About this project
“Afro-Kilt: The Thread That Binds” is a feature-length documentary exploring the connections between Africa and Scotland through textiles. Specifically, the role of Anchor thread, an embroidery thread with a unique versatility of color and texture. Anchor thread originates from Scotland’s oldest thread manufacturer J&P Coats and is found in contemporary Nigerian embroidered robes.
Afro-Kilt Documentary & Photo Project
On Friday, June 8th, 2012, I will travel to Scotland and northern England to film this documentary. I will be interviewing museum curators, archivists, and former mill workers to see what is known about Coats' connections with Africa. I will be traveling to former mill sites and museums to photograph my findings. The film and photos will be on display in December 2012 at the University of Michigan's School of Art & Design. This project is partially funded by the Art School's Kelly McKinnell Memorial Award which ensures Kelly's love for travel and photography will live on. The Ann Arbor Fiberarts Guild has also generously showed their support of this project.
The J&P Coats Company is the tie that binds these two countries in an interesting history of trade and textiles.
The Glasgow Archives chronicle the evolution of J&P Coats from a small family owned company in the 1800's to the dominant global industry it is today. However, never has the lens focused on the African connections in such depth. The Nigerian use of Coats' Anchor thread in contemporary embroidery stems from the Coats family’s dedication to providing the highest quality product. The complete history of Coats trade with Africa and the impact their products made on the continent have yet to be entirely unraveled.
(example of anchor thread)
While post-colonial Africa struggles to establish itself as a “civilized” place in the media's eye, this research, documentary film, and exhibition will connect African culture and history to modernity in a positive way. Scotland too struggles to shake the stereotypes of Braveheart and Brigadoon. Hopefully this project will also provide more insight and truths about the tartan.
My goal with the “Afro-Kilt” documentary is to challenge the idea of "Colonizer vs. Colonized" and to instead look at two cultural practices as equals. By comparing two places that seem have nothing in common I aim to question connectivity. Through similarities in their own histories, colonial expansionism, trade, and textiles Nigeria and Scotland have surprisingly similar stories.
I hope that the depth and detail I've been looking into the ways in which these countries are on equal footing will inspire others to look at a place that may seem “foreign” or “different” with a more open perspective.
How exactly did Scottish thread end up in Nigerian garments? What specific roles do textiles play in Nigerian and Scottish culture? In what ways do weave and color in African marriage cloths identify a lineage? How do variations in tartan pattern differentiate the kilt wearer? How did the industrial revolution change the practice of hand spun cotton thread and the production of these cloths? What role did colonialism play in textiles in Scotland and Nigeria?
As much as this documentary is about the past - it is also about knowledge of the past and what people today know about these connections.
How You Can Help
The funds generated by your donations will help me in a number of ways:
- RESEARCH: To complete the research in the National Library of Scotland, Glasgow Archives, and Paisley Museum that hold detailed records of the J&P Coats Company.
- TRAVEL: Train fare to film interviews with curators, tour guides, librarians, and archivists. EX: Verdant Works in Dundee, Alloa to visit former Coats Mill sites, Edinburgh for the textile archives in the National Museum of Scotland, Paisley’s museum and gallery, etc.
- EXHIBITION: Costs upon return for printing photos, posters, booking a gallery, etc.
- SUBMISSIONS: film festivals & organizing screenings.
- EQUIPMENT: rental, batteries, insurance, extra-cost to ship.
SPREAD THE WORD: e-mails, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+), local thread or fabric stores, fibers guilds, family members, friends, neighbors, professors, students, clubs - any one you think would be interested!
I must stress that I must raise the ENTIRE $2500 or else I will not receive any funding – it’s an all or nothing attempt.
Michigan filmmaker SALLY VOLKMANN's documentary explores links between Africa & Scotland through textiles: @safari_sal">safari_sal">https://twitter.com/safari_sal">safari_sal: kck.st/LsML0A
(example of post cards and weaving)
I am an artist and filmmaker from Saginaw, Michigan. I've used art as a form of creative expression and way of understanding complex concepts since a young age. I grew up digging for treasure in my mothers sewing cabinets: buttons, lace, colorful yarn.
My first experiments with fiber arts was not until this year when the research for the Afro-Kilt project compelled me do a little hands-on learning. I was privileged to have instruction under fiber artist Sherri Smith through the University of Michigan's School of Art & Design. My passion for documentary was also discovered at A&D under the patient guidance of artist and activist Carol Jacobsen.
My first trip to Scotland was in the spring of 2009 led by Dr. Kali Israel as part of her "Modern Scotland" course. After this initial voyage I was intrigued by the scars industrialization left on the landscape and how gender roles were shifted in the jute capital of the world, Dundee.
The African interest was always smoldering in the background but officially entered the picture in 2011 during a self-guided research project with weaver and cloth anthropologist Elisha Renne.
However, the true inspiration comes from my father - without his love, encouragement, and wild bedtime stories I never could have dreamed this big.
Links to Professor's Work:
Sherri Smith: http://sherrismithfiber.net/
Elisha Renne: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~erenne/
(cover of Professor Renne's book that largely influenced my research)
Links in Common
::The 25 day adventure begins on June 8th-July 2nd!::
If you have any further questions, suggestions, or ideas please get in touch:
Send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow the project as it happens: http://afrokiltdoc.tumblr.com/
Follow on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/safarisal
Follow on twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/safari_sal
Thank you for your generosity & helping my dream become a reality!
Yes! The hope is that this portion of the filming and researching will be successful and enable me to apply to grants, show in festivals, and get into a graduate program to complete the conversation.
Support this project
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