On Teaching Fashion: Films for Teaching Textiles

This term, one of my classes is a basic fibers and textiles course. If you went to college or university and studied fashion design, you have probably taken this course yourself.   One way to illustrate many of the topics in the course is through films and video clips.   Above is a film made by Welsh sheep farmers and sponsored by Samsung, one of my favorites to introduce the topic of sheep and, therefore, wool.  Nevermind that the majority of my students are too young to know what pong is (or is that was?).

There are many films you may wish to add to your library which are not the typical $150 for 15 minutes of video produced by educational film services. The films below are relatively easy to find and relatively inexpensive.

Mill Times

Mill Times with David Macaulay: This begins with a simplistic discussion of how fiber became clothing for people living on farms in Colonial America over 200 years ago and covers the rise of textile miles in the United States, including early mill technology and workers’ rights. The film alternates between the main educational program and an animated fictional account of an Englishman who opens a mill in New England (no, it is not Samuel Slater, just someone very similar). I always skip the animated part of the film, 1) because it is not essential for conveying the facts, and would be a waste of valuable class time, and 2) because the costumes of the characters are so historically inaccurate it almost hurts my eyes to look at them. Cartoon characters’ costumes aside, the rest of the film is quite good, in terms of its historical facts and coverage of America’s early textile industry.

Basho to Spun Steel

Basho To Spun Steel : Comtemporary Japanese Textile Design:   This one is older (1998) and only available on VHS, but do not let that turn you off, and do consider adding it to your collection. Perhaps, if you are an instructor, you can have your media services department on campus translate it to DVD for you, if you no longer have a video cassette player for your classroom. It begins with Japanese artists handcrafting yarn and fabrics, using techniques that are centuries old, including raising silkworms, reeling cocoons, spinning yarn, collecting natural dyestuffs and dyeing, and handweaving. It then transitions into textile production with current technology, including modern computerized looms, heat-setting, and roller printing, including fabrics commissioned for Issey Miyake. I like to use this film because of the wide variety of examples it has which correlate with typical lecture topics in a class like this one.

Real Men Knit

Real Men Knit: This film never fails to amuse and engage my classes. First, it amuses them, and then, second, it intrigues them and holds their attention. It is basically a brief history of knitting and men’s traditional and current involvement in handknitting, first as an industry, and today, as a hobby, or for some, as in the case of Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably, who are among the interviewees in the film, the craft from the point of view of successful textile designers (if you missed my post on Kaffe Fassett, my college is not far from his home town, Big Sur, and in my classes I promote him every chance I get). The film is also an excellent segué into a discussion of gender and gendered crafts and technologies.

Lastly, below are two versions of a 24-second film of alpacas on a Devonshire farm. The first one I came across several years ago when preparing a lecture on specialty hair fibers. The second one I discovered recently, when I went to look up the first one in preparation for another lecture. My students definitely responded positively to both of them in a recent class meeting.  You will have to let me know which one you like best.

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