Local “Fibershed”

Great minds think alike (Melissa and Kirsten!).
You all probably receive the Weaving Today e-newsletter but I thought I’d share it here as well:

Who Says Weavers Can’t Buy Local?

What’s in your “fibershed?” As appealing as a little building out back to store yarn sounds, I’m talking about a different kind of fibershed.

This word started popping up in online videos and blogs about a year ago as a result of Rebecca Burgess’ self-imposed challenge to wear only clothing that had been created and sourced within 150 miles of her Northern California home. Rebecca’s personal commitment—which she chronicled eloquently online—helped her identify farmers, spinners, knitters, dyers, weavers, clothing makers and a small mill located within her fibershed, all eager to help her complete her quest.

Karen’s local alpaca (front right)
ready and waiting to be woven into
something wonderful.

Meanwhile, back in Asheville, North Carolina, at about the same time, a small group of local weavers, spinners, knitters, dyers, fiber farmers and small-mill owners began meeting periodically to share ideas. At first we weren’t quite sure why we kept coming together, but the participants were engaging, the conversation was interesting and we always seemed to find a reason to come back the next month.

Along the way we came across Rebecca’s fibershed story. Looking around the room at what each of us brought to the table, we realized we had a really good start on identifying our own fibershed. But what were we to do with this information?

No one was ready to match Rebecca’s “only local clothing” pledge. However, the textile artists in the room did start looking more closely at where we source our raw materials. Let’s just say it was far from local. The alpaca and sheep farmers were thrilled at the prospect of a “buy local fiber” campaign, but the weavers in the room were slow to come around. We like our imported, fine and highly processed silk, linen, cotton, lyocell, bamboo, merino and tussah. Thick, stretchy handspun wool and alpaca just weren’t appealing.

Au contraire, rebutted the fiber farmers. “Our yarn processors can spin it any way you want it.” “Fine and plied,” we responded, fairly confident we wouldn’t like it. Lo and behold, a few months later one farmer plunked a cone of fine, 2-ply, luscious alpaca yarn on the table in front of us. “How’s this?” she asked. “It’ll do,” we mumbled, trying to hide our drool. When she had to wrestle us to the ground to pry the sample out of our hands, she knew we were hooked.

So we’re going to give this fibershed thing a try. Turns out we also have a locally grown and processed cotton yarn and a buffalo ranch within a 100-mile radius of Asheville. A new yarn mill is in development just north of Asheville, and a small jacquard mill (see “The Oriole Mill,” Handwoven Sept./Oct. 2011) is just south of town. Haywood Community College’s Professional Crafts-Fiber program is 30 minutes west, and the Penland, John C. Campbell and Arrowmont craft schools are all within a few hours’ drive.

Our group is working on our name, our mission statement, and our first show. It will be educational and promotional, showcasing the breadth of our regional fibershed and the depth of the textile art talent here.

My personal challenge is to get that alpaca woven into something yummy by November. I’ll bet I can find alpaca ideas in Handwoven’s online directory, and if I need an issue that’s not on my shelf or is out of print, there are always the CD collections.

So take a look around your own fibershed. Start a conversation with a local fiber farmer, source some local yarn and discover an exciting way to weave it. It worked for local food!

2 Replies to “Local “Fibershed””

  1. I saw that article and was delighted to know there are some East Coast cotton growers still around. I think I missed the Oriole Mill story, so I’ll have to go back and find that.
    I may regret deciding against Asheville, NC in favor of Appomattox, VA to move to. Not really, as the VA countryside suits me better.

    Speaking of local food, a woman I met at the Old Sturbridge Village Farmer’s Market last weekend had an interesting perspective. Not only does buying local food help the farmers, save oil, taste better, etc. – it helps preserve open space. If the farms fail, the developers will snap them up and build buildings. Pave it over! Especially true down on the CT border where she is. I knew this, but her putting it in those terms got me thinking.

    I also bought fresh ginger root (they grow it with a cover to help increase the temperature). It had the greens attached. Guess what I’m gonna do with those:-)

  2. That’s true about preserving land.
    With the housing glut and a drop in our population growth, the last thing we need is
    to develop more valuable acreage.
    Plus local food taste better and saves so much oil from not having to ship it across the country.

    I find this back-to-our-roots movement exciting.
    If I could go back to the pre-industrial era (but keep the life saving drugs and Internet),
    I would. But we can have the best of both worlds now and that’s what’s exciting.

    As far as locally sourced fibers go, Leah mentioned nettles as a possibility.
    I’ve been doing research online and it’s intriguing.
    Nettles have provided cloth for thousands of years but cotton has virtually replaced it.
    It’s now returning to favor and has lot’s of advantages over cotton, including being Eco-friendly and a perennial.
    That is going to be one local fiber that I’d like to explore.

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