Growing up in Newfoundland, Canada, Ann Buggey was used to having a lot of snow days from school. On cold winter days, she would spend time knitting or embroidering, skills she picked up from a young age. Her passion followed her into her adult life, where the senior lecturer in the Department of English now teaches an innovative class on the history of textiles.
Named Women and Textiles, Buggey describes this women’s studies course as “part lecture, part workshop.”
“For about two-thirds of the class, we do traditional lecture on the history of textiles like cotton, wool, soap and linen. It’s a broad survey of the history, economics and sociological background,” she explained. “The other third of the class is a series of hands-on workshops where students actually learn to turn basic raw materials into textiles.”
Before class, Buggey could often be seen around campus pulling a large cart full of materials like yarn, fleece and silk for her students to use in their projects. She had her students learn a variety of techniques, including weaving, needle felting, wet felting and embroidery.
“The students just love the hands-on part of the class. They love learning how to do things. They tell me they find it really relaxing and a nice change from a traditional teaching method,” she said.
Taught to knit by her grandmother, Buggey is passionate about helping students connect what they’re learning in class to their own family histories.
For a class project, one student researched arpilleras—small quilted appliqued wall hangings—after noticing them on the walls in a relative’s house. She discovered that those works were “a way for the women in her family to express themselves when they lived in Chile during a time of dictatorship,” Buggey explains. “She said it opened up a whole different perspective for what her family had gone through.”
“Another student’s family is from Puerto Rico. She did research on a particular kind of lace that’s produced there. She remembered her grandmother making it. She was surprised to find out how much work was involved. So, while the intention of the course is to teach scholarly material, I also want to help them connect with their own family’s traditions and gain a new appreciation for their older relatives,” she continued.
It was also important for Buggey to add community service to her class. This past semester, she had her students embroider gowns to donate to the neonatal unit at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. The gowns are primarily used as funeral garments for stillborn children.
“This type of project connects them to Chattanooga itself. When students come to universities, especially if they’re from a different town, it’s nice for them to get some kind of connection with the community. They really respond to it,” she said.
Buggey, who has spent decades doing research on the history of textiles around the globe, describes teaching the class as “icing on the cake.”
“This course is a great blend of my scholarly interest and a lifelong fascination with textiles,” she said. “It also connects me to my own family and my own history. It’s really been a pleasure to offer that to students and then to see how it develops and grows in them. Things like textiles may appear ordinary and mundane, but really, they have a whole story to tell.”