Alison Foster

I am drawn to the past, inspired by how people used to live, together with that which is unspoken, forgotten and hidden. I am fascinated by historical clothing for the intimate connections to the wearer and the memory and stories that garments may hold – what they tell us about the past and how this links to the present and future. My current work is inspired by my ancestral connections to the Lancashire textile industries. I am creating a series of reconstructed ‘historical’ garments that may have been worn by imagined women who worked in the Lancashire cotton mills throughout the Industrial Revolution (mid 1700s – early 1900s). The garments are intended as a canvas from which to tell stories of these women’s lives, their occupations and impact for their health.

Spinners’ Phthisis
‘Spinners’ Phthisis’ was a respiratory disease among textile workers caused by the inhalation of cotton and flax dust. It was named in 1831 by Dr Kay of Manchester, though was identified in the early 1700s. Workers developed a dry, irritable cough upon entering the mill, which eased upon leaving. Those preparing raw cotton in the carding-room were most susceptible, described by novelist Elizabeth Gaskell as being ‘…poisoned by the fluff’. Over time, severe disease progression could prove fatal. Today, the condition is known as Byssinosis, a completely preventable disease.
Techniques: Hand stitching, dyeing
Materials: linen, cotton, silk, reed, oak.