Intersectional Feminism and Fact - Women’s Experience in Practical Workshops


Abstract: Discovering through making is recognised as a critically significant and valuable part of life, yet women are most often in the minority both in education and later in their careers if they choose furniture making as their vocation. This paper proposes that dealing with feminist issues will make for a workspace that would benefit all genders.

Intersectional feminist issues highlight dynamics that have often been overlooked by feminist movements and theory in the past, challenging preconceived ideas about feminism and presenting a positive environment for women, men and others, helping to dismantle the rigidity of a gender binary society for the benefit of all people. This paper is presented by two women with first-hand experience and a story to tell. You would think that our 33 years difference in age would mean that our tales of working in workshops would be somewhat different, and in some ways they are – think mobile phones, digital technologies, globalisation – but in fact our experience of women remaining in the minority within this field remains almost identical.

Intersectional feminist issues in workshops are rife. They were in 1981 when Lynn started her training and honestly, things haven’t changed a bit: here we are in 2019 and women are still massively outnumbered by men in furniture workshops and on furniture making courses. This paper will discuss those issues and present ideas for a revitalised workshop ethos for the future. If we are to combat feminist issues in this industry we need something new: new formats; new approaches, new thinking, new courses and new environments within which to experiment, inspire and excite. Evidence based ideas are providing some good starting points. And women are taking control.

Using images, true stories and film, the presentation will highlight the issues we face, and will propose some pragmatic, creative and positive solutions for the future. There will be no fluff either - we will be honest and we will be factual. As they say at the start of TV documentaries, some viewers may find the content distressing, but for most we hope it will be enlightening! The end of the story is optimistic. We will present The Ten Commandments, The Mantra, The Ministerial (any colour but not pink) Paper, The Legislation, The Terms and Conditions of what we believe needs to happen. This will be presented as a song, a poem and/or a film; the final presentation format is yet to be decided. But what we do know is, that it will be memorable.

Dr Lynn Jones:

Bio: I love to inspire people, especially women, to design, to engineer and to make things, enabling them to enjoy a career like I had as a furniture designer earlier in my own life. My PhD completed in 2003 focussed on breastfeeding and furniture giving me a great insight into designing something significant for women. Working in education for over twenty years, I developed many collaborative educational projects with leading companies such as Herman Miller, Vitra, Lago, and Ercol and with schools and universities across the UK. Since the Furniture Department I headed at Bucks New University closed three years ago, furniture design education is now my primary interest. I was encouraged to start my own business in 2016, Lynn Jones Associates, coaching and helping furniture graduates find a pathway after graduation. I continue to be an External Examiner for furniture courses across the UK and Ireland, at Birmingham City University, Kingston University, London Metropolitan University, Nottingham Trent University and Dublin University of Technology whilst still teaching Furniture Design one day a week at Rycotewood College in Oxford. Basically, I am waving a big flag that says “Save Furniture Courses!”. I have two amazing daughters who make things and a partner who is a furniture maker with a workshop in Thame, Oxfordshire where we live.

Harriet Poppy Speed:

Bio: I am a young designer maker who combines a background in illustration with a love for making with natural materials. My work encourages others to assert more value on curiosity and play through the objects they use. My passion is to use my skills to create opportunities to pass on practical knowledge, as well as opening up new channels for discussion. Originally from the North East of England, I moved to Oxford to pursue my studies, where I now continue to live with my tools and my van. I graduated from Rycotewood Furniture Centre in Oxford with a first-class honours degree in Furniture Design and Make in August 2018. It was there that I founded THIS GIRL MAKES. My experiences demonstrated how furniture design and manufacture still largely remains a male-dominated industry, from education right through to commercial workshops. My multi- dimensional project aims to celebrate women in craft and design to inspire and educate a new generation of makers.

My initiative is supported by the fact that I now work as a design engineer for established furniture company, Ercol, based in Princes Risborough. My work has also rewarded me with many other exciting opportunities. The most significant are: attending the 2017 LINLEY Summer School; organising the 2018 Rycotewood Graduate show in partnership with Heals; being awarded Best Undergraduate Research Poster Design at Oxford Brookes University’s 2018 Get Published Conference, which outlined my research project entitled A Maker’s Guide to Grief; and winning Best in Show at the 2018 Young Furniture Maker’s Exhibition.