Friday, October 17, 2014

Sustainable Cloth:  
 A Vermont designer takes up the regional textile challenge.

Many of us show support for our neighbors and community by buying at farmers’ markets and locally owned businesses.  We have changed where we put our dollars, and shifted our shopping bags from plastic to paper or cloth.  Some of us even make a point of buying hemp or organic cotton garments.  While “going green” by looking at a garment’s tag seems easy, the reality of textile production is very complex.  

The fiber in most hemp and organic cotton garments found in the U.S.A. is grown and processed on the other side of the world. The majority of natural fibers today are saturated with formaldehyde solutions, pesticides (via permanent adhesives), and synthetic dyes that are health hazards for the environment and all who live in it. Synthetic dyes are near the top when it comes to the  largest environmental polluters.

So, as concerned people, who want to show respect for the earth and our neighbors, what can we do? 

A New Face to American Textiles

There is a growing interest among both farmers and designers in environmentally friendly textile production.  In the past decade, new processing mills have sprouted up in many states across the nation, and at least one weaving mill has been saved from being auctioned overseas.  These little mills, that make yarn from regional fiber, serve as hubs for connecting the dots between raw fibers and regional textiles.  Isolated networks of textile development are growing and beginning to connect with each other.
Several people have developed ambitious projects and organizations to raise awareness about locally produced fiber, yarn, and knit and woven fabrics.  Names like Fibershed, Slow Cloth and Farm2Fashion are taking hold in many states.

Revitalizing the Vermont Textile Tradition With a Kickstarter Fundraiser

My project, Winter Moose, is based in Vermont.  The textile mills here were large and productive, but from the 1950s onward there was a steep decline. Now we are a region full of hand weavers, echoing the state of textile production in the late 1700s.  Winter Moose is a Kickstarter fundraiser to  show what we are capable of right now. 

Locally Grown Fiber and Dyes

Beginning with the farmer’s, I have started to gather alpaca and sheep fiber.  We plan on using a Vermont carding and spinning mill with the ability to process organically.  Color will be added to some of the yarn by local dyers who grow their own dyes, or who use plant dyes grown in the U.S.A.. Most of the yarn colors, however, will be mixtures of naturally grown colored fiber.

Rt top: Alpacas of many colors.
Rt bottom:  These shades were created with madder; 
a root that grows in Vermont.

Winter Moose will Weave the Industry Together at a Regional Level

Professional weavers, from all parts of Vermont, will take this yarn and create cloth destined for fifteen coats and several hats and bags, that my daughter and I have designed.
(See the Winter Moose Kickstarter or for a video of our designs).  When the cloth comes off the loom, I will sample test various natural finishing processes.  Then I will work the yardage by hand and machine until it is properly fulled, teased, shorn, collandered and otherwise finished and ready for cutting. 

As the main designer, I will be creating the initial patterns for each item to be sewn. Then local professional seamstresses and stitchers will cut and sew the garments, adding handmade wooden buttons and a 100% organic cotton lining, grown and processed in the U.S.A. if possible.  Zippers, threads, and other notions, will be sourced in the U.S.A., if not found in Vermont.

Community Building and Research

Creating the Winter Moose fabric is about connecting masters and experts who have not worked together before. It is about learning the strengths and weaknesses of one geographic region, and helping to rebuild what has been lost.  For example, the finishing techniques for woolen goods, that were part of the first mills in Vermont, are no longer available in all of New England.  This is an opportunity to add new innovation to the revival of old traditions.  By combining research with ingenuity, I think we can weave a community around a local industry that has a rich history in the area. 

With Winter Moose, I aim to assist in building connection and mutual economic support between the farmers, spinners, weavers, designers and stitchers of Vermont, while planning for new technologies to accomplish traditional processes.

Rt:  Merino sheep. The initial textiles for 
Winter Moose will be almost 50% Merino.

For Winter Moose, 
Education is a Top Priority 

Educational efforts will include sharing information about environmentally sound practices, cross-sector interface and efficiency, skills training and consumer education.
Over the past five years, through research and networking, I have already stimulated a new environmental awareness among some fiber farmers and mill owners.  In honor of those thousands of people who have severe, negative health affects from formaldehyde and pesticide exposures, I am committed to making Winter Moose fabric as natural as possible.  In today’s world, this is a challenge.

Creating a Purely Natural Textile

People need reminding about how pervasive synthetic adhesives are in our culture. Winter Moose fibers must never have contact with “bug proofing” dryer sheets or chemical baths of synthetic pesticides and preservatives.  Work spaces and storage units must be free of synthetic fragrances, deodorizers and “air fresheners”.  I want Winter Moose textiles to be safe for the chemically injured of our society, and provide a pure and natural alternative to the toxic load so typical in today’s “natural” fibers. To be involved in Winter Moose, people must use only natural products, which fosters awareness, and adds support to other sustainable and all natural businesses.

Rt:  Runway fashion from1970

Establishing Networks and Best Practices

Education is also key in assisting diverse sectors to work more efficiently together. I have already supported this by writing a pamphlet to help farmers better prepare their fiber for the mills. I designed this pamphlet to include suggestions and requests, from three Vermont processing mills.  

Integrating Vermont’s Refugees

Bringing new talent and skills to the industry through the Refugee Resettlement Program in Vermont is also a goal of the Winter Moose project. Minimal training could fill a need for efficient, mobile, fiber skirting and sorting teams.  The Winter Moose project may also provide career opportunities for refugees with preexisting skills in tailoring and weaving.

From Fields to the Runway...

The coats themselves are a grand education campaign.  If I succeed at raising the necessary funds on the Winter Moose Kickstarter, I will take the finished coats on a tour to raise awareness about the importance of regional, traditional textiles. I think people would like to better understand how their textile choices affect the economy, the environment and their health.

Keeping it Close to Home

Next time you think about purchasing a “green” item made of cloth, I hope you will pause and look around you.
By supporting your local fiber farmers, yarn mills and garment makers, you will be doing much more for your community, and the environment, than by buying organic cotton or hemp grown on the other side of the world, dyed in many baths of toxic chemicals, and shipped to the U.S.A.  

You might be pleasantly surprised by who your local weaver is.

By Ishana Ingerman
Burlington, Vermont
Copyright 2014
For questions, contact:

To support the Winter Moose project, click on the links below.