The guest speaker this evening was Rebecca Burgess, of Fibershed. If you've heard that name before, you must be a dyer. She's written a book, published in 2011, titled Harvesting Color, How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes. (That's a link to the book in Amazon. I'm not an affiliate, so purchase it where you will.) Rebecca's personal goal, it seems, is similar to 'foodies' where they pursue known sourced ingredients for their diet -- only with her wardrobe. She wants to find the source of her garments within an area of about 300 miles of home.
To accomplish this challenge, she created a project by studying the fiber of her clothes (keep in mind, unlike you or I, she is not a knitter) and found herself disgusted by the amount of plastics in our clothing that eventually find it's way to our landfills. The result of her yearlong project was a few pieces in her wardrobe she can name the animal or farm it was harvested from AND Fibershed. If you, like me, heard that term and wondered if that was similar to WATERSHED, you are not far from wrong. Like a watershed, a cycle can be nurtured to clothe ourselves in a sustainable, eco-friendly way. Her website www.Fibershed.com says it's goal is to "address and educate the public on the environmental, economic and social benefits of de-centralizing the textile supply chain".
Ever since the plow was invented, the soils natural resources have continually been removed without thought to putting anything back into it, exhausting the earth. By composting, rotating 'events' in a field (one farm she mentioned grows cotton and has sheep, which are allowed to graze the stubble after the cotton has been harvested) and other choices made with thoughtful care of the land. Studies have shown that in the past, only 3% of California's wool crop becomes used for American made products, 30% is imported out of the country and the rest is in landfills or, as Rebecca puts it 'lining a ditch somewhere'. (Note: This was what I recalled from what I heard, I took no notes, and can't find this on her website, so there is a need to verify the accuracy of this statement. I do believe this is not the first time I've heard this, but how long ago or from where, I can't recall.) Not only are they trying to salvage that waste, but as the chart on her website shows, the nutrients are put back into the soil. She shared examples of this from a wool farm including Jacob Sheep, the Cotton Farm I already mentioned, her excitement about linen happening in our area and the hemp production in Australia.
Afterwards, an eastern Oregon resident whose background in sheep ranching raised the question that all of us had, what Rebecca is doing in California, can it be duplicated here? She did point to a pretty woman in the audience who is working toward developing linen, but the really good thing I heard was that the infrastructure for milling the final product is already in place in this area. Without naming that company, Rebecca mentioned that because this company has had to integrate foreign fibers and chemical (unnaturally created) dyes, it would be a big change for them to pursue the solely locally obtained and natural materials. It could be done. We as a consumer may need to convince them that THAT is what we want, but it can be done.
It should be mentioned that Brooklyn Tweed has an interest in these environmentally friendlier produced fibers, as they did sponsor Rebecca's visit tonight, so we may also want to watch for products from that company as well.
So why did I leave sad/frustrated/disgusted? I am sorry to say there were only about 50 people in the room to hear this information. I am one small person, I don't own a farm, a mill or dye yarns in my kitchen. I have never spun yarn. In this cyclical project, I am the end user. The only thing I can do is save my pennies for that yarn to come. I can imagine those first few skeins will be costly. There was already a fabric kickstarter which may have been out of the range of most pocketbooks I know of, Community Supported Cloth, is currently offered at $55 per yard, minimum 2 yards. For a person my size, that might make a vest and/or a pencil skirt, but the bigger picture I can appreciate: If I can afford to support this effort more will come of it, this effort will have a chance to be a success.
The other thing I can do is to look around me and ask, 'Where were you?'