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Slow Fashion

At 1818 Farms, handmade scarves are a labor of love and invention

In Mooresville, Alabama, a 25-minute drive from the heart of Huntsville, you'll find a little slice of heaven called 1818 Farms. It's a place where passion, belief, courage and joy are all mandatory traits for employment. A workplace of sustainability, zero waste, free-flowing creative expression, and a reverence for the fierce and nonstop unpredictability of nature. 

While the farm is nothing short of glorious for nature-lovers and anthophiles alike, it's also a hugely successful business with products in over 600 stores across 46 states. At the wheel is the inimitable Natasha Cunningham, a woman so in love with her "job" it's contagious. Natasha and her team are creators, inventors. Their latest creation is a particularly special passion project for them: eco-print and bundle-dyed silk scarves. 

Each scarf is unique, created by hand-placing leaves or flowers in a pattern onto damp silk, then rolled in a "blanket," steamed in an outdoor kitchen and hung to dry. Scarves are then cured for 7-10 days and finally rinsed in buckets until they rinse clear, a step that could require five rinses or fifty. Eco-print scarves are a multi-week process; just to get the fabric ready to dye takes two days. "You have to scour then mordant - the mordanting process is what allows the tannins to hold. It's the glue that holds the color," Natasha states. These scarves are created using leaves harvested from the farm. "As the leaves change and mature, you get different prints," she continues. "The print we're going to get this morning and the print we're going to get this afternoon are going to be different because of the leaves sitting in the water, no longer being on the tree, if it's rained the night before, those types of things." Leaves are placed "moon-side down" in order to get the most extraction. Some leaves print with exhaust and some have an acid that will bleach the fabric. Natasha emphasizes, "This is very much slow fashion." 

The most interesting aspect about the scarves is that they're all a mystery until the end. Watching the team unroll a scarf is a joy - they're all giddy with excitement over the outcome. While they do keep notes on plants used and how they typically turn out, you never know exactly what you're going to get. "It's a lot of trial and error and a lot of documentation to determine what works - you have to learn your leaves," Natasha says. They use a whole smörgåsbord of botanicals - deciduous leaves like maple, ginkgo, snowberry, dogwood, and bamboo along with flowers like scabiosa, giant marigolds, coreopsis and cosmos.

As the scarves are hung to dry, it's incredible to see the vibrancy of pigments. "There's no reason to use all these synthetic dyes. We've got nature at our fingertips," Natasha states. And what a beautiful use of God's creation. It's an involved process, to say the least, but the final result is a wonder.