It was in Wovember 2015 when I discovered that woad was a plant that could easily be easily be grown in the garden and used to dye textiles. Not only was it a natural dye, but it was blue in colour, a beautiful blue. We all love an internet journey, those timewasters where you get sidetracked here, click on the link there, and boom there is an explosion of ideas. From learning about the joys of British wool from the Wovember web site, I investigated local yarns and discovered Southdown Yarns. I wanted to know the whole story and I was curious about hand dying. I wanted to know how the stuff worked and someone was there to tell me. Let's internet-hop over to Jenny Dean. It wasn't enough for me to just read the articles, I wanted the book. It was the start, owning the information and words to help me to obtain my new crazy dream; gardening and sewing a handmade homemade ethical garment. People who don't garden might not know that the winter is spent planning next spring's growth but I certainly do. I found the woad seed, I discovered that you could wee on then to fix the dye and I even had my own boy, ready and willing to do this.
From tiny seeds grow great plants so in my little greenhouse I set about planting the future. Oh it takes a long time for seeds to grow but I cared for them throughout the summer. Of course not wanting to follow the rules, I did not harvest my dye stuff at the correct moment, being the height of summer. Timing is always difficult with plants and to create my dye bath I needed there to be no distraction from tiny people. So I waited until that imaginary kid-free day in the future.
Meanwhile, on this truly marvellous adventure to homemade, handmade, meet the maker, non-commercial, independent, ethical dress, I needed to find the perfect pattern. We have an annual excursion to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace and following last year's success of "you must make what do you buy", I went with an agenda. As yet I have not written about my fraught journey to the simple life, my experimentation with minimalism or my new zero waste aspirations, but had these ideals in the forefront of my mind when it came to purchasing goodies at the show. I wanted a dress that matched my new-found values and Sew Me Something was there to fit right in with my new lifestyle choice. Not only was the dress darling but the designer of the pattern and the dress in the fabric were there. Perfect! My number one requirement in a dress is pockets. This dress has them. It also needs to be roomie enough to move in, I'm going to be gardening and possibly climbing trees and doing stuff. The dress is also pretty and the pattern is made out of actual paper. It's not flimsy, easily wrecked, ridiculously fragile tissue paper, but proper quality paper that you can stick a pin through without creating a hole. Check it out here
I love the pockets, every plant needs water, it was a "hooray it's raining" tribute. Inspired by an article from Flow Magazine questioning our negative response to rain and the thoughts of one of my students. He believes that there can't possibly be good or bad weather as it is after all just weather. These pockets are well thought through pockets. They capture and express significant moments from 2016 and will continue to do so as the neverending story of my handmade wardrobe.
Anyhow, I have the dyestuff, pattern and the visualisation of a future free from exploitation. I'd like to say I've bought ethical known sourced fabric, but actually, I just got calico from eBay. I guess you can't be perfect. Then finally at the beginning of November (I know nowhere near Midsummer) and made the dye bath and dyed the dress fabric. Dying with woad is magic. There's a few chemicals involved and the liquid eventually ends up this yellow colour. It doesn't look very attractive. The fabric goes in and then it comes out reacts with the oxygen in the air and as if by magic turns blue. Then to accentuate the subtleties of colour and shades of imagination, I dug out my old friend Gac 900 and the fabric art appeared.
Sometimes I get a bit stitchy and I like a bit of embroidery so I thought it was about time my vintage threads made an appearance in my project. I designed a pattern based on my favourite plant: cow parsley. It isn't my total absolute favourite but I do love it.
The stitches took a long time but slow fashion, that's what it's all about. I could have bought and discarded a whole wardrobe of fast fashion in the time it took me to stitch that pattern. 25 different seasons materialised and became obsolete on the high street and still I sat there needle in hand.
This dress is more than clothing. It is a documentation of discovery, it is so personal that you know that unique barely describes it. I've worn it once (I only finished it on Sunday) but we already have a history that goes back over 12 months. Love and care and thought and creativity have been crafted into this a dress.