A couple of days after exploring the inside of the old fishing station I returned and started a few experiments. Having read in India Flint’s Second Skin about the value of dipping fabric in seawater before other dyeing processes I popped a few bits and pieces into the waves and gave them a good soaking. Some were left to dry on the pebbles.

I gathered up bits of sea weed from the receding water and wrapped them in the wet silk.

I did the same for some salty wet wool felt.

I took a few rusty nails from inside the hut and added these to one of the seaweed bundles to see what difference it would make to the potential colours. This bit felt very scientific – some with and some without as a control!

I wrapped one piece of silk round various rusty metal objects without any weed in there but with plenty of salty wetness! I then put some pieces of paper from my sketchbook into the waves to thoroughly wet them (this is the point when anyone else on the beach might have started to wonder what the hell I was doing, but these Scottish beaches are so un-crowded that the nearest people were probably totally oblivious to my odd potterings). I then placed my wet paper underneath some of the rusty stuff in the hut to see if I might get some interesting rust prints.

The paper seemed to start to dry pretty quickly with the breeze and the fact it was a fairly nice day so I poured a bit more sea water on to these little setups a few more times through the day to keep them damp for as long as possible.

I then left them to it with the intention of returning a few days later, taking my bundles with me to sit and develop with time. What might I find when I returned? Would my paper be removed by a fisherman wondering what on earth people had been doing in his hut?

A few more beach treasures…

and this lovely little chap, later to be identified as a masked crab carapace. I’m always amazed how such a delicate thing like this can find its way from the waves onto the beach and remain intact.

There were various different sea urchins on this beach, including a number of little sea potatoes (or heart urchins – sounds a bit more romantic!), the smallest of which was about the size of my thumb nail. That one was too fragile though, and as I went to pick it up it crumbled in my fingers.

>inspired to bundle

>As soon as I’d finished writing my review of Second Skin last week I was itching to do some dyeing. I had a couple of bags of eucalyptus leaves that I’d had sitting waiting for quite a while. One was from a tree in my parents’ garden, that I’d brought back from a visit ages ago and hadn’t got round to doing anything with. The other were a little bundle from South Africa.

When I visited there 18 months ago I’d painted these leaves and had a little stash waiting for something. When I painted them they were fairly freshly fallen and the colours were more varied and vivid. Now they’re older and brittle and much more dull but still with variation in their pinks and browns.

I took a piece of wool felt, some silk habotai, silk gauze chiffon and a piece of silk/viscose velvet I found left over from various college projects. I made up a series of bundles, bound with wool and made a last little wrapping of more of the wool round a few leaves.

These all got the steaming and sitting treatment and as they sat the colours really developed. I undid them yesterday as I noticed there were patches of mold forming on the surface of the damp parcels. I unwrapped them, rinsed and hung them to dry in the sunshine.

The African leaves have made beautiful impressions on the felt and the silk pieces have taken on a generally uniform orange with patches of more intense colour.

It felt so good to be doing this again.

>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.