#placentaproject update: the smell of recycled fashion

Now that the semester’s work is almost done, I can spend some more time on dyeing! Cutting the reclaimed t-shirts, re-seaming them, and preparing them for the dye bath. Recycled fashion!

I’m not sure whether it was the content of the most recent Masters Public Health intensive subject (which included an introductory look at the world’s nuclear threat, by Richard Tanter, who currently works with the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability) or perhaps I am just really, really tired – but today’s session at the overlocker I was feeling overwhelmed by the number of humans in our world, with all their hopes, and fears, and simple-complex mundane lives.

I overlock the seams of the reclaimed t-shirts with new red thread, because the polyester thread on them doesn’t dye red. It’s a dusty job, and I feel very appreciative of another #placentaproject member, Kylie, who did the job for the first several hundred t-shirts…! (thanks Kylie <3 ). It's also fairly smelly... you know, that smell from when you've shoved that pile of once-worn t-shirts in the back of the drawer there; they're not dirty enough to wash, not really clean enough to put away... so they drape over a chair, or at the end of the bed. Eventually, they either get washed or thrown in the op shop bag. We have so much wealth we forget how much stuff we have.

Anyway, sewing at a hundred miles an hour the smell of unwashed human wafts up with the cotton fibre. Airborne. It made me think of the human hands that had touched each garment. The ones cutting the fabric and sewing it. The ones packing it and shipping it. The ones unpacking and shelving it. The ones, touching, lifting, sizing, and maybe buying it. The wearing of it, over and over (only 7 times, apparently); laundering, hanging, folding. Then the discarding. And the sorting by the volunteers at the opshop. Finally to me, to be washed, dyed, cut, and knitted by the #placentaproject knitters.

Life goes so fast. If there was a way to measure the human hours of earnest sweat absorbed into garments. Not just the earnest sweat, but also the nervous sweat, the self-loathing or the self-confidence, the elated sweat, the sweat of relief or the sweat of fear. Each human with a subtle difference in odour.

Life is mess.

Into the dye bath…

#placentaproject UPDATE

The #placentaproject is growing! There’s a slow-but-steady progress on the large sculpture- and also on the prioritising of the health messages that can be shared with this artwork as the vehicle.
For example, a sideline exhibit, the #bellybuttonproject will be a gallery of photographs of belly buttons… this is a tiny and rather insignificant body part that very young children are fascinated by. The large placenta sculpture will be complete with umbilical cord to scale. So…what is an umbilical cord for? Well…nothing much, when what it becomes just a belly button. But–

There are two health outcomes related to this birth apparatus: delayed cord-cutting, and cord blood donations- only one of these things can be done post-birth, not both. In many cases, the hospital is not equipped at time of birth to receive cord blood donations. There is evidence on both sides of the argument for or against delayed cord-cutting.

The reclaimed tshirts come from a team of volunteers at Mawarra Op Shop who put aside garments that can’t be sold (with “Fun Run 1985” or similar; or are badly soiled or damaged). The dyes used are chemical reaction dyes that act on cellulose fibres (eg. cotton). The challenge is to get rich red colour, and this is tricky based on the cotton content. One of the disadvantages of disposable fashion is the increased cost-cutting measures used to produce the staggering volume of clothes required by the developed-world markets. It’s increasingly hard -with the advent of nanotechnology- to discern the fibre content of a garment based on its ‘feel’… as a result, dyeing high-polyester garments means that most of the dye runs straight back out of the fibres during the double rinse. Still, the variety of tonal reds coming out of the dye baths is very, very satisfying.

All the knitters in the team have described the beautiful tactile qualities of the knitted sections. This thing we’re doing is going to be lovely ❤️