Asking questions and making decisions

Taking advantage of the sunshine, weaving my first samples outside

Taking advantage of the sunshine, weaving my first samples outside using a rigid heddle as a backstrap loom

My idea of making a living dress leaves me with lots of questions to answer – my mindmap asked the questions, hopefully sampling will answer them …

My key questions are:

  1. How do I weave a waterproof fabric (or at least a fabric that copes with being watered along with the plants …)?
  2. How will I encourage living plants to grow in/on a dress?
  3. What should I grow on/in my dress?

How do I weave a waterproof/water-tolerant fabric?

Making a fabric waterproof is all about reducing the size of the gaps between the woven threads until they are too small to let water droplets through. Waterproof fabrics are traditionally stiff both because of their dense/tight weave and the addition of a waterproof coating e.g. rubber, wax, or nowadays PVC.

I want the fabric of the dress to directly relate to my concept, a dystopian world 50 years in the future where plants are precious. If plants are precious then natural yarns would also be precious (plant fibre or fibres from animals fed on plants).  It is more likely that yarns would be scavenged/recycled – what about weaving with yarn made from plastic bags? This gives rise to more questions: which type of plastic bags would weave best? How thick should I make my yarn? Would heat pressing the fabric make it waterproof? What yarn should I use for the warp?

I chose a plastic raffia for the warp, made some yarn and started weaving samples.

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Making yarn from a plastic Sainsbury’s supermarket bag

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First samples woven on a rigid heddle experimenting with different types of plastic bags (from soft supermarket bags to stronger bags from the high street) and widths of yarn from 1cm to 4cm

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Testing for waterproofing – heat pressing melts the plastic bag yarn, removing most of the tiny holes between warp (red) and weft (green)

How will I encourage living plants to grow in/on a dress?

Options I am considering are pockets or rows of plants – rows are more easy to weave into fabric using a double cloth structure. I have found gardening tubing that I can fit into the woven tubes.

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Weaving more samples – looking at tubing options, taking notes as I go. I am thinking of a white background to highlight the planting.

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My first idea is to use warp spacing and weft floats to give areas for the plants to grow through – hmm not sure I like the result

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Trying out hemstitching techniques for plant spaces with a different threading – looking great!

What should I grow on/in my dress?

I love the idea of using Mexican Flea Bane but it is slow and tricky to grow. I need a plant that is quick and easy to grow – remembering primary school cress-heads, I investigated and found the world of microgreens.

Microgreens are ‘the shoots of salad vegetables such as rocket, celery, beetroot, etc., picked just after the first leaves have developed’ (Google definition). Microgreens are super-nutritous proportionally containing more nutrients than the full grown plants, grow in high density and are ready to harvest in 2 to 4 weeks.  I bought a few packets of different seeds and tested them out for growth rates and their looks.

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My microgreens growing kit …seeds, plastic tubing and felt growing mats

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Day 1: seeds sown

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Day 3: Radish Sangria has won the germination race!

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Day 4: Radish Sangria has got its dicotyledon leaves above the tube walls, germinating progressing for the other seeds

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Day 5: Radish Sangria looking fantastic with its red stems, Rocket Victoria, Broccoli and Mustard Red Frills catching up.

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Day 6: everything is now catching up with Radish Sangria

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Day 10: a good showing from almost everything, the cress is surprisingly slow and sparse, as is the basil but that is more expected.

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Day 26: everything going strong except Radish Sangria which should have been harvested by now

Penny Wheeler