Nettles: From Weeds to Wearable Art, Exploring Nature's Textile Treasure
The Nettle Dress is a beautiful film.
I find it hard to put into words how deeply connected it feels to the landscape, human stories and of course, cloth.
The documentary explores the intersection of nature, art, and sustainability that delves into the journey of transforming nettles into a wearable masterpiece.
I went to see the film at Falmouth Poly in November of 2023, watching alongside a packed auditorium of people of all ages, drawn together perhaps from their own interest in textiles, weaving, spinning and connection to landscape, or just from the tantalising trailer. The film has gained somewhat of a cult following, and I for one am in love!
Shot over a period of 7 years by filmmaker Dylan Howett, the story is that of one man, textile artist Allan Brown, his family, the landscape in which they live, and personal loss.
There is sadness, but ultimately the film is joyously uplifting, funny in parts even, human and of course full of those lovely green plants ubiquitous in UK woodlands and verges - nettles.
In the verdant forests, railway sidings and gardens of England, the humble nettle is ubiquitous. This unassuming plant, often dismissed as a weed, has a rich history deeply rooted in the ecosystems of the UK. They are easily accessible, free (always forage responsibly) and even make a great herbal tea!
Nettles in Ecosystems
Nettles play a vital role in the delicate balance of the UK's ecosystems. As hardy perennials, they thrive in a variety of environments, providing crucial habitat and sustenance for insects and wildlife. Despite their prickly reputation, nettles contribute to the biodiversity of these ecosystems, offering shelter for butterflies and serving as a valuable food source for caterpillars.
Weeds to Fibre
Beyond their ecological significance, nettles boast impressive fiber qualities. Historically, nettles were cultivated for their fibers, which were used to create durable textiles. As we delve into the intertwined relationship between humans and nettles, we discover the traditional methods of extracting fibers from these plants and the sustainable practices that underscore their use in textile production.
UK Spinning Industry and Nettles
The UK spinning industry has a rich tapestry woven with various fibers, including flax, hemp, and, of course, nettles. In this section, we trace the evolution of the spinning industry, emphasizing the integral role played by nettles in creating textiles that are not only environmentally friendly but also possess a unique charm. The resurgence of interest in these traditional fibers speaks to a growing awareness of the need for sustainable alternatives in the modern world.
Nettles have left an indelible mark on various cultures, not only as a source of sustainable fashion but also as a potent herbal remedy. In traditional Scandinavian and Nepalese cultures, nettle fibers were historically woven into clothing, creating garments known for their durability and breathability. The resilient nature of nettles made them a practical choice in regions with diverse climates. The use of nettle textiles reflected a deep connection between communities and the natural resources available to them. Moreover, nettles have transcended their role in fashion to become revered in herbal medicine. Renowned for their rich nutritional content and potential health benefits, nettle leaves have been employed for centuries to address ailments ranging from arthritis to allergies. The dual significance of nettles in both fashion and holistic wellness underscores their versatility and enduring presence in the tapestry of global traditions.
As with every story, human and plant, the story of nettles unfolds as a testament to the symbiotic relationship between nature, sustainability and artistry. Nettles, once dismissed as mere weeds, emerge as a source of inspiration, weaving together a narrative that spans centuries, continents, and the boundless creativity of the human spirit.
The Nettle Dress https://www.nettledress.org/
Dylan Howlett http://www.dylanhowitt.com/