Muslim Women’s Group gets creative at Houseplant Takeover

Follow the journey of the ‘Eco-Warriors’ Muslim Women’s Group as they come together to rediscover lost skills and happiness crafting wall hangings for RHS Wisley’s houseplant display

Wall hangings form part of the sea-planted wall in the Houseplant Takeover

A spark of creativity

The Houseplant Takeover – Deep Sea Dive at RHS Garden Wisley sparked the creativity of the Wisley Glasshouse team as well as the local community. The fabric wall hangings on display in the Glasshouse, as part of the showcase, are made by the ‘Eco-Warriors’ Muslim Women’s Group – part of Surrey Minority Ethnic Forum.

Using inspiration from the RHS Library collections, the RHS Communities team met regularly with the group to share horticultural expertise and help create two colourful masterpieces using traditional embroidery and craft skills from their cultures.

“Teamwork is fun – we love working together.” – Shapne, ‘Eco-Warriors’ Muslim Women’s Group

The group explored visual ideas through cyanotypes and houseplants

Finding inspiration and sharing ideas

The project started on a crisp afternoon in December 2022, when the RHS Communities team headed to Camberley to meet the women at the Al Kharafi centre to get them thinking about how they could make the fabric panels. The group were initally shown a book of cyanotypes by Anna Atkins – one of the first people to illustrate a book using photographic images.

Her 19th-century cyanotypes used light exposure and a simple chemical process to create impressively detailed blueprints of botanical specimens. The panels were laid out for the group to see the size of the material they would be working on. From here their ideas started flowing, and they shared techniques on creating the fabric with an underwater scene.

Blocking out sections of the fabric to create the colourful seabed background

Combining cultural techniques

In early January 2023, the ‘Eco-Warriors’ worked together to block out the navy panels with sections of blue and green fabric and used cardboard templates to create water reflections, seaweed and coral outlines. The RHS Communities team encouraged the women to share sewing and embroidery techniques used in their different cultures – one used wire ribbons to create seaweed structures.

They also brought in items from home to be reused on the wall hangings, including a headscarf, which, when fanned out and fitted into place with hijab pins, resembled a piece of coral. Two ladies also worked on gathering and bunching together sections of netting and fabric to look like sea urchins and coral, adding a 3D element to the masterpiece. With the pom-poms and the crocheted urchins the women had made, the seabed became a rich colourful seabed, full of texture.

The group came together to add the final flourishes to the panels

Adding the finishing touches

At the end of January 2023, the ‘Eco-Warriors’ had their final session and there was a buzz in the air as everyone spoke of the happiness this project brought them – many talked about happy childhood memories and rediscovered long lost skills. The group hung the panels up for a final time, attaching the last fish and octopus using hijab pins. The Green Social Prescribing Project Manager at Surrey County Council came with a homemade orange seahorse to add to the scene.

“I enjoy creativity, relaxing and working together…it’s fascinating!” – Noor, ‘Eco-Warriors’ Muslim Women’s Group

Members of the group visit the the fabric panels on display at the Houseplant Takeover

Final creations on display

In early February 2023, the RHS Communities team met up with the Wisley Glasshouse team to install the fabric panels among the plants on the green wall. The Deep Sea Dive display includes a shipwreck, which helped bring the fabric creations to life. The women came to see their work on display, and were impressed by how it looked surrounded by plants.

During their visit, they saw an array of new plants and explored the rock formations, where they found a manta ray, a seahorse and jellyfish made from plants. They talked about how they had found new energy and motivation, some of them overcoming a range of health ailments to attend the sessions, and how they would like to do crafts and sewing regularly.

“The Wisley team have done amazing work for the whole project. They’ve opened so many doors for our mental and physical health. We are a gelled together and happy team of sisters from all walks of life.”

Firdosia, ‘Eco-Warriors’ Muslim Women’s Group
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