From the project description for the Flax Fest Fashion Show 2017...
Irish linen is celebrated around the world for its unique qualities. But today it is at a crisis. Few operational weaving mills remain in Ireland. But more importantly, the spinning of linen yarn at an industrial level is now virtually non-existent here. As remaining stock of locally produced yarn dwindles, we rapidly approach the end of an era.
The Last Days of the Disco dress is a conceptual project which aims to highlight this threadbare state of the Irish linen industry. The seamless garment was knitted by hand out of fine weaving yarn, creating a gauzy, semi-transparent fabric with the naked body visible beneath. From start to finish, the dress took 40 hours to create. Hand-knitting with weaving yarn is a technically challenging and labour-intensive process - which I saw as an opportunity to forge an intimate, visceral relationship with this endangered material.
As I've mentioned earlier, I was invited to make a garment for the fashion show at this year's Flax Fest, hosted by the Derrylane Flax Mill in Dungiven Northern Ireland.
Several months earlier, I had a rather sad conversation with the mill's owner, master weaver Marion Bauer. Having stopped in for some fabric, I was admiring her stack of cones containing beautiful linen weaving yarns. She replied that this was actually the last remaining stock of Irish-spun linen yarn - procured from Ireland's only remaining spinning mill, which had just closed their doors the year prior. Once this stock is gone, there would be no more (commercial scale) locally spun linen.
For days afterward, I kept thinking back to this conversation. And it inspired me with an idea for a conceptual project. When I described the idea to Marion and Hermann, they invited me to actually knit the piece for the Fashion Show. The result is the Last Days of the Disco Dress.
The design is a fairly basic sheath, with short sleeves, a deep V neckline, dropped waist, and subtle peplum flaring at the hips. I knitted it seamlessly from the top down in stockinette, with raglan sleeve construction. The edges are finished with a row of single crochet, then pressed and starched to avoid curling.
At the fashion show, the dress was modeled by German singer-actress Isabel Neuenfeldt (shown in the first photo), and it fit her beautifully. As luck would have it, we had truly 'epic' weather during the event 3 days running, and I hadn't the heart to make her stand in a wet field outdoors in freezing temperatures for a photoshoot. So unfortunately, there are very few photos of the dress being worn as intended, and I'll have to think of a local person I can ask to model it for me. In the meanwhile I include a few clumsy shots of myself as model.
I hand-knitted the dress in linen weaving yarn, which differs quite a bit from linen knitting yarn. To give you an idea of how thin this stuff is, it began to approximate lace weight when held triple! I used one strand of deep green, and two strands of a thinner pale lilac, referencing the colours of the Irish landscape. The overall effect of the resulting fabric was a chameleon-like silvery quality that almost seems to shimmer in low light.
Knitting with the weaving yarn, held triple, was certainly an Experience. I actually began working on the project early (for me at least!), with 3 months to go before the show. But I found knitting with the stiff, thin, 3-thread linen so technically challenging (and painful to my hands!) that with barely half the yoke done I put it aside. Finally, with 2 weeks to go before the show, I panicked and began to experiment with various techniques, needles, etc. After switching to wooden needles and changing the way I held my hands and fingers (this is hard to explain verbally, but I sort of altered the angle), the work began to flow.
Knitted on 2.5mm needles, the dress is semi-transparent and drapey, with the stiff/crinkly quality of linen - which actually makes it surprisingly flattering.
It was never intended as a wearable piece, but it actually looks pretty great styled over a slip, and even more so layered over a longer skirt and a long sleeve T-shirt. Very casual-bohemian, every day wear sort of piece. I know, I need photos of all this!
To accessorise the dress for the fashion show, I quickly made a wreath out of the Derrylane Mill's home grown flax, which was delightfully easy to work with for wreath making purposes. The model wore no other embellishments with the dress. Also no shoes or undergarments. Just the linen.
The project was well received at the fashion show. Thankfully, the glimpses of nudity did not shock the international audience of artists, craftspersons, and fibre loving guests. And I was touched by the kind and positive feedback I received. It's a pity not having good photos from the event, but otherwise this was an extremely satisfying project.
I have been asked about custom orders, and whether a pattern is available, so here are the details:
. The sample is available for sale, price on request. The relaxed fit is suitable for sizes 12-14UK/IRL (38-44EU, 4-6US).
. Bespoke orders (made to size, and with stylistic variations if desired - longer sleeves, etc.) are possible. I should have enough yarn for 2-3 more dresses depending on sizes ordered.
. I was not planning to offer this as a pattern. But seeing how it came out more 'wearable' than expected, I probably will - most likely for Spring/Summer 2018.
Thank you to all who followed along with this project, for all who attended the fashion show, and of course to Marion and Hermann Bauer for the opportunity to make and exhibit this dress.