I had the pleasure of attending Fibershed’s Annual Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium & I am so excited to share what I learned! Wanting to create my own sustainable fiber farm, I found the event very informative & extremely inspiring. But even if that’s not your life goal, the knowledge they shared, is stuff every consumer should know! This post will explain how I discovered Fibershed, what the Symposium was, & my favorite parts of the event. To do it justice, this will be the first post in a series about the Symposium. Through the series, I will shed some light on how together we can improve our current textile & fashion industry to create a more sustainable world!
Interested in sustainable practices & farming, the Sustainable Living Tour was a perfect immersive introduction to a topic I knew very little about. But as it started to end, I became unsure of what to do next. No one seemed to know anything about eco-friendly fashion. It felt like the popular opinion in the permaculture community was that we don’t need more clothes. “What about recycled materials?” was the reply I heard most often when asking about sustainable fibers. But where was I going to learn about natural ones? Luckily at our last stop, a kind creative soul turned me on to Fibershed! An organization that develops regional & regenerative fiber systems. She told be about their Wool Symposium in November  & how they were involved in some remarkable Climate Beneficial work.As soon she described it, I knew it was my next step. Feeling called to attend the Annual Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium, I purchased my ticket regardless of the fact that it would be over an 8 hour drive from my house. I had never been to a Symposium before & had no idea what to expect. I literally googled what Symposium meant before attending (it’s a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject, in case you were wondering). Typically, I’m all about the details, but other than the time & place, I didn’t need to know anything else. It didn’t matter to me. Something inside myself was telling me I needed to be there. I just had to listen & follow through.
The adventure began the night before as I made the trek from Orange County to the Bay Area. Leaving all my doubts behind, we arrived in record breaking time, which I don’t think was a coincidence… The drive into Point Reyes was even more magical. Having never been, I was happily surprised to find myself in such a beautiful place. Rebecca Burgess, Founder of Fibershed, started the day off by acknowledging the venue & calling attention to its inspiring Land Energy. Regardless of the event’s growth, she credited the area’s “food movement” as one of the reasons she hosts the symposium in the same location each year. Stating that what they have been able to do with fresh breads, milks & cheeses, is an analogous road map for growing the fiber movement!
What’s A Symposium Anyway?
The purpose of this event was to educate the general public on the impacts of the current textile system, facilitate discussion, provide solutions, &, I believe, ignite action! During short presentations, multiple panels of farmers, designers, scholars, activists & more shared various problems & discussed how they are combating these issues within their communities. Each detailed their hands on experience & results. These people are what Fibershed refers to as the Earth’s Natural Immune System. Innovators working on grass roots solutions that could be replicated in other regions to provide direct alternatives to existing destructive industrial models.
This event could have lasted several days! I felt like every person had so much information to share. But they jam packed as much info as possible into the time allowed, & I took notes so fast I ran out of space in my journal! In this series, you’ll find the stuff that really inspired me. Business, farms, & other organizations I felt needed to be shared & explored further!
What are you working with?!
When I first started to Crochet, I went to Jo-Ann’s to buy yarn. Having no idea what I was doing (or going to make) I purchased the cheapest stuff I could find. But as soon as my first granny square cardigan was done, I regretted it. I had spent all this time making a sweater that was too itchy to wear for anything longer than a photo. From then on out, I decided if I was going to dedicate my time to crochet something wearable, I wanted it to be made with the best possible materials. I became a stickler about using 100% natural fibers & started investing in quality yarn from my local yarn shop Alamitos Bay Yarn Company. Not only did it make my projects feel & look better, but also using nicer yarn made my creations feel couture. I went from making costumes, to items that could be passed down & cherished forever.
Natural & Bast Fibers: Solutions To Pollution
Which brings me to the part of the Symposium I was most excited about, all the different natural fibers & the people who are working with them! In part two, I’ll being going into more detail about how fabric & fiber products are produced. Because in order to find solutions to pollution, we need to understand the existing methods & alternatives. Just because something is marketed as sustainable, doesn’t mean its entire life cycle is as ethical as you may think. Their are varying degrees of sustainability, especially when it comes to our clothes.
A good place to start is with where the fiber comes from. Is in natural or is it synthetic? Does it come from an animal or a plant? During the Symposium, we saw a bit of what it was like to work with protein fibers. Mendo Wool demonstrated sheep shearing & Bungalow Farm sheared an Angora rabbit!Bast fiber was another hot topic at the symposium. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, bast fibers are obtained from phloem tissue within plants like Flax & Hemp. Through various processes (detailed in part two), it is removed from the plant to be used for textiles & cordage.
The plant fiber that had me most intrigued was nettle! I had heard nettle tea was good for allergies, inflammation, & digestion, but I did not know the plant had other uses. Mary Wutz of Seam Siren introduced me to the idea of wearing your medicine.
I’ve always been someone who gets nauseous easily. I don’t do well with erratic drivers. I’m guaranteed to get itchy if I wear something new without washing it & things like the smell of someone’s perfume, usually bothers me the second they walk into the room. As a result, I’ve become very aware of the chemicals I use & ingest. Always looking for purest products available, it was interesting to learn about the ancient process they use to harvest the nettle & turn it into a wearable material without chemicals!
Through her research, Mary also found that nettle fiber provides a comforting & grounding quality to the wearer. I was fascinated with the idea that the materials we put on our bodies could affect us energetically. Loving fashion, I already knew the aesthetics of my outfit greatly impacted my mood. It almost seemed silly to me I had not realized how huge a part the fabric composition could play. After all, it is touching the largest porous organ on our body all day!
I have loved wearing my nettle shawl & sweater. But as a maker, I would love to make my own designs with some nettle yarn one day!
Ever since Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, cotton has been one of the most popular plant fibers. Today, Sally Fox is growing it organically & in color! For 3 decades she has been crossing cotton plants to create quality pesticide free cotton. We had the opportunity to hear about her journey & the classical plant breeding she does locally on her farm Viriditas. Which I hope to visit soon! Starting as a spinner to pay her way through school, Sally has overcome lots of obstacles on her way to becoming a pioneer in the industry. Not only does she grow beautiful chemical free color cotton, but she also improved the carbon in her soil by 1% by integrating cover cropping & sheep tillage practices!
Linen is another popular material found in most of our closets. But did you know you can grow it in your own backyard? Derived from the Flax plant, linen is praised for its strength, breath-ability, & hypoallergenic qualities! Sandy Fisher recently discovered flax adapts to the environment & grows well during Chico’s winter. Together, The Chico Flax Project & Chico State University have been growing flax & developing new technology to harvest it more efficiently. They are currently working on a seed bank & funding what will be the first Mill in the United States.
Hemp has been growing in popularity as well! Bast Core was there to tell us about the advances they have made & how they are trying to produce textile grade hemp fabric. Located in Omaha Nebraska, they are developing the only sustainable industrial approach that uses a closed loop system. Ultimately they are trying to cottonize hemp & turn it into something like wool or cotton. Since hemp is about 20% fiber & 80% wood, they are also looking at new ways to make synthetic fibers like rayon with the wood! Currently, Mary Pettis Sarley of Twirl Yarn has been integrating their hemp fibers into her sock yarn. Together with alpaca & mohair, the hemp blend provides strength, stimulates circulation, creates cushion & wicking–rivaling synthetic counterparts!
To Be Continued!
I left the Symposium feeling like I had discovered a whole new world. I was exposed to new concepts & gained a better understanding of the cycle through which we clothe ourselves. Finally I felt like there were other people out there who cared about the same things I do & they are actually doing something about it.
I hope you enjoyed this post & maybe even learned something! Stay tuned for part two where I’ll be going into detail about what makes something sustainable & how to be a conscious consumer.
Thanks For Reading!
Peace & Love,
Megan Nicole Boyd
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