Morag Macpherson | Artist in Residence May – December 2023 | Investigating Carbon for Textiles: a peatland inspired collection of eco-textiles and garments.
As artist-in-residence with the Crichton Carbon Centre, working closely with the Peatland Connections, Morag investigated the wonder of Peatlands, which, amongst other research, meant “hanging out in bogs a lot!”
Morag’s investigations and experiments with natural materials and dyes resulted in a Peatland inspired eco-collection consisting of four art-wear elements, each patchworking stories of peatland landscapes and their flora into the very fabric.
OUTSKIRT: exploring the edges and surrounding flora of a peatland
SUNKEN CLOTH: delving into peat, the underside of a bog
CLEARANCE AND BREATHE: clearing peatlands of self-seeded Sitka spruce
BOGSTAR: a celebration of stunning and phenomenal sphagnum mosses
Morag’s enthralling collection that was first revealed at the Scottish Slow Fashion Festival, Re:Dress 23, in Dumfries on 18 November 2023.
Every step of the peatland collection process took the environment into consideration, from inspiration through to sustainability and into eco-craftivism and ethical fashion.
The peatland collection was created using all-natural non-bleached fabrics including linens, bamboo, silk and silk noil, bamboo silks, and organic hemp and cottons, dyed using plants that grow in abundance at peatland edges. Morag experimented with extracting colour from willows, birch, grasses, heathers, and shrubs, which were sensitively and sustainable foraged, to produce colours that reflect the aesthetics and ambience of peatlands. From late spring through to the autumn, cloth was dyed in batches capturing a changing of colours through the seasons. The dyed swatches were patchworked to create peatland imbued fabrics from which the garments were cut. The fabric and the garments tell us stories to be found in peatlands and highlight a rare beauty that dwells within bogs.
Inspired by what lies beneath and the darkness of peat, cloth was buried for a month to soak and stain. The garments created from the tanned cloth take their shape from the Orkney Hood. Found in a peatbog in 1867, it’s the only complete item of fabric clothing to be found, fully preserved, in Scotland and dates from c250-615 AD.
From what lies beneath the surface to the outskirts of the bog. As Morag wandered around peatlands, she noticed the vegetation at the edges of the bogs. Seeing birch trees, willow, and broom brought to mind the book ‘Wild Colour’, by Jenny Dean, where these plants are mentioned as good sources for dyeing cloth. The idea of ‘OUTSKIRT’ was born: to use dyes from the outlying plants to create a kilt and a circle skirt.
CLEARANCE... AND BREATHE...
A healthy peatland supports specific peat forming plant species, such as sphagnum mosses, that keep the bog wet and protect it from eroding. Sadly, some peatlands are being permeated by inappropriate species, such as Sitka Spruce, which is finding it way in from nearby plantations, taking root, and disturbing the hydrology of peat bogs. Clearance…and Breathe… reflects on the need to remove and clear Sitka from peatlands to retain the natural hydrological balance. The garments created, based on Japanese field clothing, were cut from cloth dyed using Sitka’s plucked from a peatland.
For Morag, the star of peatlands are the sphagnum mosses: “…it’s the sight of such a lovely coral pinks on landscape mostly populated with browns, beiges, greens, and ochres that really appeals when it flashes into your vision and draws you close…” Hence, the star of the collection is The Bog Star, a frock created from silks dyed with heather for shades of pink to peach and bog myrtle giving pinks to acid yellows, and eco-printed with designs of sundews, cotton grass and heathers.
To discover more about the collection, read Morag’s blogs:
Investigating Carbon for Textiles: a peatland inspired collection of eco-textiles and garments
Through Peatland Connections, the Crichton Carbon Centre supported Morag in the development of her residence, which was part funded through Creative Scotland’s Open Fund for Individuals and match funded and supported by CCC.
Reflections on a Peatland Artist's Residency
By Morag Macpherson
It’s been months of research, sampling, bog visits, interventions, dyeing, writing, drawing, photographing …and enjoying…my AiR with Peatland Connections.
Everything culminated one cold October morning at dawn when nine of us ventured onto the Upper Urr peatland near Corsock for a photo and film shoot. Weeks of preparing, communicating and organising led to this moment. With Duncan Ireland at the helm with his equal balance of professionalism and creativity giving astounding photography, it was set to be a fantastic day.
I had all my garments dyed and styled for this penultimate day, with construction by Gillian Pearce.
‘Clearance …and Breathe’ has two Japanese field clothing pant and jacket combos, both dyed with Sitka spruce to raise awareness of what needs cleared off bogs before regeneration can take place. The Sitka doesn’t belong here, and I decided to use some of it to minimise its waste, and see what colour it gives (beige and grey in varying shades mostly, dependent on abundance of plant stuff in the dyebath; whether it’s new sprouts or older; with root or without i.e. just stalks and needles; seasonal timing - I used late spring, high summer and late summer for varying shades).
One outfit was made out of silk noil fabric dip dyed partially with root-free and Sitka root. Another identical outfit was made out of linen/cotton mix fabric and gave a paler result. Both of these garments were worn beautifully by Alamnesh Seferiades (local Dalry-based model); and Laura Ludvigsen from Aberdeen.
Action shots showed pulling up the Sitka from its root in unison, filmed at Knowetop Loch Nature Reserve.
‘Outskirt’ had two outfit combos:
Helmut Lemke wore a utility kilt dyed with Bracken, broom, birch leaves and twigs, willow leaves and twigs and alder, all found on the Outskirt of the peatland. The fabric is a mix of organic cotton canvas and hemp (with some fine wool). A mix of plain dyed panels, eco-printed sections, digital prints onto linen of my own photography and repeat patterns digitally printed from my own line drawings all went into the mix to create this ‘Outskirt’. I finished it off with a quirky Sphagnum sporran (created by using fabric digitally printed with my own photograph of a sphagnum mound).
Alamnesh Seferiades wore a patchworked circle ‘spirit’ skirt. These hemp panels had been dyed with all the plants from the Outskirt and made into napkins for the Bog Banquet. In the true spirit of upcycling and reusing, these were reworked into a beautiful full 100% hemp and naturally dyed skirt. I also made a short bolero jacket to complement the skirt using smaller squares of hemp in a similar patchwork formation, telling the true story of the Outskirt of the Peatland. This section was also filmed at Knowetop Nature Reserve and partially at a degraded bog in Cooriedoo Forest.
‘Sunken Cloth’ used the fabric which had been buried in peat at a degraded bog at Cooriedoo forest and made into pointy hoods (inspired by the Orkney Hood). These hoods were constructed using peat-stained wool, silk, hemp and linen.
Four hoods were paired with four tunics. The tunic fabric is organic cotton and hemp canvas which was buried at Upper Urr Peatland, currently under regeneration by Crichton Carbon Centre. I tied the tunics with rope and sewed on a circular panel of linen fabric digitally printed with a sphagnum mound photograph. Styled with bright red trousers and black welly boots, this ‘Sphagnum tribe’ of four (Kerry Morrison, Helmut Lemke, Alamnesh Seferiades and Laura Ludvigsen) walked across the Upper Urr peatland one behind each other at dawn creating an ancestral throwback which also looks to the future of regeneration on Scotland’s Peatlands.
The final quarter of this journey that’s taken me around, and into the bog, lands on a sphagnum mound - the BOGSTAR, which is the name of the film I created in collaboration with local creatives and talented film makers, Coulson & Tennant.
Meet ups on the bogs weeks before gave a flavour of the project and got Colin, Saskia and photographer Duncan into the zone.
I dyed pure silk with bog myrtle and heather in early summer. This seems to be when it’s at its brightest hue and strongest shades of yellow, lime, peach, coral and orange. A perfect compliment to the Bogstar itself which I never removed.
I chose a drop waist dress with fanned skirt and patchworked long thin silk panels into the body of the dress, using photographs of sphagnum, lichen, sundews and other pretty bog flowering plants. I also made drawings of heather, bog myrtle, lichen and suns dews and put these into repeat patterns which added a hand drawn element to the overall look.
On the day of the photo and film shoot, around 4pm (we had been up since 6am!) Kerry made her way on top of a sphagnum mound on a degraded bog at Cooridoo forest - and she began to emit the spirit of sphagnum I’d been anticipating. Joy came over us all as we watched Kerry dance gently and sway imbuing the feeling of ecstasy that I imagine the sphagnum embodies. It’s free to do its job as Crichton Carbon Centre aid its regeneration.
This is what everything in this project is working towards…everything comes home to the sphagnum storing its carbon and saving the planet accordingly. It’s that simple…and that important.
If this project has raised an iota of awareness about the importance of regenerating our Peatlands - and the beauty that lies within them - then it’s an iota worth doing!
I’d like to give a special mention to Kerry Morrison who has mentored and guided me whilst simultaneously allowing me to express my own feelings and thoughts as I create my response to Peatlands. I’ve learned a lot about Peatlands and how creativity can add an alternative element to subjects which have a basis in science and ecology.
Massive thanks to everyone at Crichton Carbon Centre for their support and Creative Scotland.