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WHEN I COOK I TEND TO USE the recipe as a guide and intuitively judge proportions and combinations of ingredients. This method can lead to unexpected and intriguing results, although the downside is that they are rarely repeatable. I enjoy the physicality and spontaneity of the process – it’s similar to working with textiles. The boiling up of vegetable matter and the anticipation, especially if it is material one has grown and harvested, is similarly satisfying. In this issue we focus on natural dyes. Stephen Szczepanek introduces us to the alchemy of Sachio Yoshioka, pg 32, a master dyer whose skills have diverse applications from a Chanel lipstick to religious artifacts.
In mediaeval societies it was the men who were the embroiderers, weavers and dyers. By accident rather than design we have filled our issue devoted to colour and dye with men! We look at three men who work with fabric: David Weir, the Director of the Dovecot in Edinburgh, pg 68; Mark Pollack in New York, pg 66; and Nigel Atkinson in London, pg 64. We also feature the work of several talented Japanese men, including Yohji Yamamoto and Akihiko Izukura.
If one were to do a poll of the general population and enquire what was their favourite colour, chances are the overwhelming response would be blue. There is something about blue that calms the soul, and of all blues indigo has a special charm. Pulling yarn from a vat of indigo and watching it turn from acid yellow through green to turquoise and then to the richest of blues is just about as close to magic as one can get. Gracie Burnett experienced that beauty in a corner of China, pg 52. Of course indigo is not the only blue, and Jenny Balfour-Paul reminds us of the rich European tradition that surrounds the production of woad, pg 44. Of equal importance in the ancient world was madder, now used in the furnishing fabrics of Les Indiennes, pg 48, and put to an unexpected use in the dyeing of cricket balls.
All of the books and exhibition catalogues referred to in this issue are available at the selvedge bookshop – please see our extended stock at www.selvedge.org. If there is anything you would like that we don’t stock, please let us know and we will do our best to track it down.
Polly Leonard, Editor
We asked our contributors to tell us about their favourite textile recipe.......
GRACIE BURNETT pg 66
SHARRON MARCUS pg 90
JENNY BALFOUR-PAUL pg 44
Next time you find youself chopping onions put on an extra pan of water for the skins. Boil them hard for 45 minutes and then remove the skins, add some natural fiber or fabric, and keep simmering. You will end up with a vibrant yellow. Overdyeing with indigo creates an infinite variety of green, from the palest sap to a strong emerald.
I don't use recipes much but work extemporaneously with naturally colored vegetable fibers. I soak a wet textile in various highly concentrated teas in order to modify its color. Then I may work back into it with natural mineral pigments and/or graphite diluted in water, applied as a light stain or wash. Using thin coats over and over gives control over the final result.
My favourite method of indigodyeing, which I call ‘Aqualeaf Indigo’, creates gorgeous turquoise colours. Liquidise dew-covered fresh leaves of woad or ‘Japanese indigo’ with cold water, sieve the liquid and dip into it fine silk or wool for several minutes. Rinse in cold water and hang out to dry. A magical way of conjuring colour from nature. Correspond & enquire
Dear Editor, As an ecologically aware textile student, I was thrilled to see articles on this increasingly important but often overlooked topic in issue 09 of Selvedge. It is easy to be drawn to textiles for their fine aesthetic qualities. We respond to them intuitively, sensually and emotionally: yet it is also necessary to rationalise more objectively the value of exquisite textiles when they are damaging not only to the environment, which supplies the raw material, but also to the wellbeing of the people, who provide the skill, the labour and the artistry.
I was also delighted to find you had compiled a comprehensive list of eco textiles companies and designers as well as charities and recycling schemes. I am continually researching what is out there and this is a wonderful resource. I was not even aware of half the things currently in production until I came across Selvedge’s list. But perhaps this is because the designs themselves cannot compete with the rest of the fashion world? On the whole I was disappointed when I visited the websites listed. There seemed to be nothing particularly inspiring and some designs were drab if not hideous! There were some interesting ideas but the final execution was often unsuccessful in function or appearance. I respect the designers for their ethos and their dedication to tackling such necessary and complex issues, but in some cases the ethical impetus seemed to be used to excuse weak design.
I am pleased that attention has been drawn to these companies through articles and exhibitions, but we have a long way to go. I went to see Well Fashioned: Eco Style in the UK at the Crafts Council and came away with mixed opinions. My appreciation of the designs grew on closer inspection and by reading about the materials, processes and artist’s intentions, but I still question how I would have felt about the pieces without their ethical justification. The exhibition does attempt to rethink design in response to important issues. There are some novel ideas and a couple of ingenious solutions, but I found where one aspect was addressed by a design, there were many that were overlooked. I was more impressed by the discussion I found on the website that delves deeper into the complexities of ecological “fashion”.
I’d recommend the book “Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough & Michael Braungartto to anyone interested in ecological design (or even if you are not actually). It may help you think a little differently. A collaboration between a chemist and a scientist, the book explains “why being less bad is no good”. Though they use examples from various design disciplines, their concepts can be easily applied to fashion and textiles. Their argument that recycling is a “less bad” approach outlines the problems inherent in trying to adapt products that were not designed for reuse. Material waste reinterpreted and incorporated into new designs is often promoted as an ideal solution but McDonough and Braungart explain in detail how a carpet made from recycled (or down cycled) polyester soda bottles required as much energy and generated as much waste as producing a new carpet. “Moreover, the recycling process may have introduced even more harmful additives than a conventional product contains, and it might be off-gassing and abrading them into your home at an even higher rate.” So just imagine what this may mean if you are wearing a just as potentially harmful garment. They explore how, if a product’s disposability is taken into account at the design stage, an appropriate material can be selected so that when the item returns to the earth at the end of its life, a wholesome and biodegradable fibre waste can “equal food” and actually give back to the environment. William McDonough is not all talk though, and has put money where his mouth is, creating William McDonough Collection – Upholstery Fabric. William McDonough Collection is woven wool and ramie, uses nontoxic dyes with a wide selection of colours and patterns, is 100 percent biodegradable and the wool is from free range New
Zealand sheep. The aesthetic component of the fabrics was not overlooked and mathematics and fractals were used to generate the patterns that would echo the harmonic proportions throughout nature. I have experienced these swatches first hand, and though I do not believe them to be the perfect answer they certainly are a start. It’s a shame that very few of the designs I saw in the Craft Council’s exhibition took a similar “holistic approach”; instead each designer dealt with just one aspect of ecological design.
I think I was disappointed by Well Fashioned because so few of the designs were simple and functional, nor were they attractive and well crafted – yet many would be expensive. Junky Styling’s bustlelike skirt made from old shirts still looked like sewntogether old shirts and though I can understand the quirkiness of it, I still believe the design could have been better resolved. I hate to think of the effort and expense that went into creating the garment. In the exhibition design, the clothes were as poorly presented as on the websites I had previously visited; a jumbled, mixed and not matched arrangement of garments that lessened their appeal
At the end of the day, just as if you were going to your local supermarket and debating whether to pay a little extra for fair-trade or organic produce, the consumer demands that not only the labeling be accurate but the food be as good, if not better, in taste and quality as the conventional produce. In the same way, is it too much to ask that our future eco textile and fashion designers be just as dedicated to creating beautiful pieces in both form and function? We just cannot let our intellectual reasoning blind our intuitive aesthetic responses. After all, that is what draws us to textiles. Laura Shirreff, Textile Student at Rhode Island School of Design, U.S.A
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