On being Shoddy

shoddy adjective: shoddy; comparative adjective: shoddier; superlative adjective: shoddiest

1. badly made or done.

synonyms: poor-quality, inferior, second-rate, third-rate, low-grade, cheap, cheapjack, tawdry, rubbishy, trashy, gimcrack, jerry-built, crude, tinny, tacky, tatty, junky, ropy, duff, rubbish, grotty, careless, slapdash, sloppy, slipshod, scrappy, untidy, messy, hasty, hurried, negligent, lacking moral principle, sordid

“we’re not paying good money for shoddy goods”

“shoddy workmanship”

“a shoddy misuse of the honours system”

2. an inferior quality yarn or fabric made from the shredded fibre of waste woollen cloth or clippings.

the production of shoddy and mattress
Some time ago I wrote a post on Grayson Perry’s tapestries that were being exhibited in Temple Newsam house in Leeds. What I didn’t say about the tapestries is that even though the exhibition was in my home city, I didn’t go and see them. The building they were displayed in was an old country mansion a bit off the beaten track and inaccessible without your own transport.

There was other people though who boycotted the exhibition for a different access reason, the mansion wasn’t fully wheelchair accessible. 

Leeds has a fantastic network for disabled artists and craftspeople so you would think a venue we could all visit could be found, but the size of the tapestries and perhaps other ideas of having an old style craft in an old mansion won over. In protest several disabled artists decided to boycott the exhibition and hold an alternative exhibition at Leeds Inkwell Arts, a Leeds MIND project that runs art and craft groups for people with mental health needs.


I was in two minds of the boycott. On one hand I can understand the need for a large space with high security and no one knows what other factors were considered. The alternative exhibition, campaigning about the lack of wheelchair access was held in a building that also didn’t have full wheelchair access and although a chair could access the main exhibit the gardens and lower section of the building isn’t accessible, it sort of defeated the object a little.

A little voice mutters to me that the Henry Moore institute, next to Leeds Art gallery also doesn’t have wheelchair access throughout, as I found to my cost when I broke my ankle last year. I doubt though we can fight every art centre.

Following from that exhibition a second exhibition took place and opened last week in the centre of Leeds.


I know, I seem to have an air of a negative view so far, I don’t mean to have. Perhaps I’m tired. 

Sandy Holden created these stunning pieces using freeform embroidery on recycled plastics.


Natalie Sauvignon (who runs a weekly needle felting class in Leeds) created this stunning sea creature from left over wool and found objects.


Both artists responded to shoddy as a way of using waste materials and throwaway plastics.

Katy White created a holitic piece that asked you to involve yourself in the whole process of knitting. Wearing headphones you listened to the rhythmic sound of knitting and considered the piece before you as though looking at a music score.

Other artists considered the effects their disability has had on their lives.

Aoife O’Rourke created a piece hinting at two personalities, the hard outer frame we show the world and the fragile inner self we often keep hidden.

The exhibition exceeded my expectations, I suppose to my shame. Each artist was asked to present a piece inspired by one of a three issues:

The shoddy as a manufacturing process


The Shoddy treatment of disabled people

I left the treatment of disabled people to the end.

Lesley Illingworth created this stunning Story Telling coat with the intent to tell the truth and confront the lies. I passed the coat a few times and thought it was interesting, then overheard Lesley talking to someone about the coat.

Opening it wide she revealed the lining filled with names, some I recognised as MP’s, other unknown to me.

The MP names were those who voted for further cuts to disabled benefit cuts and each name was paired with a person from Calum’s list (http://calumslist.org) a growing list of people who have lost their lives due to recent government cuts to disabled benefit cuts.

I went to the exhibition a little bitter. I too have a disability and have had my weekly income halved over the past few months. With my own hurts of fighting to get what my years as a hardworking taxpayer assured me I would receive if I fell ill. The never ending decisions of whether to heat my home or heat a meal. But I carry on with the hope that one day, I will get through my Uni course, start getting paid, and not be in a position where an uncaring government can stop my money with no reason, whenever they want.

I didn’t want to face anymore stories of despair, and I want to be known as a crafts person without having the word ‘disabled’ in front of it. That, to me, would be pure equality.

But we must fight. Take a moment to visit Calum’s list, read a couple stories and know that there are thousands more to be told. One life not lived to it’s fullest is one too many.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

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