They each completed a City and Guilds Embroidery and Design course at Brunel College in the 1990’s, during which they visited an exhibition of costumes at the Holborn Museum in Bath. The superb embroidery, and brilliantly executed variety of techniques was a thrilling experience, and led to their first trip to the south western Chinese province of Guizhou in 1997. Two further trips followed in 1999 and 2006, when it became apparent that these unique skills are in danger of dying out with the economic progress of China.
They were able to visit extremely remote villages where costume is still worn in everyday life, some of which had never before received western visitors, occasionally attracting large crowds (and amused comments!) The visitors would be welcomed with song, dance, and light refreshment, after which the women of the village would demonstrate their own particular textile skills, which varied from area to area. These might be weaving, dyeing with indigo, calendering of cloth, and many different styles of embroidery.
Sally and Viv stayed in all types of hostelry, encountering some fairly bizarre “facilities”, along the way. One thing they learned was that “five star” hotels would certainly never earn that rating in Europe! Essential travel equipment included cotton sleeping bag “inners”, wet wipes, and earplugs to block out the karaoke played at full volume in bars in every small town until late into the night.
Meals generally presented no problems as food was always sourced locally and cooked very fresh. However, the visitors were sometimes presented with some unusual dishes such as duck beak portions, giant snails, lotus stem, goat, and innumerable strange kinds of vegetable, but had to draw the line on one occasion at accepting a dish of tiny, broiled songbirds. Despite all this healthy food, towards the end of each trip, like so many travellers, they would find themselves craving good old British fish and chips!
The collection of costumes they accumulated on these travels was exhibited at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bristol in 2007 and also at the Bankfield Museum of Halifax in 2009 under the title “The Happy People”. Sally and Viv give Powerpoint presentations to textile or other interested groups around the area*. They are members of both the Embroiderers’ Guild and Gordano Textile Artists, showing their own work regularly. See the website: www.gordanotextileartists.co.uk for exhibition details.