Hand-knit scarf by Jwrobel: 70% organic merino, 15% silk, 15% baby alpaca.
O is for Organic!
Most of us think of food when we hear the word "organic", but the term is also used for fabrics and fibers that are grown without the use of pesticides or insecticides. Several years ago, I read in National Geographic that they had gone to the most pristine places in the world and tested for DDT. They found it everywhere, so humans have irrevocably littered the earth with chemicals that damage our well being, cause mutations, and affect wild life. Yet, the earth also has an amazing ability to heal itself and a plot of land which sits for ten years without overt chemical interference can rid itself of many of the chemicals which have shorter life spans. Even DDT breaks down in most places within five years. (See Cornell University study.)
The textile industry is one of the big bad villains in our human story of poisons poured into our soil and water. I live in Kentucky and every summer wage my personal battle against the insects that devour my precious greens and infest my back yard. I know how hard it is to successfully raise an organic crop. But, every year, as I add compost and work the compost, I see the dirt becoming richer, blacker, full of nutrients that will make my veggies better able to defend themselves against their predators.
The cotton industry, especially, has a horrible record and the pesticides used are extremely toxic. The Environmental Justice Foundation has a short article that will make your hair rise: Read it. A friend of mine who works at an organic farm also pointed out that peanuts are rotated with cotton and are therefore one of the most toxic foods we can eat. They absorb the chemicals that were used on the cotton. If you like peanut butter, make sure it's organic!
Organic wool poncho by Threads of Peru
What does that mean for those of us who like to sew, knit, and work with fabrics and fibers? Well, those pretty designer fabrics and yarns are most likely processed using tons of chemicals that are not good for you personally, for the people who grew them and for the environment as a whole. It is not easy to escape our own contribution to these practices, but alternatives are definitely becoming more easily available. I am proud to say that many of our TAFA members actively engage in making their products as wholesome as possible.
We have TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles which works with weavers in Thailand and Laos. They have organic silk and cotton yardage that you can buy to make your own work,, or finished scarves and other items that you can wear.
Organic silk yardage woven in Thailand by TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles.
KnoxFarmFiber is just one of our farmer members who work with sheep, shearing them and spinning their fleece into organic yarns. Those of you who knit or use wool for felting should definitely check out their offerings! We have other members who work with alpaca, too, so do a keyword search and see what comes up.
KnoxFarmFiber sells organic hand-spun yarn in their Etsy shop.
So, you decide you want to work with organic fabrics and yarn.... Another thing to consider are the dyes and other finishing processes that were used for color, sheen, flammability, etc. A rule of thumb is to stay the closest possible to the raw product. Just like food, if you can't recognize how it was made, question it. Or, you may want to control the whole process yourself! Many TAFA members engage in organic dye processes, often working with indigenous people to preserve ancient techniques that were in danger of disappearing.
The Oaxaca Cultural Navigator is just one who offers workshops on some of the old Mexican ways, including the use of Cochineal, a parasite that lives on a cactus plant. (Photo to the left.) Visit their website for more information on the many workshops they offer in Mexico. (What a great way to learn about another culture!)
Several years ago, I watched a series on Public Television about the Living Treasures of Japan. This is the highest honor a person gets for excelling at what they do. This little old lady did all of the steps to create kimono fabric, four or five yards a year! (If I heard it correctly...) She grew the hemp and indigo, spun the threads, wove the cloth, and dyed the fabric. She worked into her 90's and has passed on, but what a life well lived! I was thrilled to find the video on youtube:
Most of us cannot dedicate our lives to all of these steps, but we can help support those who do.
The word "organic" can also be used to describe a design. Most of us would have images of fluidity, roundness, like something you might see in a microscope or in nature. Here are a few examples of organic designs used by TAFA members:
Sculpture by Leisa Rich
Merino felted scarf by Manufactura.
As you can see, there are plenty of TAFA members to explore here on our site. Do some key word searches and see what comes up. Visit the profiles and follow the links to their many sites. And, if you would like to learn more about the organic textile industry, here are some resources: