the research for a siren’s call began with the 18th century knitted garment, the fishermen’s gansey. believed in folklore to be tool with which to identify drowned men, it is complex garment of different knit stitches, patterns passed down the generations not through writing but through speech. using frank sutcliffe’s photographs of fisherfolk in the northern town of whitby, hannah identified some of the stitches commonly used in the ganseys – cables, plaits, moss stitch, ribbing – and set about reinventing them for a modern market. using a historical item like a gansey as inspiration gave the collection a sense of longevity separate from the trends that usually fuel fashion and connected with her slow fashion ethos. hannah knew from the outset that she wanted to embrace the craft element of knitting in her collection so it seems perfect to use a garment that embodied craft to inspire the collection.
the gansey went on to inspire many other avenues of research, such as the pre-Raphaelite women painted by j.w.waterhouse (inspired by the tales of sirens), which added to the romance and bohemian feel of the collection. The tools of a fishermen – nets and baskets – added a diversity in textures, informing designs for lace knitting and knit weave elements. Photos of damaged and repaired ganseys inspired the use of darning as an additional texture and reinforced the slow fashion ethos of the collection, where garments are repaired and cherished rather than thrown away. even the colour palette with its faded, sun-bleached colours was discovered after considering how the colours of ropes and nets change after being left a beach for years.
frank meadow sutcliffe’s portraits of fishermen in whitby were the main photographic research, with countless photos of the fishermen showing the different patterns of their ganseys, through an anthology of gansey designs – sometimes called guernseys or jerseys – the stitches could be identified and explored through experimenting with the gauge of the knitting machine and thickness of yarn. seeing as ganseys were originally knitted with hardwearing wool yarn, wool was also used this time to create a connection between the inspiration and design.
the focus on sustainable design began with the sourcing of the yarn. inspired by the research source, the collection was to be 100% wool – wool is a natural fibre that is renewable, biodegradeable, hypoallergenic and much less strain on the environment that polyester or acyrlic blends. If not sheared once a year, sheep can overheat in the summer or get tick infections, so using wool was both a sustainable and ethical choice, as sometimes unwanted fleece is burned rather than being turned into yarn. having a clear and traceable supply line for the matierals was important, so the focus was on sourcing yarns spun in the UK and from british sheep where possible. this not only reduced the carbon emissions of the production and shipment of the yarn, but also supported the british wool industry, from the farmers that rear the sheep to the spinners and dyers.
designing for the end of a garment’s life was an important part of the development. every single garment ended up being fully fashioned on the machine – rather than cut and sewn – meaning there was next to no yarn wastage and the yarn left in tact. This means that any of the garments can be unravelled, the yarn reclaimed and then re-knitted into a new garment, reusing the yarn rather than wasting it by sending it to landfill. The construction of the knit also aides in their recycling – there are no metal of plastic fastenings, which are often the most difficult thing to remove when recycling clothing and can often halt the process. making sure the yarn in a siren’s call could go on to have a second or third life was very important to the collection development. this concept of reusing yarn was also implemented into the collection by sourcing some of the yarn from charity shop jumpers, which not only bought a different texture aesthetic wise, but also showed how knitwear design could become circular through it’s use of existing materials.