Adventures in Scotland with India Flint by Justine Aldersey-Williams, The Wild DyeryFrancesca Palange
India Flint is a world renowned textile artist from Australia, famous for her (re)discovery of the eucalyptus leaf eco-printing technique. She travels the world exhibiting and teaching about sustainable fabric dyeing options which venerate rather than exploit our Earth.
The image above illustrates so many things that I love about her work. She kindly allowed me to photograph the amazing apron she was wearing during a workshop I attended at Big Cat Textiles in Newburgh, Scotland last August.
Apart from the fact that an apron is already a garment evocative of seemingly slower, gentler times passed this particular example expresses so much about India’s philosophy on textiles and life.
It has been infused with natural plant dyes many times. Edited and re-edited, imbued with organic reminders of places visited; leaves and flowers pressed into the cloth, their shapes allowed to manifest serendipitously due to the unpredictable nature of botanical fabric dyeing.
It features embroidered memories, sashiko stitching and patches to mend or embellish along with decorative trinkets collected on travels. India made the turquoise cross from a piece of steel found in a gutter in New Orleans!
Considering the length of time humans have been wearing clothes, the phenomenon of mass fashion consumption is comparatively recent.
How quick and easy it is to forget in this era of cheap, throw-away clothing that a human being still has to guide a sewing machine and that the contents of your wardrobe don’t just magically appear in your favourite store. The problem these days is that due to our media-led belief that more is more, we are often brainwashed into believing that we are not attractive unless we conform to the latest fashions. We must therefore constantly update our clothing both to feel good and because the quality of materials used is so poor that it wears out quickly. This demand has led to exploitation of workers in the fashion industry and massive environmental pollution.
If you believe in energetic exchange and that what you’re wearing tells the story of its production then when we buy cheap, we’re not only wearing a lot of pain and exploitation but are perpetuating it.
So India’s apron was a reminder that clothing can be for life.
In keeping with India’s ethical practice we only gathered wind-fallen leaves, flowers and bark but were allowed to gently prune prolific foliage. We bundled our foraged treasures between two aluminium plates, tied with strong twine and left in the cauldron to cook.
Nothing was wasted. Following the cooking, the bundles were left to cool before we slowly undid our twine, winding it round a pebble collected and gifted to us by India ready for use next time.
India’s work is so intrinsically linked to nature that an important part of the workshop was getting outside to gather materials.
We used mud from the river as a mordant due to its salt content, finger painting to see if it would intensify the colour extraction. Our silk scrim had been appliquéd and embroidered with a word or mantra. Mine was ‘unity’. The fabric was to be folded and stitched into a bag to hold our silky merino scarves.
There’s an earthy charm to the resulting textiles. If you have an eye for contemporary fabrics and colour trends you might be challenged both by the organic palette and the unpredictable essence of this art. Natural fabric dyeing subverts the assumption that we are all consumers with an insatiable appetite for cheap, readily available products. In fact, it empowers us to stop being consumers all together. Perhaps we’re moving into an era when re-dyeing, up-cycling, mending, embroidering, embellishing and editing our clothing until we love what we’re wearing is more appropriate?
My results still looked like they had been exhumed but having seen India’s beautiful work, I realised proficiency in the eco-printing craft might take years of learning to develop a relationship with the idiosyncrasies of plants and what if beauty is not just about aesthetics but about the provenance of your cloth? The things we love become beautiful so the scarves and bag I made hold a special place in my heart due to the time I spent walking alone by the river, sitting silently embroidering with the other ladies on the workshop and experiencing the thrilling anticipation of unbundling my cooked fabric.
That level of immersion in your art requires full commitment, passion and genius and India is a great example of this. She’s an inspiring role model who lives and breathes her practice so whilst my results may not have been as beautiful as hers, I came away from the weekend feeling nourished by the whole experience. Less eye candy; more SOUL FOOD!
The Wild Dyery is a Liverpool based textile design and training company specialising in natural fabric dyeing.
They pattern ethically sourced cloth by hand using only traditional resist techniques including shibori, block printing and screen printing.
Their textiles are then dyed using flowers, bark, roots and leaves, imbuing the fabric with resonant colour and an ethical provenance.
They also create a range of home textiles, ‘dye it yourself’ kits and accessories which are sold online via their Etsy shop, at craft events and through retailers.
Most importantly their products and workshops aim to help preserve this heritage craft whilst promoting sustainable eco-textiles.
The original of this article can be found in the The Wild Dyery
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