Fashioned from Nature at the V&A

Fashioned from Nature is a exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum that goes into detail about how we have used Nature to dress ourselves. The exhibit goes into the detail from the 1600s till now exploring how it is now our job to look after nature as we dress ourselves.

You will be able to learn about the vast range of natural products used to make fabrics or garments.

Raw materials such as silk that came from Silk Worms from Asia, Italy, Spain and the Middle East. The silk was manufactured by using the Cocoons of a silkworm that were killed by steam before it became a moth, it is then placed into hot water to allow the cocoon to soften and let the thread be unwound. It was a luxurious fabric used to dress oneself as it was strong, light, warm and sensitive on the skin. You were able to weave it into the finest shapes made vivid from its ability to take dye so perfectly. The dye being made with plants and insects of all sorts.

Flax is a plant that is grown all across Europe, it became fine thread spun for lace work and linens. It takes a long time to product Flax as you needed time to allow it to grow, be harvested, dried out and many processes of breaking down the stalks into a fine thread. It was a fabric for all classes between the 17th and 19th Centuries. It was used as underwear, gowns, blouses, waistcoats and accessories. It was perfect as it was strong, kept in heat and absorbant.

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Whalebone and cane where used to stiffen the stays and corsets for Women to allow them to get the latest fashionable shape. Whalebone was taken from Baleen Whales as it was strong, light, and flexible when heated. A similar process was used for moulding cane but the cane was soaked to allow the flexibility.

Fur was used for centuries as a way of keeping our bodies warm; from jackets to muffs even to the soles that protected our feet. It was our main way of surviving those once bitter winters. We used all forms of animals along the way. It turned slowly into a way of felting hats using Beavers which lead to the minimal number of beavers we now see in Europe.

Wool has been the most important and still is one of the most popular ways of fashioning a garment. It is warm, lasting and absorbance. It has the ability to be knitted or woven into creating all manner of garments. (I am currently knitting myself a scarf too). Wool can be shorn from a Sheep, Alpaca and Angora Goats being the most popular today. The wool is spun, woven, cleaned and fulled to combine all the fibres together.

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Cotton originally came from India and the seed spread to many parts of the world. Cotton comes from a plant Gossypium, once it blooms it produces the cotton balls with seed pods on it which allow the next years crop. It was broken down, spun and weaved into so many different shapes and sizes for garments. Cotton was used as is was soft, comfortable and lightweight making it perfect for warm weather as well as being a easy fabric to clean.

The use of Feathers reached its heights in the 19th Century, feathers where used mostly for millinery, fans and edging on garments. They realised fast that many of the local birds where in danger so the use of Feathers was subdued.

Flora became popular in the late 19th Century as an age of Botanical discover happened. The use of flora was weaved into garments from fabric printing, to embroidery, to lace work and right through to the use of wax flowers. Flora designs came from all over the world as people learnt more and more about the beauty of flowers.

To top it all off there are beautiful examples from these periods showcasing all the ways we use to manufacture garments.

Once upstairs we enter the late 20th Century and the 21st Century where it goes into detail about all the major fashion designers who have made garments using nature as their inspiration such as Jean Paul Gaultier’s Beaded Leopard right through to Alexander Mcqueen’s Snake Print Dress. It also goes into how these designers have also made ways to create recyclable and sustainable garments such as using processed plastic bottles as fabric.

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The technologies and ideas are continually growing, it is truly amazing what we can now do with technology such as Bolt Threads who have created genetically modified fibre that is similar to spider silk by mixing yeast, sugar, water and salt.

We live in a society of Fast Fashion that has mass production of garments which has lead to the Fashion Industry being in the top 5 of polluters in the world. As a Costumier my art and livelihood is based on the production of garments, we need to come together and discover a way that reduces the effect we have on nature, slow down the consumer rate and create a better society for future generations

All means of fashion come at a price from the passing of Animals to the labour that was used to manufacture fabrics to the pollution it caused to the environment. . I learnt alot from this exhibit from our past and how we created garments for survival and style. As well as looking to the future and what technologies will help garments grow.

When writing all this made me shocked what we once did for fashion and I am grateful for all the designers out there doing there best to develop new ways of making materials for fashion and costume. With their help and genius we will be able to find sustainable and environmental way of dressing ourselves and protecting the land we stand on.

Fashioned from Nature is at the Victoria and Albert Museum from the 21 April 2018 to the 27 January 2019 .  If you love costume, fashion and history as much as I do this is a great exhibit to check out. While at the exhibit make sure you pick up the book that the Victoria and Albert Museum have created that gives you the information about Fashioning from Nature.