Last Monday, lovers of linen industry-wide gathered at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to celebrate the launch of the wonderful 'I Love Linen' campaign. With the support of major brands such as John Lewis, Designers Guild, Toast and Jigsaw, and planting a field of flax in the grounds of Chelsea School of Art, the campaign is sponsoring the new exhibition, 'Fashioned from Nature' at the V&A. And so, on a sunny spring evening, I was lucky enough to attend the private view of the exhibition as well as enjoying an evening with friends of flax.
I'd thoroughly recommend the exhibition, a showcase of designs from history to now using yarns, fabrics and prints inspired and created from natural materials alongside a modern statement of where we need to respect our natural environment through sustainable choices and longevity in our clothes. There are some truly beautiful pieces both from the archives and from cutting edge crafters. On show were delicate laces, hand hewn embroideries, block printing and incredible couture cutting through to modern technical innovation, deconstructed design and recycled clothes.
On a more personal note, for the private view, we were honoured that the girls from team 'I Love Linen' all wore dresses from my new spring collection, an amazing compliment when they had a whole raft of other prestigious brands they could have worn, being chuffed would have been an understatement!
Here are some of my highlights from the exhibition. The movement towards sustainability and ethical practice has come to the fore in recent years, and although there is still far to go, an exhibition like this which focuses on using natural resources, charting our history with nature as an industry and highlighting the pioneers who are trying to push fashion forward in a sustainable way is a huge statement of positive movement and a testament to the power we have to make change. I'm so proud to be even a tiny part of this wave of change, aiming to make clothes in a simple, local way with beautiful natural fabrics, particularly linen that only needs water and sunshine to grow with no nasties.
I hope you enjoy the pictures, and if you can make it, do visit the exhibition which is on now until 29th January 2019.
Made in Lancashire
In Britain, cotton manufacturing was based in Lancashire. By the 1780s, the inventions that enabled cotton threads to be spun mechanically had been discovered. The tall mills which housed the machines transformed the landscape in the North. Early spinning mills, like Richard Arkwright's mill at Cromford in Derbyshire, were powered by water.
Remodelled and Re-used
The British cotton from which this dress is made is block-printed with trails of flowers. The dress was later altered to give it a more fashionable appearance. Garments from this period often show signs of updating and repair. Clothing was valued and not disposed of so readily as today. The original 'slow fashion.'
The Human Cost of Progress
In 1858 William Henry Perkin opened a chemical factory in northwest London. There he manufactured aniline purple, later called mauveine. Silk absorbed the dye well, but dyeing cotton could not be done without mordants (fixing agents).
Synthetic azo dyes (derived from the chemical compound benzidine) did not need mordants to fix them to cotton. However, benzidine was toxic, causing dermatitis and an increased risk of bladder cancer.
Buy Less, Care and Repair
'Jumpers provide me with a site for direct actions,' says artist and maker Bridget Harvey. 'Their body-like forms [can be] recast as messengers to communicate discourses of repair, protest and activism. MEND MORE Jumper was initially made as a placard for the Climate March in 2015, and has since been an aid for dialogue and social engagement.'
Environmental impact is challenging to measure. The first two satellite images from 2000 and 2014 show the Aral Sea in central Asia. It began to shrink after two rivers - the Amu Darya and Syr Darya - were diverted to irrigate cotton fields in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In 2005 Kazakhstan built a dam to protect the North Aral Sea.
The loss of the South Aral Sea has had devistating social and environmental impacts. Yet the third photograph from 2017 shows signs of the eastern lobe of the South Aral Sea returning because of higher than average rainfall and snowmelt. Whether that renewal will continue, or the lake will entirely disappear, remains to be seen.
Many thanks and congratulations to the I Love Linen campaign! A gentle reminder - I'm continuing my special promotion to celebrate the campaign, so please do use the following code up until the 14th May for 10% off all linen pieces: