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Learning by doing: ‘Working out’ in craft research

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As part of a conservation and access project, the author was asked to replicate a set of rare thread-wrapped coat buttons that proved to be of a previously undocumented form. Using knowledge of the technologies of historic textiles and upholstery and extensive experience of image-based documentation, the thread-wrapping of the buttons was reconstructed through a process characterized as ‘learning by doing’. This involved: studying the surviving buttons and button fragments; working with large-scale images of the buttons to analyse possible wrapping sequences; making large-scale models to study the effects of thread-wrapping in practice; and finally, having worked-out (literally and metaphorically) the wrapping techniques, making appropriately sized buttons for a replica of a coat dated circa 1700. This paper demonstrates how knowledge creation (replicating the button-wrapping technique and the thread-wrapped buttons) was achieved by a dialectical process of manual discovery, comparison with published sources, and evaluation and adjustment ‘in the hand’.
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Keywords: action research; experiential archaeology; image-based documentation; practice-led research/research-led practice; tacit knowledge; thinking through making; thread-wrapped buttons

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent Conservator, Lecturer and Researcher, UK

Publication date: March 1, 2018

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  • The aim of Craft Research is to advocate and promote current and emerging craft research, including research into materials, processes, methods, concepts, aesthetic and style. This may be in any discipline area of the applied arts and crafts, including craft education.

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