Living an examined life 

It can be easy to feel defeated in the face of climate change, plastic pollution and wildfires. But I was a teenager when reports of a massive hole in the ozone layer were met with a global effort to stop the use of harmful gases. Two years later the ban was in place. It is a complicated story, but we should have hope. (Note I wrote this in a pre-Covid world, where talk of hope didn’t feel so radically idealistic!)

an image of the words I Believe Her

There are a broad range of ethical and environmental issues associated with textile production. These include materials, working conditions, marketing, packaging and end of life factors. The 16 UN goals for Sustainable Development also cover areas including political economy and education. When thinking about ‘Sprigs, Brides and Prickings’ I found it helpful to adapt the Living Principles model Hamlett, Brink & Destandau (2011), concentrating on what I would describe as internal and external impacts.

Internal impacts would be the environmental consequences of material and manufacturing process, waste reduction strategies and energy inputs. The work sustaining a small business is also an internal economic impact. I have a high level of control over these impacts.

Material considerations would include the environmental impact of input factors such as threads, stabilisers and other consumables. I choose to use viscose rayon thread, which are made from wood pulp and break down naturally over time. Thread suppliers hold environmental certification for the thread and I am always open to alternatives. Any waste thread produced during embroidery is collected and composted. Waste stabiliser is collected and reused.

Embroidery is done in the JC Middlebrook studio, so has little to no impact on labour, negatively or positively. Energy for production is sourced from 100% renewable sources. Good Energy (2020).

External impacts are the impacts of the work in the wider world, for example political messaging in the work, end of life recycling and in-use energy requirements. The level of this impact is dependent on the end user but I plan to use design to mitigate.

During use, the LED lights could be placed on a timer or fitted with a motion sensor in order to limit energy consumption. LED lamps are extremely low in energy consumption, especially when compared with other types of lighting. They can be programmed create movement and vary brightness according to external factors, so they remain a good choice. I can use my contacts within the low carbon construction industry to model lighting of interiors

The method of construction I am aiming for will produce an item which can be easily dismantled into component parts for recycling. The Perspex front is lighter than glass, reducing transport impact, and at end of life can be recycled through appropriate facilities available in the UK. The lace could be returned to me for repurposing or composting if needed and the LED lights recycled through the WEEE scheme at local recycling facilities. I have designed dismantling instructions for the back of the frame to encourage responsible disposal, there could be a page on the product website showing how to dismantle. The wooden frames will be sourced from responsible or repurposed sources, made by a local joiner.

The design tells the tale of a girl who was not believed. The picot edge to the lace and lace embroidery ‘brides’ will carry the words.I will make sure that the story is readable by either creating a pamphlet to sit alongside the work AND/OR engraving the side of the frame with the message. The story can also form part of the product website. I intend to push the message of ‘I believe her’. In promoting this project and work I will also sustain a small business and preserve oral histories in my research into the Nottingham lace embroidery trade. This history could be included in future installations.

‘Living the examined life is a pain in the ass’ Yvon Chounaird (Founder of Patagonia), so let’s try to MMMake it easy…

  • Materials – I’ll strive to use the materials with the lowest impact, and strive to help others use them responsibly too
  • Method – I’ll work like a stiletto heel with the smallest footprint and the biggest impact.
  • Message – I’ll use design to tell a story and make it worthwhile