?'.
"The more we normalise sustainable practices, the more audiences will expect places to be carbon neutral".
Honouring tradition and Leicester's Textile History
Leicester is a city with deep-seated roots in the textile industry, with its history dating back to Tudor times and the city's economic development in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In my conversation with John, he described how honouring this history influenced the festival's organisation.
"Everybody has some kind of form of connection with fabrics and textiles. Whether that's because they brought it with them or because they've come here and that was connected to the job that they got.
"People might have stories from working in that trade as a specialist with trades like pattern cutters or, even people who have worked in shops have written blog posts about working in the fashion industry".
The festival will connect the past, present, and future of textile history in Leicester, something that is sure to evoke a sense of nostalgia and pride among residents of Leicester and those who have connections to its history.
In discussions with the city council, John highlights the drive behind creating this festival "was about making Leicester come alive.
"You can walk around where the heritage boards are connecting these well-known places where some big textile buildings and factories were that have been repurposed now into accommodation or former sites of things that are kind of related to that textile heritage".
"There's an invitation to people to find out more themselves by doing their own research or talking to people in their family".
John also emphasises the need for the festival to be part of Leicester's storytelling prowess: "I think everybody has a story to tell and a story to share!
"I think it's about encouraging people just to come along and look at the city in a slightly different way, where maybe it's not so much about the activities and things for you to see, but the opportunity to walk around and reflect on the rich history that we have".
Whether you are a seasoned textile expert or just someone with a passing interest, this festival aims to welcome you with open arms.
John discusses how the festival will illuminate the power of inclusivity and celebrate community.
"It's for everybody. It doesn't matter who you are. No matter where you're from, your size, the colour of your skin, your nationality, or your gender. It doesn't matter if you want to knit.
"There is this idea of community and coming together and the fact that textiles have no way to discriminate. There isn't a chance for that kind of thing. Textiles are for everybody.
"We've tried to put something on that's for everybody!"
Not only is the festival set to be an inclusive environment for the community, but the organisers and those involved in the festival's management are keen to prioritise its accessibility.
"I'm delighted to say that all the venues that we've got are fully accessible because we've tried to think about that quite a lot to normalise prioritising accessibility".
The 2023 Leicester Textiles Festival is set to become a talking point, leaving audiences with a sense of wonder and connection to the city's rich textile heritage.
"It's the start of something, and I think there's going to be a lot of stuff connecting the festivals together where people like me will be doing podcasts and interviewing people".