It’s taken nearly a year, but the slowest-of-slow projects to ‘Grow a London Garment’ has just been completed.
Hundreds of groups and individuals came together to create a linen top purely produced in London: From gardeners sowing the seed last spring, to community groups and school children spinning the thread, to London College of Fashion students stitching it together. The project is an incredible example of community coming together to create a truly slow garment, and prove that slow fashion with a zero carbon footprint really is possible – even in the heart of London.
The idea came from Zoë Burt from Seeds of Fashion in Herne Hill and Kate Poland, of Cordwainers Community Garden in Hackney. They wanted to show the environmental and labour costs of growing thread and to inspire people to connect with their surroundings. Also demonstrating that if people come together they can achieve more than on their own. We’re delighted that we caught up with the co-creator and co-brains behind the project, Zoë Burt, to ask her how she came to imagine and carry out such an immense project:
What inspired you to start the project?
“Nurturing, a love of nature and wanting to critique our fashion industry. The point of this project was to grow a London garment to inspire people to get back in touch with where their clothes come from, making that connection to nature and plants, and to debate textile provenance and clothes ‘miles’. We know that some of the garments we wear, for example a cotton top, is grown in one country, processed, knitted, pattern cut and sewn together then shipped or flown to a shop. So how many miles could that item of clothing travelled before it is worn – and is this truly comprehended or reflected in price?”
Why did you choose linen?
“We tried growing various other plants including cotton – not suitable for UK climate and jute cuttings from Brixton market (also eaten as a vegetable in West Africa). The most successful textile plant we tried to grow was flax (the seed of linen). Hemp is another fibre which grows successfully in this country and climate.
“Linen has a long history in the UK it was widespread in Britain and Ireland for centuries – in fact it’s probably our oldest crop – with evidence of it growing in Europe 10,000 years ago. But, the industrial revolution and cheap cotton brought an end to home grown textile production in England. There was a brief respite in the Second World War when mills were opened to produce rope, canvas, blackout sheets, fire-hoses and sailcloth but they were closed soon after.”
“Grow a London Garment brought together groups and individuals from all over London to produce a linen top. Gardeners all over the city sowed patches of flax, the plant that produces linen. The growers then brought their harvests together in schools and community workshops to learn and practise the ancient – but now mostly forgotten – skills of turning plants into thread. Natalie Mady from Cordwainers ran community and school workshops throughout the summer and autumn and worked with more than 300 adults and children. They broke, scutched, heckled and spun the flax and eventually had enough yarn to hand over to students and knitting technicians at the London College of Fashion to design and knit into a garment.
What was your biggest challenge?
Attempting to process the fibre by hand. These are lost skills which haven’t been used for generations and our first attempts were of varying quality and fairly rough – we were lucky to have some spinning experts and experienced advice from flax growers and processors from Flaxland who are growers, processors and suppliers of flax fibre in the UK.
What do you hope the outcome is?
“We hope it will inspire people to grow flax and stimulate debate about growing flax, hemp and nettle for a sustainable fashion industry in UK.”
How will you continue this incredible project?
“Kate Poland from Cordwainers Garden, a key coordinator for the project, will be continuing the project next year by growing community linen string! To get involved in this ball of string project, you can contact [email protected] or [email protected] for more information.
Want To Find Out More About UK Linen?
Zoe’s top tips
- Camira Textiles grow flax and linen for furnishing fabrics in UK – it would be exciting to have textiles grown and made here for a sustainable fashion market too.
- Sow and Sew project in Manchester has been growing flax on brownfield sites.
- Flaxland in the Cotswold offers courses on growing and processing flax and have developed some innovative lightweight boats made from flax they have grown themselves.
The innovations and possibilities are exciting!
The project was run by Cordwainers Garden in Hackney, with Seeds of Fashion, the London College of Fashion and financial support from the Big Lottery and Sanctuary Housing. For more information on this project go to their blog Cordwainers Garden – We Grew a Garment or tweet them @growagarment.