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As part of our "Together for Our Planet" Climate Action programme, we hosted on online event all aout textiles for climate action.

We were joined by Zoe Burt and Cat Lewis for an online evening of talk and discussion centred around how textiles and the clothes we wear can play a role in climate action.

Zoe gave us a potted history of the history of growing fibres for textile in the UK - focussing on flax - before sharing about her project on growing flax in London and current activities around creating local fibre economies through fibresheds.

Cat then spoke about her practice as a textile artist, and how she uses textiles for protest in the 'Save the Northern Meadows' project as well as her work at Global Gardens via the Making and Mending club.

A Brief History of Flax

To begin the webinar, we travelled back in time to 3,000 BCE the date the Tarkhan tunic, is thought to have been produced - the World’s oldest preserved garment made of flax. This delicate garment now resides in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London. Flax has been used for a very long time as a textile both in times of war and peace. We were shown images of Roman linen rag dolls from the first century BCE as well of of a quilted linen helmut Phoenician from 1484. The Bayeaux tapestry was also embroidered on flax.

Flax for War and Peace

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, various acts of parliament were passed to encourage the growth of flax and hemp, including for Navy ropemaking and sail cloth. Yorkshire and Lancashire were amongst the biggest flax producing areas in the late 19th century at the height of the flax industry. Subsidies for flax and hemp growing ended in 1836. In World War One, flax was grown for military uses in UK and in World War Two, flax production increased. There was even a flax factory and research centre at Sandringham. 32,000m of linen produced for RAF each month. Flax was used for tents, parachute webbing, flying suits for pilots, maps & covers for planes

Price fluctuations, weather and globalization of fibre industry led to the breakdown of the UK flax industry and the last flax mill in UK closed 1957.

Cultivating Flax in the 21st Century

Flash forwards to 2013, when Zoe posed the question, "is it possible to make a garment from seed in an urban environment?" The aim of her London-based project was to inspire people to reconnect with where their clothes come from; and to unfold the process of making a garment from beginning to end in, within the M25. Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses encouraged the idea, and this led to the growing of cotton, jute and flax at their comunity garden. Zoe's project led to a "Seeds of Fashion" exhibition at The South London Botanical Institute for the Lambeth Open, October 2013 which incuded a series of workshops: natural dying, cyanotype making, drawing through microscopes, storytelling: tales of transformation through textiles, tassel making workshops and sashiko stitching.


Zoe spoke about how her work is inspired by the concept of a "fibreshed".

What is a Fibreshed?

“A Fibershed is a geographical landscape that defines and gives boundaries to a natural textile resource base. Awareness of this bioregional designation engenders appreciation, connectivity, and sensitivity for the life-giving resources within our homelands.” –

The Fibershed concept grew out of it’s founder, Rebecca Burgess’s commitment to develop a wardrobe of garments whose fibres, dyes and labour was sourced entirely from her home region. In 2010, seeking to reduce her ecological footprint, she teamed up with farmers and artisans from within 150 miles radius, to create new clothing by hand. Her project grew into a movement that now seeks to “educate the public on the environmental, economic and social benefits of de-centralising the textile supply chain.” Zoe explains:

"A Fibreshed is a designated area within which efforts are made to harness and use natural resources – in this case fibres, dyes and labour – in a responsible way that minimises waste and creates opportunities not just for sustaining these resources, but for improving them over time in positive feedback cycles."

In other words, the Fibreshed ethos goes beyond sustainability, to something that is truly regenerative and it does this by considering the whole system in which fibres, textiles and garments are not only produced, but also how they worn and how they are disposed of.

Zoe spoke about emerging UK regional Fibresheds, all seeking to rebuild the connection between farming and fashion. This includes...

A Wales Fibreshed was established in 2021 and is working with Gower Flax CIC to create a model for growing and processing fibre flax at scale on an organic farm in Swansea, to create a certified organic regenerative textile.

The Wales Fibreshed is in the very early stages of creating a collaborative network of regenerative fibre farmers – in particular fibre flax, sheep wool and plant dyes. We are heading into our first year of growing fibre flax at scale on an organic farm in Swansea. We will soon be developing an online directory of fibre farmers and textile artists/designers whose work demonstrates an understanding of and a commitment to creating a regional, soil-to-soil regenerative textile system

A North West England Fibreshed situated in the historic heartland of British textiles is working with the British Textile Biennial for 2021 on the Homegrown Homespun project. They aim to grow a woad-dyed flax garment in time for the Textile Biennial this October.

A South East England Fibreshed, founded in autumn 2019, has a micro grant from Fibershed USA to explore the commercial potential of growing botanical dye plants with three trial sites on farms in Sussex, and to build links between farmers and growers and the London design community.

A South West England Fibreshed, the longest established Fibreshed in the UK, has recently received funding to create a source book, make a film exploring the connection between farming and fashion and map the capacity of UK textile artisans and manufacturers for small to medium scale processing of natural fibres.

At Global Gardens, we have been exploring how to incorporate more sustainable textiles into our daily lives. This work has been led by Cat Lewis, who is coordinator of the Making and Mending club.

Making and Mending

Cat offers an overview of the club...

"The Making and Mending Club has grown out oftheworkshop sessions on making natural colours and establishing a small dye garden at the Global Gardens,We make lovely useful things and mend treasured items we already have. We are increasing our understanding of the provenance and real cost ofthings, whilst saving money and the use of raw materials. The workshop sessions have allowed a collective response to the site and its users, as well as usutilising local plant ingredients, kitchen waste and other recycled materials in varied ways. I started the group 3 years ago and there’s now over 20 peopleon our Whatsapchat and sharing group, as well as having good in-person participation at the regular sessionsheld in the garden andits beautiful outdoor classroom. The group is diverse in age, experienceof textile and making processes and gender....I facilitate the club, using my own experience and knowledge of fibre processes and the making community;also providing tools and materials, examples,and contacts. But the group welcomes sharing by other members with additional skills and experience. The focus of the group moving forwardis to skill share more ways and means of living sustainably, reducing our collective impact on the planet. The aim is also to providea safe and welcoming shared space that improves mental wellbeing and reduces anxiety and isolation."

In 2022 the Making and Mending club...

  • Planted,harvestedand processed flaxat St Fagans

  • Continued to finish and spin the linengrown at GG in‘21

  • Botanical dye workshops

  • Wild weaving

  • Hand stitching and sashiko mending

  • Printing with botanical inks

  • Ecoprints

  • Solarand Compost dyeing

  • Paper crafts

  • Needle felting

  • Xmas decorations for the Secret Garden Café

We hope to carry forwards this work into 2023 and contribute to the fibreshed movement.

This workshop was supported by The National Community Lottery Fund in Wales.


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