We’re so pleased to be bringing you a guest blog today from Elly of Take It Up Wear It Out, to tell us about her amazing Wandle Wardrobe project which we’ve been admiring from afar for some time….
The Wandle Wardrobe project started in September 2020 as an interactive installation as part of the Wandle Fortnight festival, celebrating the River Wandle in South London. The Wandle has a long history of textile production, and is also an ecological success story, having been transformed from a “dead” river in the 1960s to one that is now home to an impressive variety of species. The Wandle Trail footpath creates a green corridor from the river’s origins in Carshalton and Croydon to the point where it flows into the Thames in Wandsworth.
I wanted to explore the connections between our clothes and the river today, especially since we’ve been living our lives outside much more during lockdown, and green spaces like the Wandle Trail have become really important to the community. I walked the 12-mile length of the river over several days, picking up any lost clothes and textiles I could find, and documenting any that couldn’t be cleaned up for an art installation. I found everything from odd socks to piles of vintage fabrics, and soon realised the project would extend far beyond the festival.
I made the finds from my first Wandle walks into two “quilts” – I wanted to display these lost and broken items as though they were something precious, worthy of being cleaned up and preserved. I displayed the Wandle Wardrobe quilts alongside a fabric recreation of the Wandle, stretched out over the communal field. I attached photos of all the textiles I had found in their original locations, so the viewer could take a walk down the Wandle Trail in miniature, making the same discoveries I did.
I have been using the vintage fabrics I found to create a capsule wardrobe, with inspiration for each piece taken from the wildlife I see on the Wandle. So far the collection consists of the Egret Dress, Cormorant Jacket, Corvid Dress, Robin Loungesuit and Greenfinch Dress, with more designs in the works!
Continuing the Wandle Wardrobe project gave me the incentive to go walking during further lockdowns, even when the weather was miserable. The lure of finding a muddy glove or two might seem a strange one, but I had developed a real interest in these lost and discarded clothes, and what they might say about us.
We’ve probably all lost clothes while we’ve been out and about; babies seem to delight in pulling off socks and flinging them out of pushchairs, and I’ve even read funny news stories about cats and foxes stealing clothes! Plenty of people also interact with the lost clothes of strangers, draping them over railings, or hanging them from branches so a returning owner might find their lost item more easily. I always leave newly-lost pieces of clothing, reluctant to disturb these mini installations until they are several weeks old.
Most of the clothes I found seemed legitimately lost rather than dumped, but in an era when clothes are so cheap and plentiful, have we lost our emotional attachment to our clothes? Do we lead such busy lives that it doesn’t feel worth it to look for something we’ve lost?
I’ve loved seeing people spending more time out in nature; walking, cycling, even paddling in the river where it’s really shallow. But sometimes we seem to forget that outside green spaces aren’t the same as indoor venues – no one is coming along to sweep up the bottles and cans and sort out lost property when we’ve all gone home.
I hope that the Wandle Wardrobe project in its various forms will spark conversations about how we treat our clothes, and our green spaces. One of the quilts is currently on display at Honeywood Museum in Carshalton, and I’ll be stitching my recent finds onto quilts in the museum grounds on the 17th and 18th July, so plenty of people will get a chance to see how easily the things we think of as rubbish can be turned into art.