Lady Ludd

A Near Now Fellowship project by Sophie Huckfield

Posted on 6th November 2023

Written by Sophie Huckfield

Supported through Broadway's Near Now Fellowship, a new project by artist Sophie Huckfield explores how the tools of traditional crafts can be reappropriated to create new ‘tools’ for ‘performance’.

This new project by Birmingham/London-based artist Sophie Huckfield makes use of a repurposed antique loom, donated by the Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington.

Historically, labour conditions have also developed counter-cultural movements and new forms of creative expression; in particular musical movements. Often, creative movements became a way to express opposition to working or living conditions.

For their Near Now Fellowship Sophie Huckfield is collaborating with music technologist Assistant Professor Juan Martinez Avila at the University of Nottingham's Mixed Reality Lab. They are repurposing the loom into a musical instrument, combining it with new technology to explore alternative forms of creative ‘production’.

Antique loom, donated by the Framework Knitters Museum, Ruddington.

Antique loom, donated by the Framework Knitters Museum, Ruddington.

The Luddites & Lady Ludd

The contemporary dictionary definition of a ‘Luddite’ is “a person opposed to new technology or ways of working”, e.g “a small-minded Luddite resisting progress". Now regarded as a derogatory term, history and the story of the Luddites have been reduced to a cautionary tale of the consequences of resisting technological ‘progress’.

The Luddite movement emerged in the East Midlands during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution and the harsh economic climate of the period, which saw a rise of difficult working conditions in the new textile factories. Luddites objected primarily to the rising implementation of automated textile equipment, threatening livelihoods and reducing the quality of goods sold. Luddites smashed machinery ‘hurtful to commonality’, such as the stocking frame, as a form of protest. Rather than passively accepting the loss of their jobs, workers formed to rebel against the existing order.

Engraving of Ned Ludd, Leader of the Luddites, 1812

Engraving of Ned Ludd, Leader of the Luddites, 1812

They were named after the mythical figure ‘Ned Ludd’, who, according to urban legend, smashed two stocking frames in a fit of rage. When the Luddites emerged in the early 19th Century, Ludd’s identity was appropriated to become the folkloric character of Captain Ludd, King Ludd or General Ludd, the Luddites' alleged leader and founder. The Luddites harnessed local folklore to craft a mythical identity which represented their plight and gave them a leader in which to anonymously and collectively sign off as. This fictional identity is still remembered to this day, but more importantly as a collective identity.

A more unexplored advent of this collective identity is Lady Ludd. Historical examples of Lady Ludd include women who incited food riots and frame smashing in the name of the Luddites, to male-identifying Luddites disguising themselves as Lady Ludd in order to avoid prosecution. Lady Ludd was of many genders and taking on the mantle of Lady Ludd consciously explored gender performance and fluidity for a range of aims, many in relation to direct action.

The loom will be a performance tool, to be played by Lady Ludd in their many forms.

Looking to the past and future

The East Midlands will be one of the areas most vulnerable to AI and automation technologies, with these technologies projected to displace thousands of workers in the near future. Women and migrant workers will be the most impacted by these changes as they are more likely to hold jobs with high automation potential.

Throughout their Near Now Fellowship, Sophie has connected with women and non-binary practitioners based in Nottingham, with the Notts and District Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, The Framework Knitters Museum in Ruddington and with technologists at the University of Nottingham to explore these histories.

Meeting the Notts and District Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers

Meeting the Notts and District Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers

The project aims to explore Lady Ludd in a contemporary feminist context, as our rights as workers are increasingly under threat through the implementation of new AI and automation technologies and as our lives continue to be affected by the Cost of Living Crisis and Climate Breakdown. How can Lady Ludd explore new forms of resistance or expression? How can we reframe histories of the Luddites for the present day?


Sophie Huckfield