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Fabric that Won't Cost the Earth

I became a bit obsessed with hospital gowns for a while; photographing them, researching the fabric, searching varying styles and of course designing my own. I'm still keen on the idea of slogan gowns; in fact, my daughter sent me some of her drawings to use as well and I'd love to incorporate those. I particularly like 'X Marks the Spot'

My research took me to a US blogger who repurposed hospital gowns to make into various items; clothes, bags, toys! Seriously, she gets surplus gowns and reuses them. As an upcycler myself I see the gain in saving materials headed for landfil but hospital gowns I'm just not sure? However, this is more art form as some pieces are printed on which really appeals to me. One print has the face of the 'Photophobic Hysteric'. Apparently, 19th century neurologist Charcot was known for his practice of photographing and chronicling "hysteric" patients to represent a history of objectifying the psychiatric patient through the medical gaze.

I'd like to use print to give the patient individuality, personalising the gown rather than objectifying the patient. We lose enough dignity in hospital - much via the rear of a hospital gown.

I'm still looking for ways to improve the gown, despite being happy with my design I would like to source a more sustainable fabric. The nature of hospital gowns means that they can be subjected to repeated high temperature washing. Even if the gown were your own, it would still need laundering and that's where the problem lies. Most gowns are currently polyester cotton blends which can sustain repeated washing at high temperature. Although cotton is a natural fibre that can biodegrade at the end of its life, it is also one of the most environmentally demanding crops. It can take between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans and up to 3,000 to make a T-shirt. That's without mentioning the pesticides used which wreak havoc on the planet.

Synthetic fabrics like polyester are usually produced using oil and although not requiring agricultural land, they negatively impact the environment in other ways. They don't biodegrade and rely on the petrochemical industries for their raw material, depending on fossil fuel extraction. That leads to other detrimentally environmental issues, oil spills, loss of wildlife etc. Of course, we're now aware of the microfibres released during washing as well which cause damage to marine life and our ecosystem. So what is the answer?

To be truthful, I have no idea at this stage. It's a balancing act; trying to make something that will withstand frequent washing but won't cost the earth; figuratively and environmentally.

The search continues.


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