Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ecological Footprint of a Sweater

I thought this story was pretty neat - it's about a woman who pledged to only wear handmade clothes derived from materials from within 150 miles of her home in California - her "fibershed":

Your clothes can say a lot about who you are and what you value. I wonder what we would all look like if we all hand made our clothes? I have to admit, I did wonder if she even made her own underwear and bras...

Part of what I love about working with wool from my sister's farm is that I can start with a sustainable raw material that an animal has assimilated from the grass growing under my feet, the water that falls and flows through my watershed, and the same air I am breathing -- and end up with a beautiful and functional creation. I think the idea of dressing yourself with materials local to your home builds on the local foods movement, and helps raise awareness about how every choice we make in our lives has a consequence for the planet - a choice as simple as what clothes to put on in the morning.

Here are a few examples of some garments I have made from raw wool. This is a vest I knit from a Tunis fleece given to me by my friends Ben and Grace at Tamarack Tunis in Corinth, VT. I started with a raw fleece straight off the sheep. I skirted the fleece to remove undesirable parts, hand washed it in batches using a canning pot, dyed it two shades of blue/green, hand combed it (with combs hand crafted in Bradford, VT, no less), spun it into a tweed yarn, then knit it into a vest. I wore it a few times, but it never fit quite right -- a bit too short. So, I threw it in the washing machine and felted it (technically, I fulled it). Now it is a toddler size and someday my little Henry will wear it (assuming it's the right temperature when he's the right size to fit into it). Here is the vest prior to felting:

This is a hat I knit from yarn I spun -- also from fleeces given to me by Ben and Grace. You can't see it in the photo, but the inner brim of the hat has a band of alpaca knit into it for softness against the forehead. The alpaca came from the Miller's Safe Haven Alpaca Farm, just a mile from my home. I donated this hat to a silent auction to raise money for our local community center. My neighbor Dianne, who is an extremely talented fiber artist, was the highest bidder.

This vest - well, this vest was a lot of work. I got the border leicester fleece from a "free" ad in the local newspaper. It was a variegated fleece with grays and browns, some of which I dyed a purpley blue. After hand combing the fiber to prepare it into rolags for spinning, I spun a tweed yarn - one strand blue fiber and one strand natural color. I then knit a humongous vest and then felted it down to about 1/4 of the size in the washing machine. The tweed yarn made a cool mottled effect when felted, and I liked how the natural grays and browns come through a bit. I saved the outer stitches by knitting on a band of acrylic yarn (that won't felt), and after felting, picked the stitches back up and knit a border (the border yarn is commercial bought - not local, but hand spun and dyed by women in Peru, I believe). After that, I needle felted a maple tree on the back. Phew - what a process! I sewed a zipper into it so it could be worn jacket-like. It's one of the warmest pieces of clothing I own.
Like most good things in life, it's not just the final outcome, but the process that is important. Patience and hard work has its own rewards.