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Reading College students see their work exhibited at The Museum of English Rural Life

tote bags

Supported Learning students from Reading College visited an exhibition showcasing their work on Wednesday 25 January. 

The students attended the Sew What? Exhibition at The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL), at the University of Reading on Redlands Road, which features a collection of tote bags made by the students. 

At the start of the project, students studying the college’s Work Preparation Horizons programme, visited The MERL to build upon a project about upcycling and took the time to explore the museum’s collection on display.  

Afterwards, the students upcycled clothing, donated fabric and home furnishing material into tote bags to encourage visitors to the exhibition to upcycle and consider more eco-fashion options, rather than choosing fast fashion. 

The students used a variety of hand-sewing and machine sewing techniques to create the bags and embellished them with buttons, flowers and hand-drawn designs to incorporate the ideas and stories that had inspired their designs, make them unique and inspire others. 

The bags are on display in The Nook, a youth-led area of the museum, which is designed to aid studying and reflection. The exhibition is part of Our Green Stories, which is a creative environmental campaign by Museums Partnership Reading, exploring environmental issues through the museums’ collections.  

Sew What? encourages visitors to think about history of the clothing industry and ways to avoid the impact of fast fashion.

Luke Vokun, aged 19-years-old, from Reading, is studying the Work Preparation Horizons programme at Reading College.

He said: “I enjoyed seeing our work on display for like people to see and admire. 

“The whole point of the exhibition is to encourage people not to throw stuff out, but to turn it into something new, like we did. 

“It’s widened my vision of what else I can make myself, because I make a lot of my own things and upcycle things. It’s also widened my abilities and skills.” 

Nicola Minney, Collections Researcher, The Museum of English Rural Life, said:

“We were thrilled to invite the students back to the MERL to see their tote bags on display as part of the #SewWhat? Exhibition.  

“They have worked so hard and created some really individual and beautiful designs, so it was wonderful for them to see the finished product.  

“They really took on the messages we shared about the impact of fast fashion which is reflected in the designs. The students should be very proud of themselves!”  

Qian Chen, Casual Teacher and LLD/D Lecturer at Activate Learning, said:

“It’s great to see the progress from the ideas to the actual product, and to see the students’ confidence growing. 

“It’s helped the students to meet a deadline, because we only had a short time from making them to finishing off. 

“Coming to the exhibition has helped the students to believe in themselves and see the product, they didn’t believe that the bags made by them could be shown in a museum, so physically seeing them has made them believe that they can achieve, if they work hard. 

“The students worked so hard and I’m really proud of them!” 

Students on the supported learning programmes have a range of learning disabilities or difficulties and are supported via Activate Learning’s award-winning LLD/D provision.  

The Sew What? Exhibition will be running at The Museum of English Rural Life from Tuesday 24 January-Sunday 31 December 2023. 

Find out about The Museum of English Rural Life’s Sew What? Exhibition. Discover programmes for learners with learning difficulties or disabilities at Reading College

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