Masters students investigate 20th century Iranian objects

How can looking at Iranian textiles collected in the 20th century inspire 21st-century masters students to embrace new technologies?

When National Museums Scotland’s curator Friederike Voigt invited Edinburgh College of Art to get involved with the Edinburgh Iranian Festival, our first thoughts were of students weaving, stitching, and pattern making in rich earthy coloured materials.

This is 2019. It is important students learn from the past, whilst ensuring they connect this understanding with the future. To shake things up, we invited masters students in textiles and in jewellery to work together studying Baluch embroidered textiles and Turkmen jewellery items, thus encouraging collaboration and cross-disciplinarity.

Woman's dress embroidered panels on the front, Iran, Makran, Baluch, early - mid 20th century
Woman’s dress embroidered panels on the front, Iran, Makran, Baluch, early – mid 20th century

This provided an opportunity for students to expand and deepen visual and contextual research methods, introducing new approaches for generating new data across their disciplines with selected objects as the starting point of the process.

This supported the potential of true collaboration and teamwork, and the notion of the novice challenging the expert. We don’t always learn and innovate simply through relying on experts. Sometimes the innocent question of a child stimulates us to challenge our own accepted interpretation or understanding of design, material, a technique or technology.

Friederike Voight presenting objects to students at the National Museums Collection Centre.
Friederike Voigt presenting objects to students at the National Museums Collection Centre.

A field trip to the National Museums Collection Centre in Granton encouraged close study of the physical objects through sketching (with pencil) and photographing (on phones). We could even smell the textiles! A visit to the Museum’s lab provided students with a deeper understanding of how objects are analysed and conserved. The more information we can uncover the deeper our understanding of objects becomes and subsequently the more we yearn to know.

Jenny Gray and students studying pieces 
Jennifer Gray and students studying pieces at the National Museum Collection Centre

New technologies can facilitate this. Scanning and printing as a research tool captured fine detail and new data. Asking questions of expert curators Friederike Voigt and Sarah Worden provided another layer of insight into the stories of the individuals who wore these pieces, and the people who brought them back here to Edinburgh. Such sessions incited deep discussion and curiosity that then fuelled individual creative responses stemming from the collection.

3D models of jewellery
3D models of Turkmen jewellery

Students analysed materials, construction, cultures and traditions, generating new data and personal perspectives for the pieces. They explored research and investigation through visualising ideas and questions using collaborative drawing as a means of discussion and brainstorming to drive themes and connection to our contemporary understanding and experiences of the world we live in. 3D scans of the collection provided additional depth and understanding of the physical nature of the collection pieces.

Student sketchbooks and design development
Student sketchbooks and design development

Outputs are connected with the past but driven by the future.

Presenting student textile samples at the Edinburgh Iranian festival
Presenting student textile samples at the Edinburgh Iranian festival

We expected weaving stitching and earthy materials, we got threads wrapped in metal, 3D printed casts for textile embossing, a challenge to imagine ourselves as a nomad today, and social media symbols in a CAD embroidered hoodie.

CAD embroidered Symbolism hoodie designed by students
CAD embroidered Symbolism hoodie designed by students
#IfIWereANomad selecting items and portrait
#IfIWereANomad selecting items and portrait

Further reading

Edinburgh College of Art news

Making is connecting, David Gauntlett, Polity (2019)

Edinburgh Iranian Festival 

#EdIranFest

 

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