A University of Dundee student has devised a range of burial clothes made from materials such as linen, cotton, bamboo and silk to help people ensure their last act is an environmentally sustainable one.
Francesca Rea (22) hit upon the idea of her ‘Return to Earth’ garments after hearing about an eco-funeral that a member of her family attended. She was also researching sustainable fabrics as part of her Textile Design degree at the University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design at the time and began exploring how she could utilise this knowledge to make burials even more ecologically friendly.
In the majority of cases, existing sustainable options for burials fail to consider the materials that that body is clothed in. It is estimated that 65% of all fibres used in the clothing industry are made from synthetic material, meaning they remain in the ground for hundreds of years after a body has decomposed and release harmful chemicals as they break down.
Francesca’s solution was to design textiles for burial-wear using fabric that is eco-friendly to produce and 100% decomposable, such as plant and animal-based materials and natural dyes.
Her work is among the 300-plus exhibits at the Art, Design and Architecture Graduate Showcase 2020, an online display taking place in the absence of the annual Degree Show, which has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The idea actually came from a family member who was telling me about a funeral they’d been to when the diseased was buried in a wicker basket,” explained Francesca, who comes from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland. “I thought that was great and, because we had been learning about the damage that the fashion industry does to the environment, it got me thinking about the clothes a person might choose to be buried in.
“That led to me doing this project on death, how we cling to old religious traditions around it, and how we might seek to make these traditions more sustainable. In this sense, bio-degradable matter, once dead and decomposing, adds nutrients to the ground which allows for new life to grow.
“This life cycle closely connects people to nature and provides the visuals for my design. I have drawn from disintegrated leaves as a reminder of our place in the environment, one that we must look after for the next generations in the cycle.
“Textiles have great significance within society. New life is often accompanied by textiles with the swaddling blanket helping the baby feel safe and contained as it adjusts to life outside the womb. The same is sometimes done with the deceased as a salve, a cover, for remembrance and memorial. My project aims to open the discussion around death and the rituals and practices that surround it.”
Francesca’s embroidered burial-wear feature techniques and materials inspired by traditional Irish crafts and the ancient burial rituals of her ancestors. The linen she has used for her final-year project is made in Ireland, while she has also carried out research into how fabric made with seaweed, hemp and nettles, which grow plentifully in the UK, can be used in future.
The project is conceptual for the moment, but Francesca is open to the idea of developing it further after she graduates this summer.
It is hoped that a physical exhibition of work from this year’s graduating students can be arranged in the future and the Graduate Showcase aims to provide them with the best possible platform for their talents in the meantime.
The Showcase celebrates achievements of graduating students from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and the department of Architecture within the School of Social Sciences. The work on display will represent the culmination of years of creative development and hard work, with the website featuring expanded information on all students, including extra images and video content.
The launch of this event will be broadcast live online on Friday 12 June to students, staff, families, friends and other visitors. The Showcase will be accompanied by a social media campaign that will run until 21 June.
The Art, Design and Architecture Graduate Showcase 2020 will be available to view online from 12 June at www.dundee.ac.uk/graduateshowcase.