Slow Fashion: In Celebration of Incredible Craftsmanship

The sun has finally shown its face and I can always feel the pace of life slow down for the summer. So in celebration of slowing down, this week I'm looking at truly slow fashion, painstakingly slow. I've always been interested in time consuming things - rich embroideries and elaborately detailed tapestries. Some of the most incredible crafts in the world we are in danger of losing entirely, because of course, the modern consumer is just not like the 15th century one!  Nowadays we want fashion to be cheap, cheerful and on trend, back then it was about the most extravagant items that money could buy. So that's what this post is all about, the wonderfully over the top, the elaborate, the items that toe the line between incredible and ridiculous.

Keeping it Slow-ish

At Lana we do things pretty slowly. I use a hand driven knitting machine to make almost all of the garments, which means there is no electricity involved, just good old fashioned elbow grease. Patterns are drawn out and punched into cards, ends are tied in by hand and all the pieces are linked together using another hand driven machine. Final touches are hand stitched and any embroidery is always done by hand. It keeps each piece special

Whilst this is a pretty laborious and slowed down process compared to most current fashion brands, what I'm really fascinated by at the moment is the impossibly slow fashion. Fashion that takes months, even years to finish. We'll start in China.

Chinese Tin Embroidery

The truly ancient art of tin embroidery originated in Guizhou thousands of years ago. It has been passed down generation to generation but sadly this skill is in real danger of being lost to history forever. Indigo dyed fabric forms the base of most tin embroidered garments, letting the metal really shine against the deep inky blue. To begin tin is melted down and poured into large, incredibly thin sheets. Next the metal is cut into precisely one millimetre strips and this is where the embroidery begins.

Chinese Tin Embroidery from nationalclothing.org

Chinese Tin Embroidery from nationalclothing.org

The craftswomen who make these garments work with the back of the embroidery facing them, poking the sharp edge of the tin through the fabric and folding and satin stitching it into place, all without looking at the front of the work. A fourth generation tin embroiderer Long Nu San Jiu can finish a garment in one year, if she works constantly - including through mealtimes. Usually a very skilled craftsperson would be able to finish maybe five of these garments in a lifetime. This might be slow fashion at its most brilliant.

Golden Orb Spider Silk Robe

A bit closer to home, the V&A is home to one of my favourite extravagances; a golden orb spider silk robe. The brains behind this incredible piece are Simon Peers from the UK and Nicholas Godley the USA. In order to weave this robe, first the silk must be harvested. The duo made a collection of hand operated machines, from a design over 100 years old, for harvesting spider silk. 

A piece of golden orb spider silk from silkepc.com

A piece of golden orb spider silk from silkepc.com

Golden orb spiders are found in Madagascar and produce an incredibly strong and lustrous silk with a rich golden colour. In order to make this robe, about a million Golden Orb spiders were caught to have their silk harvested, before being released. A team of people worked for a total of four years to make this intricately brocaded piece, which is the only large scale textiles made from spider silk in the world.

Golden Orb Spider Silk Cape from inhabitat.com

Golden Orb Spider Silk Cape from inhabitat.com

These two examples are the most brilliantly beautiful that I've come across, but I'm always fascinated to hear about more. Do get in touch with any other fabulously time consuming craftsmanship - fashion is preferred, but not essential!