The Kilburn Tapestries
STUDIO / DESIGNER
Helen Delaney and Brenda Aherne
Fashion & Textiles
Design Challenge and Design Ideas
The design challenge was to create a community related/interactive textile that would be shown in a public space. The Kilburn Tapestries is a historic and cultural design commissioned by Brent Council. The objective was to capture a distinctive community in a particular area – as Irish designers we chose the London Irish community in Brent and their influence on the music and arts scene in Kilburn.
One of the obstacles in the research part of the project was the pandemic. We had limited access to Irish people to interview and in particular the older Irish community. We overcame this through selecting key London Irish figures who became instrumental to the concept, stories and design of the knitted textile. Primarily the finished piece features the work of multi-award-winning Irish playwright Enda Walsh and depicts stories from legendary music promoter Vince Power. The piece is the biggest design that we have ever produced.
How the brief was fulfilled
The Kilburn Tapestries knitted triptych is 325cm x 135cm. It is 100% merino wool using an intricate jacquard technique to maximise fine detail. This work was designed, hand drawn and translated into a technical spec by ourselves in preparation for the knitting of the tapestry which was produced in 2022.
It took a full year to collect and gather unique research – we gathered interviews, photographs, drawings, ephemera, heirlooms and videos in the Kilburn area. The tapestry depicts clever use of typography and graphic details, such as past and existing signage, book jackets, posters, magazines, shopfronts as well as historic and local Irish figures. The design was described as “an historic and cultural documentation of Irish creatives in London” on the RTE news.
The key features to the work are the design and composition of the three panels. Panel 1 is purely typographical and celebrates the work of Irish playwright Enda Walsh. Enda selected these words from his plays especially for the tapestry – a sombre reminder of Irish immigration for some. “Massive flats. Deadly, pitiful places that even the rats have abandoned, the cockroaches have done cockroaching and all that’s left is London people.”
Panel 2, dedicated to celebrated Irish music promoter Vince Power who championed many Irish acts that played in his acclaimed music venue ‘The Mean Fiddler’. Vince’s stories informed the design of this panel – featuring Vince, Phil Lynott, Rory Gallagher, Shane McGowan and Sinead O’Connor who all played/frequented the ‘Mean Fiddler’. This panel includes our own experience of Kilburn; we spent summers there as teenagers and went to the ‘Mean Fiddler’ in the late 80s.
Panel 3 is a portrait of Helen and her daughter Trilby Fox in their home in Kilburn. Helen has lived/worked between London and Dublin since she was 21 years old. The design includes collectables, heirlooms and objects. Brenda (in Dublin) peeps from the laptop. Magazines on the floor include Thread, Farmers and Masculinities mag – all which have Irish heritage.
The tapestry was launched and exhibited at NCAD Gallery in early 2022 and is currently part of the exhibition ‘Being Brent’ at Brent Museum.
This is a phenomenal piece of design work showcasing an important part of Irish cultural history in London. It brings together the lived experience of multiple design disciplines including theatre, writing, music and fashion, allowing reflection for how they each influence and inspire each other."