>second skin

>When I wrote about India Flint‘s first book Eco Colour here I was asked if I’d like to review the follow up. Great, I thought, then forgot all about it. So when a rather exciting package arrived on my doorstep with this inside I got very excited.


India Flint’s new book Second Skin is a beautiful follow up to her first. It has the same luscious feel, packed with gorgeous photographs and illustrations and has a pleasing mix of practical information, snippets from different cultural traditions and more general anecdotal writing that gives an insight in to India’s colourful life.


Despite its visual appeal some of the content doesn’t make for comfortable reading. India reminds the reader of how poorly informed most of us are about where our clothing is derived from: the fibres and the processes that have gone into the garments that we wrap around our bodies for the majority of our lives. Of course, even if we care about such things it can often be very difficult to find out the history of what we buy and this book highlights the real facts about the systems that our clothes pass through.


There are no straightforward answers and an element of guilt is inevitable in reading parts of chapters 1 to 4. For example, even the fairly well informed may feel they are doing a good thing by buying an organic cotton t-shirt, unaware of the parts of production of that garment that are far from sustainable. Chapter 2, Provenance, is full of cautionary tales and the complicated nature of trying to live in a sustainable way is set out well.


It strikes me that the difficulty of breaking out of the system, stepping off the treadmill, going against the tide means that, even for the well intentioned, practicality means we can’t all do as much as we might hope to. But small changes make a big difference and if this book changes one aspect of behavior in the way each reader sources their clothing those small changes will add up to much more. The all important “have less stuff” is something we all know of as a positive move in living mindfully but how many of us really have the discipline and commitment to live that way? It is always good to be reminded of issues you are already vaguely aware of and have your resolve strengthened periodically.


Chapter 7 gives a short run down of various artists and makers whose work shares principles of sustainability and re-use of materials. This is useful but is almost a starting point for a book in itself.


Chapters 5, 6, 8 and 9 are full of tips and suggestions that I would imagine will give the eco-conscious fashion student much mileage. Chapter 8 on re-purposing is where things got pretty mouth watering for me. All sorts of ideas are given for creating new garments from old and there is scope within these to be really playful. Just like in Eco Colour, there is an undercurrent of useful information that is intended to be used with individuality and in the exploration of personal style. India’s generosity with her experience and skill is huge but she is not prescriptive and it really makes you want to try it all out yourself.


Chapter 10, on dyeing, re-visits the ground covered in Eco Colour but expands on it and, as ever, is a wonderful mix of practical instruction and encouragement to be experimental. The myriad of tips and ideas are ever-useful.


Like the natural dyes that India’s life and work are so wrapped up in, the effect of this book will grow stronger with time: repeated dipping, short periods of immersion, time for absorption are all part of imbuing your life with the sentiments and skills within its pages. It’s certainly re-ignited some slow-burning flames of mine: I’m off to get a few bundles steaming now…

Second Skin, published by Murdoch Books, is available from 1st August.

>small fish?

>
I’m back from a hectic week in London. New Designers was quite an experience and a bit of a roller coaster ride of emotions. The hustle and bustle of London was a novelty, the experience intensified somewhat by the heat! Being a commuter for a week and traveling on the tube at rush hour certainly makes me appreciate my usual morning walk to school with the kids.

When I’ve visited this show in previous years I have been overwhelmed by the amount of amazing work that comes together from the various design courses around the country. How could I ever stand out amongst this lot? This ‘small fish’ feeling was even more the case as an exhibitor. My work is quiet and subtle and there were times when I felt it got lost in amongst the garish riot of pattern that was in that building. However, as the week went on I did find that my work was appreciated and I had some lovely conversations with people that were supportive and very positive about what I do.

I was interviewed by a couple of different trends organisations. They seemed particularly interested in the sustainability aspect of my work. I sold some cards and lots of people took my business cards and postcards. I made a few interesting contacts. The most exciting thing that happened was finding that I’d been selected for the graduate showcase at the Festival of Quilts in August. This is a really exciting opportunity and I’m so pleased.

The whole affair was exhausting and uplifting in equal measures; there was a stage during each day where I reached saturation point in terms of visual ‘stuff’ and needed to escape. Emerging from the building one evening to beautiful light on distant buildings was most welcome.


It would have been great to do a few other things in London: sit about in parks, visit some exhibitions, but that wasn’t what this week was for. I did find some pretty great food though, including some lovely things from the local shops near where I was staying…

>wooly dilemma

>A couple of weeks ago I visited the British Wool Marketing Board, the home of the Campaign for Wool, who are conveniently based just on the other side of Bradford from me. I wanted some advice on wool felt made from British wool and I was hoping to come away with some contacts for suppliers. The European Business Manager, Richard Poole was really helpful and we had a useful couple of hours discussing various aspects of sourcing products sustainably. I also came away with a lovely bunch of literature about British wool.


However, I found that my intention to use industrial felt made from British wool is just not realistic. I want to use a natural product, ideally one sourced as locally as possible. Industrial felt has the solidity I’m looking for in both my 3 dimensional experiments and for the basis of the wall based pieces that I’m intending to make as part of my final collection. It became clear within the first few minutes of talking to Richard that what I was after just doesn’t exist.


British wool is coarser than wool produced in warmer and sparser climates, even if it is from the same species of sheep. We produce wool with fibres that are generally over 26 microns and often over 30 microns. Industrial felt, which is dense and gives a fairly smooth surface, is made from wool that is finer than this, usually merino, and this comes from Australia or New Zealand.


British wool, being generally fairly coarse, is ideal for carpets and for some fashion fabrics. It can be felted by hand and there are plenty of artists in the UK using British wool in this way. I don’t have the time or the inclination to start felting my own wool for this project. I want a ready made product that is solid and firm and thus relates to the solidity of the buildings I’m using as part of my inspiration. British wool is used in various insulation products, some of which I was able to see at the BWMB, but these are very coarse structures which often have recycled plastics included and certainly don’t have the structure, look or feel that I’m after.

So I came away faced with a dilemma:

Do I stick to my principles and acept that I can’t use the type of product I had in mind?
source another fibre from the UK?
think again?
change the whole look and feel of what I want to produce in terms of finished pieces in order to use British wool?
compromise my vision?

Or do I accept that I can’t use British wool for what I want to do and compromise on the sourcing locally idea – a 100% wool material is still a relatively sustainable product even if it has travelled round the globe?