2022-2023 saw the beginnings of changing and adapting our fabrication practices. We have been looking at how we and the wider sector can respond to the environmental impacts on the planet our industry is causing. We’re moving towards becoming more sustainable and researching new ways of working which will reduce our water and energy consumption, as well as researching and implementing ways of using natural dyes, materials, and fibres in our work. We’re excited to begin work on our next project called The Living Dress. We’ll be producing 4 stunning, large-scale outdoor installations. This project will explore a very new process of creation (using new sustainable materials and processes) and of presentation, by creating a living dress, a time-limited outdoor art-work.

This is also a new process of reaching people for us, yet taps into and re-interprets traditional (and undervalued) patchwork and community textile traditions, with a focus on 100s of culturally under-served women in our local area. This mass participatory project has the potential to reach 10,000+ audiences, and we’ll be working with communities in Tameside, Oldham, Rochdale, and Blackburn. We are beginning a new period of exploration and innovation in sustainability and Carnival arts practice, join us on our journey!


The Living Dress

By Cabasa Carnival Arts

4th-9th March

The world-premiere of a stunning, outdoor installation. The installation has been made completely with sustainable fabrics and processes. They have used a hybrid of both ancient techniques and modern processes including soy resist painting, Japanese inspired Nori resist painting, as well as modern dye practices and methods of immersion dying. The 5m sculpture has been made using steel and treated so it will last for many years to come.Rochdale has a very rich history of textiles, once being one of the biggest producers and exporter of fabrics in the world. Today Rochdale is one of the most multicultural towns in the UK.


Rochdale’s Living Dress installation has been made with the help of three local women’s groups – Seriously Crafty, Women’s Welfare, and Soul Sisters.

Together, they have learned about the culture and stories behind the natural dye madder, which has been used around the world since around 3000BC. Madder is an ancient root and using madder in this first dress takes us back to the roots of textile dying, going back to nature, and making textiles in a slow way as well as working towards being more climate kind.

The groups Cabasa worked with are made up of many different backgrounds and experiences which is reflected in the dress. The women Cabasa worked with have been invigorated by what they have learned and want to take their own research into these natural processes further.


Realised and sculpted by the amazing Iola Weir, this beautiful piece of art will be the base for our 4 living dresses.

Standing at 4.6m tall she is mother Earth, growing from the roots of the planet out into the world above. The ethos of this whole project is about working to connect back with nature and explore global traditions of naturally dyed textiles.

It’s fitting that this beautiful sculpture will be wearing a dress mainly dyed from one of the oldest dyestuffs discovered, madder. The colour is drawn out from the roots themselves, which are cultivated over many years to get the magical hues of reds, oranges, and pinks.

The sculpture itself is made from aluminium and steel, which we will be able to keep for many years to come.

All will be revealed on Monday 4th March at Rochdale Festival of Ideas.

Sculpture Credits:

Design realised and sculpted by: Iola Weir
Fabricator: Dave Pack

Assistant sculptors:
Rowan Taylor
Lizzie Rigby

Overall design concept by Emily Wood


The patterns on the dress have been inspired by the benches outside Rochdale Town Hall, which were created by Cheshire-based designers Broadbent Studios and specialist ceramicists Darwen Terracotta, part of Rochdale town hall redevelopment and refurbishment. The designs are based on bolts of fabric from different continents and cultures.

“Once Rochdale sent textiles out across the world; today they come from across the world to Rochdale. An echo of the past and a nod to Rochdale’s multi-cultural present.”

We’ve also incorporated the madder plant and flowers in which this dress has been inspired by. The images are of us creating the fabrics using batik and overdyeing, as well as images of the beautiful ceramic benches the designs have come from 

Read more about their Global Patterns project here


This project is supported by: