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Forming a fibershed

January 24, 2013
From fleece to finished sweater. This image belongs to www.fibershed.com.

From fleece to finished sweater. This image belongs to http://www.fibershed.com.

Several years ago Rebecca Burgess, who lives in the Bay Area, had a brilliant idea. She took the concept of the 100-Mile Diet (eating only food grown within a 100-mile radius) and extended it to the clothing she wore. Her goal was to wear only garments that had been sourced, dyed, spun, woven or knitted within a 150-mile radius.

Many articles about her quest were published across the nation and on the Internet. Many of the craftspeople and local providers around the Bay Area became newly energized and banded together to create what she calls a fibershed, which like a watershed contains many smaller elements that join together to make something much larger: in this case clothing, from fiber to finished garment. A fibershed includes the farmers who raise sheep and alpacas, or who plant flax and indigo; the dyers who color the fiber; the spinners who process the fiber into yarn; the knitters and weavers who make things with that yarn; and the seamstresses and tailors who shape the finished garments.

By the end of the 1800s, only elderly women for the most part remembered the traditional fiber skills. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

By the end of the 1800s, only elderly women for the most part remembered the traditional fiber skills. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

This idea struck me forcibly. As an amateur historian I know that my home of Bloomington, Indiana,  in its earliest days possessed a carding mill, a fulling mill, and also  a mill for pressing linseed oil. Every frontier farm grew quantities of flax which women spun along with wool in order to weave the staple cloth of the time, linsey-woolsey. Fiber in those early days was a valuable commodity and was the basis for an entire section of the frontier economy.

Like many other American cities, Bloomington had a strong manufacturing sector from the very beginning until recent decades, when it began hemorrhaging industry and losing jobs. Our economy today is based largely upon services rather than products. The presence of Indiana University means that we have countless restaurants, bars, bistros, boutiques, clothing shops, and specialty shops, along with a scattering of small tech-related companies.

Alpaca yarn in natural colors. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Alpaca yarn in a range of colors. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

But what if we could successfully revive the fiber part of our industry? After all, there are plenty of farmers who raise small herds of sheep and alpacas, whose individual fleeces are sold to handspinners or not at all. There are many skilled people in this area with expertise in dyeing with natural materials, including IU’s Rowland Ricketts, a renowned specialist in growing and dyeing with indigo. We have countless spinners, weavers, knitters and crocheters who support two local yarn shops, one of which dates back to the 1970s. We have tailors, seamstresses and alterations experts galore. We even have a weaving company — The Textillery — that exports decorative woven throws to outlets across the nation, and we have a new clothing boutique, American Colors, that designs and makes its own styles. The only thing we lack is a fiber mill that could spin anything from thread to yarn.

A fibershed here in south-central Indiana would enable all these disparate segments of the economy to reach out to each other and would promote new businesses and endeavors. It would undoubtedly promote tourism as well. It makes sense for everyone from farmers to weavers to tailors and boutiques to join together to promote their common interest in fiber and textiles. The main Fibershed web page lists all participating members in the Bay Area by their area of expertise and contains hyperlinks so interested people can contact them directly. This makes a lot of sense for Bloomington.

Basically, we have the elements of a successful fibershed. We just need to join the threads together to help it take form.

Below I have made a small start at a listing of links of interest, both national and local. Interested in supporting the idea of a Hoosier fibershed? Contact me and let’s talk!

Links:

The Fibershed main page:  http://www.fibershed.com/about/

Rebecca Burgess’ homepage: http://www.rebeccarburgess.com/

An article, with video, about Rebecca’s 150-mile wardrobe: http://faircompanies.com/videos/view/150-mile-wardrobe-local-fiber-real-color-gandhi-economy/

Rowland Ricketts’ indigo growing project at Hilltop Gardens, Bloomington: http://www.indigrowingblue.com/about.html.

Information about Rowland Ricketts’ most recent indigo art installation, http://ijpan.ncsa.illinois.edu/ricketts/indigo/page9/index.html

Yarns Unlimited, yarns for the fiber arts, http://www.yarnsunlimited.com/

The Textillery, Bloomington manufacturer of handwoven throws, http://www.textillery.com/type-handwoven_throw_collection

Information about American Colors, Bloomington-based clothiers who design and make their own garments, http://www.mustloveboutiques.com/2010/03/01/american-colors-clothing/

Local alpaca fleece is available from Spotted Circus, http://www.spottedcircus.com/

Indiana has a statewide fiber-web that I only learned about today, called Swift: http://www.swiftindiana.org/?page_id=143

Wooly Knob isn’t close to Bloomington, but they say they’re Indiana’s only carding and spinning mill, http://www.woolyknobfibermill.com/

Alexandra Morphet provides custom tailoring in Bloomington, www.biascustomclothing.info

Sheep Street in Morgantown, IN, raises sheep and sells rovings, fleeces, and yarns for weaving and knitting, as well as looms, spinning wheels and related equipment. They offer classes in a wide range of the fiber arts.  See http://www.sheepstreet.com/

Donna Jo Copeland sells fleeces from her flock at Breezy Manor Farm, and provides custom knitting and weaving.  Contact her at Breezymanor@aol.com or by mail at 5803 East Watson Road, Mooresville, IN 46158. Breezy Manor Farm is on Facebook.

Patricia Hale-Dorrell’s business, Simple Soapworks, sells natural hand-made goats’-milk soaps. She also offers lovely kettle-dyed skeins of yarn along with beautiful socks made from that same yarn on an antique sock-knitting machine.

Stephen Bowman runs the Bedford College of Lace Making and is also the leathersmith at the historic village at Spring Mill State Park. He does bobbin lace as well as tatting, crochet, filet netting, knitted lace, lucet, and pulled and drawn lace.  He teaches classes in the various techniques and also makes pillows used in lacemaking. See www.bedfordcollegeoflacemaking.com.

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From → fiber arts

5 Comments
  1. Dawn Montague permalink

    Has any progress been made on developing a fibershed in Indiana?

    • Hello Dawn, thanks for writing. I have urged SWIFT to take over the task of uniting a fibershed, and they have expressed great interest. I’m going to write an article for their webpage discussing what a fibershed is, and inviting people to submit their websites for their products. 🙂

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