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Clearance... And Breathe: Morag Macpherson Blog 3

Artist in Residence Morag Macpherson writes more about her experience creatively engaging with peatlands.


Clearance…and breathe…

Whilst researching and thinking about various dyestuffs I can use (and what I shouldn’t) from the bog, Kerry (Peatland Connections project officer) mentioned the process of removing sitka spruce off the bog to allow the peatlands to regenerate. Kerry was interested in using the sitka instead of it being thrown away in a wasteful act. And the idea of dyeing with sitka spruce was born.

We firstly used ‘old’ sitka which had been lying around for a while. This produced a beige result which wasn’t surprising. Historically, when dyeing cloth was only manageable with what you had on your doorstep, before peoples travelled far and the invention of cars, trains, boats and planes, a lot of local plants in the countryside gave yellows, browns, greens and, mostly, beige. (Dependant on which country, of course!) These were the signature of the poorer classes because the arrival of trade made a trip to the city possible for the upper classes only. Wealth afforded this class to access ‘exotic’ dyes from far off lands such as madder (turkey red), logwood (giving a ‘regal’ purple which is where this term derives from to this day) and ‘royal’ blue. The strong colour came from plants grown abroad and shipped into UK cities. Beige became a ‘peasant’ colour due to lack of access to cities where this trade in brightly coloured cloth was accessible.

I’m currently still playing with extracting dye colour from younger sitka which grows in abundance around the bog areas. Scottish peatlands have been covered en masse with this type of tree for many years until recent peatbog regeneration by organisations such as Crichton Carbon Centre, which has allowed the bogs breathe again. Bog breathing is something I came across from another artist investigating bogs, Sekai Macache. I like to feel the bog breathing when I’m there, in the knowledge that it’s been freed from oppressive forces and is finding itself again. Bog Freedom!

I have decided to dye some silk noil fabric (the slubby ‘leftover’ silk that is much cheaper to buy than tightly spun silk satin/ habotai/georgette etc). It slightly reminds me of cheesecloth. The pattern I will use is a jacket and trouser combination from Japanese field clothing: what peasant farmers in Japan would historically wear in fields to work. This seems fitting on many levels (as above) for my garment for phase 3 of the project which focuses on Clearance…and breathe…


Morag's artist in residency is funded by Peatland Connections (a Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded project) and Creative Scotland.

You can find Morag on instagram or her website.

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