Monday, 10 February 2014

2014 Additions: New Friends, Fabric and Victorian 'Wheelwomen'

For a long time now, we have limited ourselves to working with British organic wool and Welsh Flannel (and organic cotton for want of a sustainable lining material). We wanted to keep our supply chain small so that we knew the processes and journey behind our materials. But, every now and then, you come across something that you just have to support…

image curtesy of

Over a year ago we met a lady called Rashmi Bharti, during her research trip to the UK. She was interested in how we use natural dyes in our collection, as she wanted to make her project in the Himalayas accessible to a European market. And what an amazing project it is!

Avani is a voluntary organisation that began as the Kumaon Chapter of The Social Work and Research Center, also known as the Barefoot College.
In this Ted talk, Bunker Roy, the founder of the Barefoot College, explains the concept and reality simply and beautifully, If you can spare 20mins it really is worth a watch.

Kumaon is the central region of the Himalayas, bordering Tibet. The changing politics and economics of the area have made this isolated community's already subsistence way of life even harder. They needed a way of bettering their lives and opportunities whilst remaining self-sufficient. Avani was conceived in answer to these needs, their vision to develop conservation-based livelihood opportunities, by using renewable energy and other appropriate technologies, which should bring positive qualitative change in rural life.

Images curtesy of Avani 

A large part of this vision was the development of the traditional crafts of hand spinning and weaving and natural dyeing of wool and silk. Trying to compete with mass produced yarns in the local economy was impossible, so a new market had to be found where their textiles could be sold for a fair price. Cue Rashmi's visit to the UK, and our introduction to the story.
I asked Rashmi if she could send me some samples of the fabrics they had been working on.

The samples arrived, as most things seem to from India, in a cotton bound package, stitched up and wax sealed -almost too pretty to unwrap, but the lure of the contents was far too great. I carefully slipped out the booklet and there in my hands was an Aladin's cave on A4 sheets of copier card.
Ah! How on earth could I choose!? There was no doubt; Avani fabric was definitely going to feature in the collection!
We finally made our choice; a beautiful herringbone of Tibetan wool in a shimmer of pinks, purples and reds with lichen grey weft. The order was made and then began a four-month wait for the yarn to be spun, dyed, woven and then shipped. Four months to dither over designs and work the rest of the collection around our exciting new fabric!


It arrives!! A giant replica of my first little sample packet, all stitched and wax sealed. Suppressing an inner squeal of excitement I peel back the layers to find... something totally different to what I was expecting! Aghh!!

Well, all right, not totally different. The colours were right, and it was a herringbone, but the scale of the pattern, the tension and drape? Not quite...!

Back to the drawing board to tweak some designs! My original plans were not really going to work in this fabric, but hey! That’s part of the beauty of working with hand made, traditionally crafted materials, and why I was so excited to work with Avani in the first place! Besides, designing to fit the fabric is not a new challenge for us; limiting ourselves as we have done to British and organic wool makes our choice of materials very small –for both knit and dresswear- so we have to work with what we can find.

The biggest challenge offered by this fabric however, is that it moves; the tension varies throughout the bolt, so once you cut a piece out, it changes shape!! To tie in with our softly tailored look, this means interlining and stay-stitching for a bit more stability and shaping.
It is great fun to use this fabric, and I have loved designing for it. The flannel that I am used to is SO well behaved in comparison –I think this herringbone is still half wild!

After designing our Bicycling Jacket I am still obsessed with women cyclists and the difference bicycles made to women’s freedom and independence. I discovered an article from as far back as 1896 in the Lady Cyclist. The author writes how the bicycle offers women freedom from dependence, dispelling the stigma of helplessness due to the inferiority of their sex.
At the same time, appropriate clothing was being fashioned so that women might be free to ride bicycles whilst maintaining their dignity. The centre image below from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows a cycling suit featuring a bifurcated skirt.
My personal favourite, however, was the bloomer suit!

Whilst thoroughly getting lost in this era, I came across a brilliant quote from a Victorian book titled Hints to Lady Travellers by L C Davidson, written in 1889. Her advise for women on cycling tours was to ‘Wear as few petticoats as possible; dark woollen stockings in winter, and cotton in summer; shoes, never boots; and have your gown made neatly and plainly of flannel without loose ends or drapery to catch in your [bicycle]... Grey is the best colour, or heather mixture tweed, which does not show dust or mud stains...’
Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

How perfect..!?

So with a nod to the daring ‘wheelwomen’ of the 1890’s, the intrepid tweed-ed travellers and a lick of contemporary style, the Penny suit was born! Both pieces are going to look great teamed with other wardrobe items for general wear, but, when occasion presents itself, the two together as an outfit is just so much fun!

The new pieces are about to go up on our website, and will feature in a brand new photo shoot in the coming weeks (exciting stuff!) along with some new knitwear and accessories.

You can find out more about Avani on their website 
and on their facebook page

No comments: