What better time to talk about local textiles and Community Supported Cloth than Fashion Revolution Week? If you are wondering what Fashion Revolution Week is, it’s a designated opportunity to ask, “Who made my clothes?” and find out about where our textiles come from and how they are made. But be warned, it’s not pretty.
When I was a kid, I loved reading the Little House on the Prairie series. In the book, Farmer Boy, my favorite chapter was where Almanzo’s mother makes him an outfit from cloth she wove and dyed herself from the family sheep. It wasn’t unusual at the time. Additionally, in many cultures around the world, an area had its own dye plants, fibers, and specific patterns or styles so you didn’t need to ask “Who made my clothes?”, because you could already tell where they came from, and you or a member of your community probably made them from locally available materials.
Now, it is more complicated.
With the advent of the industrial revolution, clothes quickly became a factory produced item. And textile and dye factories are some of the biggest polluters in the world. These factories can be anywhere in the world and the clothes ship internationally. The working conditions are often dangerous and toxic to the workers and surrounding communities. When we ask, “Who made my clothes?” We can start to acknowledge and hopefully change these conditions.
When I was eight, my neighbor taught me how to spin yarn. It began a lifelong interest in the fiber arts and the quest to make clothes from fiber to frock. Working with locally produced wool, I spun a lot of yarn. Eventually, I began knitting, then progressed to dying the yarn, furthering my goal to make entire garments from local materials.
Natural dye really caught my attention, as it seemed to be the one area where you could get in depth with regional materials and find a local color voice, since there are still plants and mushrooms everywhere.
Local fiber, on the other hand, is hard to find.
Indigenous people of the San Francisco North Bay made (and still make) regalia from regional plants carefully tended over generations, and laboriously made into cordage, which becomes a key material in the final garment. These plants are more difficult to find now, and those that do exist have not been tended properly in the last couple hundred years, so they are harder to use.
There are locally raised sheep and alpacas, and their wool is the primary fiber available for regional fabric. But there is a lack of fiber-processing facilities in this area, so it limits us predominantly to hand-knitted and hand-felted or hand-woven garments. Cotton and silk are even more difficult to source.
I want to have a choice to make and wear locally made clothing. And I’m not the only one. Back in 2010, Rebecca Burgess began working on the challenge, and her focus was not trying to solve it herself, but to draw in a community of people, (just like the old days) to work on it. She spent a year collaborating with fiber producers and artisans to make 100% locally made clothing and only wearing that for a year. It was not easy, but it began the Fibershed Movement in the Bay Area, now an international movement, and led to the re-evaluation of the textile systems in place (or not in place) in California right now. Peruse the Fibershed website to discover all the projects that are in progress right now to further our local textile economy.
My contribution to our Fibershed is naturally-dyed Fibershed certified yarn subscriptions. But I also turn my focus to exploring local color in any way possible. My silk camisoles and slips are not local fiber, but they are 100% local dye and labor and I’m able to experiment with a variety of different regional colors this way. Still, in the back of my mind, I think about local fabric.
So I was excited last year to hear about the Community Supported Cloth Project. (Finally!) The project was “designed to directly support both our local economy and climate beneficial agriculture through providing the first-ever regionally grown, 100% worsted wool cloth to our community.” Besides being our own area’s cloth, the community-supported aspect of it is also a worthy experiment—a CSA for cloth.
When you buy clothing, the only thing on the label is “made in ….” and it’s where the clothing was put together, it doesn’t note where the fabric was made, dyed or grown or how toxic the process might have been. According to the Fibershed website: “Our aim is to build a transparent, regional and regenerative textile economic model that supports the ranchers and artisans in our community.”
I am all for that.