Raw Materials traces the forgotten industrial history of east London along the River Lea, supported by The National Lottery with funds awarded through the Heritage Lottery Fund. This year followed the textiles trail from the 17th Century to the present day, uncovering the stories of silk-weaving, calico printing, jute spinning and the invention of dye colours.
The exhibition includes the first ever synthetic dye – mauveine, invented on Cable Street, and incredibly Mahatma Gandhi’s spinning wheel, which he donated to east London’s Kingsley Hall after staying there in the 1930s. The show is also a chance to listen to east Londoners’ memories of the Jewish tailoring industry, with several émigré decedents sharing their stories of family businesses.
Newly commissioned artwork accompanies the historic displays from artists in residence Freya Gabie – whose 100-metre-long coiled rope incorporates a single gold thread, representing the golden fibre of jute – and Sarah Desmarias, whose textiles use traditional dye and printing methods.
The exhibition aims to bring the industries that once filled Hackney Wick, Stratford, West Ham and Walthamstow alive for visitors, remembering the innovation and creativity of a trade that was once at the heart of east London.
Project partners include The Drapers’ Company, London College of Fashion (LCF), Jewish Museum London, Victoria & Albert Museum, William Morris Gallery, and local archives from Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, Haringey, Newham, Tower Hamlets. The project is also driven and supported by a dedicated steering group of volunteers.