Monday, 2 May 2016

Plants to dye for

Walking down to the bottom of Mare Street in Hackney, you could be forgiven if you missed the slip of land which is Cordwainers Garden. It's tucked down the side of what used to be Cordwainers College building and is a treasure trove of plants used for dyeing cloth, on land reclaimed in 2010 by nearby residents from the brambles that threatened to engulf it.

This garment was made from plants grown here, and across a wide network of community gardens, schools, city farms, park groups, housing estates, local residents, individuals and the London College of Fashion.

I was amazed to see and learn about the range of colours you can make from plants.  Madder is a favourite staple for dyeing but they also use dahlia, avocado, carrot tops, tansy, woad, chamomile, sweet woodruff, marigold, nettles, rudbeckia and soapwort - to name a selection of plants used in the dyeing process and grown here.

They have made bunting of the different colours, and it shows the beauty of the delicate tones of colour, and how they all complement one another, as you can see above.  

To make the garment, flax, as in the picture below, was grown. It took 70 square metres of land to produce enough flax. 

Then it was harvested.

And stored.

Before being spun into thread and then woven and dyed, mainly using madder, alongside the different natural hues of the flax from the different places where it was grown.

There's nothing daunting about the dyeing process the way it is presented by Cordwainers Garden.  It can be done simply at the table on the plot.

And people can take delight in the results the same day - as you can see below.

Cordwainers has been growing dye plants for over five years, and has run classes to spread knowledge about the process.  The volunteers at the garden have also created a small garden for medicinal herbs and plants, tend 17 small vegetable plots, and manage to fit beehives and a pond into a wild corner.

As if this wasn't enough to occupy them, they are constantly out and about in their community, taking exciting and innovative projects to residents, such as making herbal tea bags, lip balms and willow crowns.  Earlier this year they led a group along Mare Street to record the variety of weeds in an urban street.

From time to time they get a little help in their endeavours - from 'The Good Gym', Barclays, Aviva and Standard Chartered.  Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, visits from royalty and Joe Swift of Gardeners' World fame have helped to spread the word about their excellent community work.

They are promoting good health through awareness of diet, and will be devoting one of their vegetable beds to South East Asian plants, reflecting the food eaten by the people of Vietnamese origin in the vicinity.

So, on Open Garden Squares Weekend, take a wander down Mare Street and look for the signs for the University of the Arts, and the garden behind the wire fence hoarding. I don't think you'll be disappointed.  Last year this was how you could spot it.

You can find out more about the garden on the following link to its blog