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Sunken Cloth: Morag Macpherson Blog 2

Bog Blog 2 / written by Morag Macpherson

Artist in Residence / Peatland Connections / Crichton Carbon Centre

Bog Blog 2 written by Morag Macpherson


Sunken Cloth

It occurred to me, via some online and book-based research about peatlands, that these earthly delights have strong preserving qualities. A combination of peat itself and iron inherent in the landscape combine to create an environment rich in preservation.

The Orkney hood was found in a peatbog in 1867. It’s the only complete item of fabric clothing to be found, fully preserved, in Scotland, dating from c250-615 AD. It can now be viewed at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. I love its dark brown colour, long fringed embellishment and pointy hood shape. I was inspired to create my own version! Fringing with braided grasses from a peat bog area, inspired by this ancient garment, is the subject of an intervention at Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre and Dalry Town Hall by myself and Kerry Morrison (and a forthcoming blog).

This also got me thinking (via a dye expert and colleague on this project, Joyce Woodcock), about what might be possible if we buried some fabrics in the bog?!

So I set off with Kerry one Sunday afternoon in July to find out. We chose a degraded bog near her home and decided to give the process one month to see if any natural occurrences happen with the fabric submerged in peaty substance. At the time of writing we are still waiting…

We placed willow twig markers into peatland, tied with various colours of fabric to designate these four processes:

Unmordanted fabric

Mordanted fabric

Sitka dyed unmordanted fabric

Sitka dyed mordanted fabric

Unmordanted simply means natural, untouched fabric. Fabric is mordanted to allow the dye colour to stay fast for longer. However some plant dyes don’t need a mordant.

Protein fibres such as silk and wool (and anything that originates from an animal) are mordanted in a solution called Potassium Alumunium Sulphate (PAS or more widely known as alum). Once the fabric has been given a good ‘scour’ (or wash) with a light delicate detergent, it is ready to be steeped overnight in a PAS mordant bath. This process is all that’s necessary, with protein fibres, before dyeing and eco-printing.

With cellulose fibres (linen, hemp, cotton, bamboo etc) which are plant-based in origin, the mordant is AA (aluminium acetate). The same scour then steeped in the AA mordant bath is required. Furthermore, with plant fibres, a chalk dip is required (calcium carbonate). This is applied via a quick dip, after the AA mordanted fabric has dried. After this two-step process, the cellulose fabric is ready to dye.

We used hemp, linen, silk noil, silk satin and fine wool to determine any differences between fabric types.

Sitka is the spruce tree that is being cleared off bogs to allow crucial regeneration to occur (and is the subject of Phase 3 of this project).

Another blog is due when we ‘excavate’ our results and work on the fabric with peat and other natural pastes to create symbols and marks inspired by the bog itself. Some screen printing, perhaps mono printing and maybe simple abstract brushstrokes should evoke a visceral response, embodied by the overall ‘feeling’ of being on the bog.

This idea moves on from the ‘OUTSKIRT ‘ of the bog in phase 1, to what lies underneath in phase 2 , which I’ve named ‘SUNKEN CLOTH’.

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