Craftivism. It’s a powerful thing.

Last year I introduced a category to the #1year1outfit makers challenge to create an outfit with a completely traceable back story.  When no one else completed the task, I thought I should dive right in and let you know it can be done.  In this messy, complicated textile world there are still glimmers of hope, stories of communities rebuilding and clothing that gives a little more back.   And as a surprise, if you read to the end, I’ve got some extra incentive for you to join me in this little, disruptive craftivism movement…

The Cloth

madder dress

This beautiful silk was bought from Trudi Pollard and has a wonderful back story.

As Trudi told me, her daughter Helena traveled to Cambodia to help an orphanage start up a sewing room and to find out about Cambodian silk.   What Helena found was that the prized mulberry plantations and gold silk yarn were all but wiped out during the 30 years of the Khmer Rouge rule which ended in 1979, and were only just starting to get back on their feet.  The Khmer woven silk production is traditionally done by hand, from the reeling to the weaving, but in the 1990’s the only skills left of this beautiful art were in the hands and memories of the “silk grandmothers.”    Helena met and talked to artisans on her visit and felt  that rebuilding the traditional textile knowledge was critical to rebuilding lives for this community.

A year after this first trip, Helena and Trudi worked to develop a sustainable model where women can learn skills, earn money and keep their children instead of needing to send them to the orphanage.  They formed a close relationship with a silk grandmother, who taught weaving to the women.  They then mentored the women in running a business and purchased their handwoven silk to sell direct to customers in Australia.  All money made from the sale of the silk is sent directly back to the women.  Helena describes the project as “the perfect blend between their humanitarian values and love of textiles.”

Trudi and Helen continue to have a wonderful relationship with the weavers and have been back on skill sharing visits.  Here’s a wonderful video from one of those trips.

The Colour

The colour of this dress has two equally inspiring parts.

The first is a story of a dyeing (pun intended) ancient tradition in Japan.   Kitta and Sawa are the custodians of the last ryukyu indigo farm in Okinawa, Japan, using traditional fermentation techniques. From harvesting the indigo crop to hand sewing the finished garments, Kitta and Sawa show care at every stage of the whole process.  They have also reintroduced madder which is no longer farmed in Japan and are advocates for the revitalisation of natural dyeing as an industry.

It is this madder root that they bought to Perth on a special trip to share their skills with our community. The Cambodian silk was dyed in the traditional way  under Kitta’s watchful guidance.

The second, lighter colour, was also from madder root, grown at a Perth school as part of an education program with Trudi Pollard. The madder had been planted at the school 3 years prior and the staff had been waiting patiently to teach the students to dye with it. I was lucky enough to go as an aide on the day that the students dug up the madder and dyed their school flag in rainbow colours.   The kids loved the idea of being witches for the day, brewing up magic potions. As a gift for helping that day , the children gave me some of the madder to take home. It was a small amount but too precious not to use so I dyed my 1ply silk lengths in this next generation Perth madder, and achieved the lighter shade.


madder dress

The Thread

The thread has a story that is a little mysterious and unfinished. While the back of this reel has metric measurements and is marked “Made in Australia, ”  but what I’ve found so far leads me to wonder if the reel was merely marked with a sticker as opposed to made here.

The reel (and several like it) was found in an op shop inside a sewing basket embroidered with flowers.  All the reels were wooden and of similar origin.  At a guess, the owner liked a number of textile crafts embroidery, crochet and sewing.

What I have found is that Dewhurst cotton was started by a Thomas Dewhurst in Skipton, UK, in 1789.  He converted a corn mill into a cotton mill and for almost a century after that his direct descendants grew the brand, especially this Sylko product,  into a household name across the British Empire.  Here’s where my research skills came up short.  I found the location of several historical cotton spinning mills but could not find whether a mill in Australia produced thread on behalf of the brand. Call me a skeptic, but given the practice of labeling a product as Made in Australia where major production steps are overseas still exists and is even endorsed, wouldn’t I be naive to think that this may actually be an Australian product?

madder dress

The Dress

So here you have it, the cloth, the colour, the thread and some vintage buttons found at an estate sale.  Add a bit of Named Patterns  magic and some time behind the machine and you have a dress and a slip with a story.  I saved all of the small scraps and used them in my belt and have put the larger pieces aside for an upcoming felting project.

madder dress

madder dress

madder dress

The Incentive

Congratulations!  You made it to the end.   If you’ve been toying with the idea of joining in with a bit of #1year1outfit craftivism, now is the time.  I’ve been working hard behind the scene on some prizes, what kind of prizes you ask?   Here’s a clue, if you like getting your hands blue in a very organic kind of way you might just do a little jig when I make the announcement…  Sign up!!

madder dress