Home Ground

A project celebrating the unique characteristics of home and place through Football Clubs linked to craft traditions – Macclesfield Town (The Silkmen), Walsall Town (The Saddlers), Luton Town (The Hatters), Crystal Palace (The Glaziers) Sheffield United  (The Blades) and Stoke City (The Potters).

Lead Artist:  Zoë Hillyard
Location:  Macclesfield Town Football Club
Nickname:  The Silkmen
Delivery:  19 July – 4 September 2015
Material:  Textiles

We love our silk, (we love our silk)
In Macclesfield, (in Macclesfield)
We love our silk in Macclesfield.
We’ll show the world, what we’re made of,
We’re made of silk in Macclesfield!  (Silkmen football chant)

Walking around Macclesfield, it is not hard to spot evidence of the silk industry.  Proud mill buildings have found new purpose and weaver cottages, where workers would have set up their looms in loft rooms to get the best light, are still residential properties.  You trip over silk references all the time: The Silk Trader pub, Silk FM radio – there is even ‘The Silk Road’.

The project started at a mill in Langley, two miles from Macclesfield – home to Adamley Textiles.  Adamley have been printing fabric on the site for the past fifty years, using water from the nearby river Bollin.  We were shown the complex stages involved in hand printing world-class silks.  We also learnt how Adamley has adapted to changing times, introducing digital capacity to its production, though it continues to be the traditional skills that are in most demand from niche fashion markets which crave bespoke, British-made excellence. 

Adamley holds an extensive collection of archived designs;  including hundreds of design variations of the distinctive geometric micro-patterns, known as Macclesfield ‘neats’, often used for men’s tie fabric.  Adamley kindly donated a kaleidoscope of coloured silk off-cuts to use within our project. 

Our workshops couldn’t have kicked-off from a better location – in the Mcllroy suite at Moss Rose (home of the Silkmen) with a panoramic view of the pitch.  Later workshops were held at the Silk Museum, providing us with a wealth of inspiration from the museum archives.  We also had a visit to the wonderful Paradise Mill which transported us back in time to a weaving factory environment that remains largely untouched.

Working onto paper and silk and using a variety of printing techniques, we explored people’s experiences of living in Macclesfield and being Silkmen fans (and not!).  We were working towards making a series of souvenir football shirts, as ‘the signed football shirt’ is often a treasured possession for a fan.  A collection of silk covered buttons was also being generated (button production having been the first of the silk industries to have become established in Macclesfield in the sixteenth century).  Mother and baby groups, match-day visitors, behind the scenes club catering staff and player-royalty, all left their mark on silk fabric and afterwards, the most dextrous of us used it to cover individual buttons.

As everyone’s confidence grew, ideas emerged and were adapted.  We learnt from each other and discovered different skills and interests.  It was great to see breakthroughs in confidence – about working with hands, about drawing, about experimenting.  From the idea of making a few shirts, enthusiastic competitiveness overtook and a group ambition to make a full team of eleven shirts was established, including the goalie (in green!).  My role between sessions was to scan the artwork generated, compose the designs and digitally print them onto silk, so they could be further worked on during the next session.

As our shirt designs took shape, we began to consider the squad of ‘possibles’ for the team.  If our shirts were going to celebrate club, industry and local identity, I was interested to know who (or what) would make the final team line-up?  As predicted, there was hot debate!  In the end: a river, a patron saint, a local band, an industrialist, a local manufacturer and a moth, joined player-heroes and legendary coaches in the Homeground Silkmen team.

Commission Piece: The Silkmen Cup   

The ultimate souvenir of any football club is winning the cup – bringing home the trophy! 
I have created a cup to celebrate the town’s silk heritage and reflect the club’s determination and strength.  

I am known as a maker for having developed an approach to reconstructing broken ceramics using just fabric and stitch, which I call Ceramic Patchwork.  It is a new application of a traditional craft technique.  The structure of the commission piece takes on a particular resonance as the first, ‘inaugural match’, that the Silkmen played under the name Macclesfield Football Club in 1876, was against Stoke City – ‘the Potters’.  These teams, which grew out of their respective trades, clash again in my celebratory piece through the mixing of silk and ceramics.

The Silkmen’s records contain wonderful team line-up photographs alongside data that tracks in statistical detail the evolution of the club.  They were just numbers to me, but to the Silkmen supporters they are alive with club folklore. I have used ‘Macclesfield neat’ designs that are particularly structured in their formations, so that when seen on mass, they are reminiscent of these dizzying archives of statistics. 

The ‘tea cup’ form of the trophy references the legend that surrounds the discovery of silk – how a Chinese princess, whilst sitting in her garden drinking tea one day, scooped out a silk cocoon that had fallen into her cup from the mulberry tree above to find it had begun to unravel into silky strands. 

The colour-story of the piece celebrates the current team strip and MTFC logo, but also makes reference to stories surrounding the River Bollin, a crucial artery that supported Macclesfield’s silk textile industry.  I was struck by stories recalling childhoods spent playing beside the Bollin, when it regularly flowed with strange colours, depending on what colour the factory upstream was dying that day.  The Silkmen Cup reflects this with a gradient of blue to white from bottom to top.

Souvenirs From Home / 17 September – 6 November 2016 / Devon Guild of Craftsmen