Slow fashion, sewing machines and Sally gardens

Once upon a time the words sustainability and slow fashion were not in use at all. It was just how clothes were made. Sonia Caldwell reflects on what we lost even though this time was not so long ago and how we can reclaim some of these skills.

As someone who has not yet reached my 50s, I can recall that my mother would have made us clothes when we were young and the sewing machine was regularly out in the house. Sewing was also a part of the average school week and most primary school teachers had these skills to pass onto children.

Going further back, flax was grown extensively in West Cork and alongside this was a strong linen industry. At the time the flax industry was also subsidised by the English government. Several factors then started to change everything. Cheaper flax from abroad, which was made possible by better transport, cheap cotton made available by the slave trade, and then more recently the massive move to fast fashion outlets, which is made possible by transport powered by oil amongst other factors. 

What we lost was huge – the skills to make one of the basic requirements of life – our clothes and we also lost the presence of local businesses that were part of the fabric of every village, town and city.

The clothes themselves were more expensive but the quality was way above most of what we see in fast fashion outlets. And importantly you only made, or bought, a couple of items a year and they lasted as the fabric was high quality and well made. 

Tamsin Blackbourn makes clothes from quality linen and sells them at Skibbereen and Schull markets and also from her website

We are delighted to have her come to Kilcoe Studios in Ballydehob to pass on skills to those that wish to start or restart and old interest. 

We will have a set of workshops starting in the Spring; these will cover basic techniques like machine skills, pattern cutting and hand sewing. Email for more information.

Sally gardens (Coppiced willow) are not necessarily connected to clothes but willow baskets would have carried the linen cloth to markets in the past. Willow basket makers are still dotted around the country and we are lucky in Cork to have a handful of skilled basketmakers. One of these is Rosemary Kavanagh ( and she will  come to Kilcoe Studios in Ballydehob to do a talk and presentation on growing willow. Those who wish to do basketmaking as a hobby or part of their creative work would find this a very important source of information but also many gardeners can use coppiced willow in various practical and creative ways will get all sorts of tips from this talk. You will also get a set of cuttings to take away with you and a handout with information. 

Other Spring craft workshops taking place are listed below. If you are interested in joining the mailing list for a newsletter about upcoming workshops and events taking place in Kilcoe Studios in Ballydehob, email or text 087 0667871 to receive updates or to book a workshop. 


Celebrate this day with the tradition of making a cross from local rushes. With Anna Crudge, Wednesday, February 1, 2.30-4pm, €15.


For complete beginners with no, or very little, previous experience who want to learn to make clothes for themselves or their family. The initial project is to sew a simple skirt – more details by request.  With Tamsin Blackthorn. Tuesday evenings 6.30-9pm. Four classes starting Tuesday, February 7, 2023. €130 for the course. Places limited.

GROWING YOUR OWN WILLOW AND BASKETRY – Illustrated talk                                           

Including willow cuttings and a planting guide to take home. With Rosemary Kavanagh.

Saturday, February 11, 2.30-4.30pm, €35.  


Making a small basket using common river rushes with Sonia Caldwell. Saturday, March 4,  2.30-5pm, €35.

WCP Staff

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