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Behind the scenes of a gentle parent: sewing plastic bags into works of art

Submitted by on May 30, 2013 – 11:11 pm

red dress ange

After becoming editor for Happyzine, my time to sit, reflect and write has become limited somewhat; I needed some inspiration.  And I have found it: in others.  I have met so many amazing parents who are out there being inspiring and creating a positive, beautiful world.  So what I’d like to do is showcase some amazing parents and what inspiring things they are up to.  This blog: Angela Carter (check out her own gentle parenting philosophy below this blog).

Angela Carter is an inspirational artist from urban Auckland who has transformed Warehouse and Foodtown plastic bags into stunning pieces, entered for consideration into the World of Wearable Art this year.  For whatever reason, unfathomable by me, her dresses were not chosen to be part of the event, however, excitingly for us that means we can now publish the photos of her intricate designs!

What does this have to do with Gentle Parenting you ask?  Well; Angela is also a mother of two (3 and 5) and gentle parenting is also a passion of hers.  She is one of the wonderful mama’s that has inspired and supported me on my motherhood journey.

For Angela, gentle parenting is about “relationships, and being more conscious of choices I make as a parent, how they effect our happiness and health and how that translates into the wider community and environment.”

In this journey I have noticed a link (although not mutually exclusive) between those who gently parent and those who are interested in the social, political and environmental fabric of our world; for instance being passionate and active about women’s birth rights, eating organic and local food, interested in edible landscapes, sustainability and concerned about the way we treat our world.  On the fringe I suppose you could say; questioning and probing at the mainstream ideas and behaviour of society.

Does our parenting style become a way of life; a way of being and thinking?  My thoughts about this take me along the path that perhaps if we bring babies into the world gently, and parent them (as best we can) with a gentle, conscious intent, then maybe the next generation will have more awareness, empathy and compassion for others and the earth?

Which brings me back to Angela Carter and her fabulous creations.  From what I know of Angela, she is one of the wonderful women on the fringe.   Her dresses, made from recycled plastic bags are a political statement about waste and our phenomenally voluminous use of plastic bags.  But, instead of protesting; to me her art feels like a non violent creative expression.  Which I believe weaves into her gentle parenting philosophy.

Here is what Angela has to say about her designs:

red dress 2


The red dress is called Hydra, “she’s made out of Warehouse plastic bags, repurposed sheets and tulle, I managed to put this baby together without buying any new items, I did find a vintage long petticoat to wear underneath at an op shop, so that makes the materials cost $8…. Hydra is also the result of my experiments with plastic Warehouse bags, beginning in 2004. Her structure, both ridged, fragile and free flowing, reflects the varied polyps and coralline organisms that inhabit the hidden undersea world.”

white dress ange


“The other garment I created is Coralline, I spent months making a beautiful woven mat when I was at art school, all those years ago …Coralline is also made from plastic bags, Foodtown supermarket bags this time.

Coralline embodies my love of dress making, celebrating my whakapapa… my mother, and grandmothers, and their creativity.  It is this that has inspired my own journey into dress making, fashion and an obsession with fabulous textiles.

A couple of years ago, when I started out seriously making my own clothes I never would have imagined I’d take on a challenge like this, not to mention the fact I did get it all done, and by the deadline, madness really.

As they say, one door closes and another one opens, so we’ll see what’s ahead!”

For me, Angela encompasses what it is to live life gently, consciously and creatively.  I personally look forward to seeing what doors she decides to walk through next.  I am honoured that Angela has allowed Happyzine to publish her designs and her story behind them.

As I mentioned above, apart from sewing into the night, one of Angela’s passions is gentle parenting; here is what gentle parenting is to her, in her own words.

Tami Wyness

(for more on these designs, see Angela’s blog: Mermaid’s Purse: http://mermaidspurse.org.nz/)


Gentle Parenting: 

A Conscious Choice


For me, gentle parenting is about relationships, and being more conscious of choices I make as a parent, how they effect our happiness and health and how that translates into the wider community and environment. It is what it might sound like, being gentle with my children, I rely and work on our underlying relationships.

It is about trusting my child to do their best, and recognising (and remembering in the heat of the moment) that challenging behaviour has a cause, perhaps out of the child’s control and often understanding, and providing unconditional love and support through those hard times. Something I recognise more, is that it is also about being gentle with myself.

When I became pregnant, I had no idea at the time, how political parenting choices can be. I had no idea that my choice to birth my baby at home would polarise friends, challenge family and release the fears of those around me. I also didn’t realise that this would lead on to a very different approach to parenting.

When I lifted my baby into my arms, my instincts were intact and I was changed forever by this perfect and beautiful being. I wanted to be with her all the time, mostly. I wanted to be who I was, to continue with my life and the work that I loved, with my baby along for the ride.

I embraced Elimination Communication, or a nappy free lifestyle, I learned that breastfeeding is nothing like they say it is in ante natal classes or in the Plunket books, I mastered many different ways to wear my baby (and then babies) and just got on with what I needed to do. These different ways of ‘being’ with my baby reinforced some of what I was reading about, I was cultivating an instinctive and responsive relationship.  I was learning to understand that my baby knew when she needed to wee, she knew when she needed to breastfeed, I just had to trust her.

The choices I make are also gentle on the environment, reducing or eliminating use of nappies, even cloth, means less waste in production, less waste in the landfill, less electricity and water used in washing.

While it was fairly clear to me what myself and my baby needed to be happy, it was harder to hear that ‘going back to work’ would be a luxury for me.  Financially it made no sense, I had been employed casually while working on creative and arts projects – I would be paying to maintain my ‘career’ I’d worked so hard for.  But this was also a joy, it had become clear that many mothers have the choice to either return to paid work and put their baby or child in care or, stop paid employment to ‘stay at home’ with their children, few women are able to strike a balance of half time paid employment or have employers supportive of family friendly flexible working arrangements.

It was clear that what I needed and wanted didn’t really exist, so I would have to somehow create the lifestyle I wanted for myself and my family:

It is a work in progress, but over the last few years I’ve found the kind of people I love to be around, and who inspire me to be the mother I want to be, and who also care deeply about our precious environment, and about people. I have also happily discovered how little we really need to live, and live well, enjoying simple things, the garden the beach and each others company, we make most meals from scratch, using whole foods just keeping things with our means.

My journey in gentle parenting has also brought back to my mind issues around care of our wider environment, and this carries through into my art practice.

Since becoming a mother, I have re-learned how to sew, and most recently this has become the medium I have used to address some of my concerns about consumerism, post consumer waste, and in particular the impact of plastic waste products on the fragile marine environment.

The two garments I created this year for the World of Wearable Art are influenced by these concerns, and were such a great project to work on, testing my skills and time management to the limit! You can read more about the making of these garments and see more photos on my blog, where I share many of my creative projects and our adventures in gentle parenting.

Angela Carter

Mermaid’s Purse: http://mermaidspurse.org.nz/

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