(Published in Aqua Magazine, 2011)

The Beautiful Laundress: Redressing Fashion

It’s the house your Bohemian great-aunt would have lived in had she lived by the sea on Canada’s wet coast. The ocean glints out the front windows, while fir trees and berry bushes cluster around the side yard, inviting grazing deer.

Inside, vivid hues and rich textures abound.

Rainbows of thread, jars of buttons, semiprecious beads: a magpie’s glittering treasure trove perched atop the wooden mantle piece. In the adjacent studio, thousands of garments hang or sit folded on shelves, like raw ingredients in a baker’s pantry. Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that this is no madwoman’s haberdashery. The collection is meticulously organized according to colour tones and fabric content. There’s a rack of silk blouses, a pile of cashmere sweaters, baskets overflowing with fluffy mohair. Finished pieces dangle from the rafters, embellished with petals, semi-precious stones and delicate

We’re in the world of Ayla McIninch, textile artist, jeweller, maker of adornments and recycler extraordinaire. On a dress form, a garment is taking shape from out of found materials: a basic crewneck cashmere sweater is being cut apart, tucked and pleated, and lovingly re-assembled just slightly to the left of symmetrical.

 

Like a swallow weaving her nest, McIninch takes scavenged threads and painstakingly weaves them into sumptuous one-of-a-kind articles. With pins sticking out of her mouth and a look of intense concentration,

she spins her dress form like a dance partner, pinning up sleeves, making artful little tucks and, finally, slitting the plain-Jane crewneck sweater straight down the back with a flourish of her scissors.

Part glamour girl, with her mane of blonde hair, and part grandmother, with sourdough bread baking in the oven and knitting tucked in beside the couch, McIninch exudes a trend-transcending beauty that is simple, natural and completely her own.

 

We sit down on her airy patio over mugs of tea and McIninch describes her progression from traditional designer to eco-diva.

“For a long time I concentrated only on jewelery. Though textile design was part of my training, my love of fashion with the disposable consumptive nature of the industry.  In step with the slow food movement, which values ingredients, ecological consciousness

and fair trade in the world of gastronomy, McIninch’s textiles and jewelery spring from her resistance to fast food fashion.

 

Her line, called Ground, is sold through her website, www.holdyourground. From April until October every year, her ever-changing originals are on display at Spring’s Saturday market. Nestled along lanes that features cheesemakers, cobblers and lavender farmers,

McIninch’s ivory silk-draped stall is simply irresistible to fashion

lovers. Floppy crimson lilies and poppies radiate from the centre

of white woolen tank tops, and a line of sweaters wear tattered

cut-out hearts, fringed in raw silk thread. Admiring crowds gather

around cases of one-of-a-kind silver and gold rings and earrings, while

loops of pearls drip tantalizingly alongside racks carrying her line of

lushly felted children’s wear. Environmental ethics clearly

shape her choices in what she creates for others.

 

“My mind was really opened after watching a documentary called Made in India. It showed the horrific amount of pesticides that farmers are using on their crops: cotton farmers becoming destitute because their farmlands had been taken over by industrial cotton farms. All so we could buy something cheap, wear it a couple of times, and then cast it off. The impact of witnessing that really resonated with me,” she recalls.

 

She describes another epiphany she had while volunteering at a Salt

Spring thrift store. “10,000 people on this tiny island and we’d get dozens of bags of used clothing donated every day! With all of this

material already in circulation, I decided to not produce clothing that required buying new fabric to make clothing. In addition to just melting

down fine jewelery and retooling it, you can now buy recycled metals.

This allows me to manufacture jewels using as much recycled and re-purposed material as possible. trying to encourage people

recycled fashion as a from consumption, and what we have already

circulation.”

 

Rather than seeing fashion as an indulgence, McIninch prefers

the whole industry, and it, as an opportunity to some global imbalances.

That ethic by no means compromises aesthetics: in a way, resurrecting

A garment that is hopelessly out of fashion, but made from high-quality materials, has become the artist’s challenge, and her play.

 

“I love the process that is taking something that is outdated, undesirable, unflattering and making it into something beautiful. The

garment gets stripped down, goes through this threadbare, husky

stage, then I pull it out of that cocoon and turn it into something

beautiful.”

 

Applying the same ethos to her jewelery line, McIninch builds

objects of permanence and preciousness, designed to be passed

down through generations. Signature details include gypsy set

diamonds, heart shapes cut out behind bold stones, and chunky,

hand-hammered settings in 18k gold and sterling silver. Her stackable

rings are prized for weddings and other auspicious occasions,

while her bespoke pearl necklaces would find themselves in both

gardens and at galas. Found objects and natural elements inspire

asymmetrical, bold designs which, through painstaking handiwork,

become polished and perfected into objets d’art.

 

The transformations she carries out on discarded clothes and

jewels are clearly a source of delight, but McIninch takes the most

pleasure in the moment when one of her creations is “discovered”

by someone. Every piece she makes is one of a kind, and she believes

that the adornments she makes have a kind of destiny and

wait patiently to be found by the person they were made for.

“For me, fashion is about finding talismans. If the body is your

altar, then clothing is what you lay upon it. It’s an honour for me to

be involved in that process.”

 

With that, she rises gracefully and strolls back to her studio, an

iconoclastic creator of an earthly elegance that is more than skin