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FROM NATURAL DYE POT TO HAND FINISHED GARMENT

From sourcing dye plants to the final hand sewn button, each Hemp On Toast garment is made with great care and a store of knowledge built up over the years.  

Working from my semi-outdoor dye studio in Norwich, I simmer and blend different plants to produce a rich array of earthy natural colours which form the basis for the clothes I sew. I'm always exploring new dye plants as well as refining the technique of those I've used time and time again. 

Read on to learn a little more.

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SOURCING AND PREPARING PLANTS FOR THE DYE POT

Part of the delight in natural dyeing is sourcing plants as I find it keeps you in touch with nature and with people.

Collecting dye materials and dyeing the fabrics is a large part of the process of making Hemp On Toast garments, and getting the mixture and quantities in the dye pot are key to producing the wash fast, even colours that characterise the clothes.

For sourcing I rely on a network of 'collectors', people who save what is essentially compost or 'waste', for my dye pot, as well as foraging. 

Once gathered and dried, plants are stored until needed on demand. Most plants are processed by simmering them and then leaving to steep for a few days. This allows the colour to deepen, before straining off the plant material to leave just the coloured water behind. 

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EXTRACTING THE PLANT COLOUR

The type of metal of your dye pot, to how you remove and dry the fabric, all play a role in the final outcome...

I've spent many delightful hours experimenting, documenting and repeating dye processes to find the best way of achieving an even, wash fast and deep colour from dye plants. I've experimented with different types of pots, where the metal such as aluminium can change (as well as help fix) the colour, to varying temperatures, dye time and rinsing methods.

This experimenting has taught me that the most effective plants for use on vegetable fibres (such as the hemp and cotton that I use) are ones with a high tannin content, such as pomegranate skins. I use large aluminium pots which add brightness and help the fibres absorb the colour. And I choose to leave the fabric to cool in the dye pot and let it sit there for at least a couple days to enable it to absorb the maximum amount of colour from the dye water. 

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DESIGNING AND PATTERN MAKING

Drawing a line on your pattern paper, imagining it tracing the form of a human, and to magically create a three dimensional piece that is a garment.

If there's any part of the garment making process that's magical, it's extracting the colours that plants hold within them and watching them change the colour of a piece of fabric. 

Making patterns is quite an exact process, and involves a lot of measuring and adjusting and re-measuring. But there is magic in the spaces in between this, where the line you draw translates into how a garment hangs in space.

Much of the time I use patterns of much loved, often friends' garments, and adapt them to suit the fabrics and style I'm working with. This makes each pattern unique but grounded in something real, a tried and tested design that has remained relevant and classic till now and will continue to be so in the future.

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SEWING A GARMENT THAT LASTS

The most wastefull part of the fashion industry is the culture of throwing away garments after just a few uses. This is where individually made, hand finished clothing seeks to turn around this attitude and make us truly value and love what we wear.

Each piece of clothing I make is cut out, pinned and sewn with the greatest care and attention to detail. Key seams are double tacked for durability and all notions such as buttons are hand sewn on for maximum hold.

I use a core spun thread with a polyester at the centre and cotton on the outside. In creating a circular product from the natural materials of hemp and cotton and plant ivory buttons, where the end of it's life is carefully considered and where it will ultimately break down and return to the earth, the choice of including polyester is a difficult decision. It will not break down as quickly. However, the inherent strength of polyester and the fact that this will ensure a longer life for the garment outweighs the choice of cotton thread in this case.

Analogue photography by Joseph Hayes @theillusionofdepth and Callum Painter @callumpainter