gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

I’m not really the type that gets excited about high fashion. Nor did I ever think I would be writing here about $130 crochet lace panties, for that matter… But what is very close to my heart are innovative initiatives to craft local, durable, non-toxic and beautiful alternatives to the products of conventional textile industry.

We know all too well the disturbing patterns of “fast fashion” — the short life-cycles of apparel cheaply produced (though with a high cost to the environment) in faraway places, transported, cheaply purchased at a chain store, worn perhaps a few times, and then discarded because the next trend has already made them seem outdated. The cycle of consumption and abandonment only seems to be accelerating. What would it take to reverse it — to get people excited about “slow fashion”? How can we take the model of the burgeoning local organic food movement and get people equally excited about local organic clothing on their bodies?

While people like myself may be invested in trying to learn all the steps of crafting a garment from start to finish, we’re unlikely to have a larger impact on clothing culture as long as others can easily dismiss us, as photographer Paige Green writes, “as just another hippie… wearing strange brown clothes.” (I always remember a comment my former colleague made: “I knitted a sweater once, but of course I could never wear it to work… It looked, you know.. homemade.”) We need to bring across that environmentally conscious and locally made clothing can at the same time be gorgeous, unique, arresting, stylish, and sexy. Today, I want to highlight two design projects that are doing an inspirational job demonstrating this.

I’ve written about the Fibershed project in California before — it is what initially inspired my own adventures into spinning and natural dyeing. Rebecca Burgess, the author of my beloved natural dyes book, took on a personal challenge in 2010 to only wear clothes that had been made within 150 miles of her home, from start to finish. Since then, Fibershed has evolved into a non-profit organization seeking to create and strengthen local networks of textile production, i.e. fibersheds — farmers, dye growers, fiber mills, artisans and designers. In December, they organized a fashion event and fundraiser in Northern California to showcase the work of talented local designers and fiber producers: the Fibershed Fashion Gala 2013. I think you’ll agree with me — these images show how stylish and cool “homespun” clothing can be.

Photo: Paige Green

Photo: Paige Green


Photo: Paige Green


Photo: Paige Green

The other project I want to highlight is that of a Portland-based designer Rio Wrenn, whose clothing design label R.A.W. Textiles caught my attention when I was still living in Portland. Wrenn’s creations are made out of hand-dyed natural fabrics and recycled materials, using dyes based on plants and berries out of her own garden, iron and rusty objects, and insects. Her collection specializes in translucent scarves and delicate and romantic lingerie. My favorite are the hand-dyed vintage cotton crochet panties (below). Although I probably won’t be buying a pair for myself anytime soon — I just can’t justify spending that much on a pair of undies — who knows, I might try making my own… (Where’s that crochet hook again?) But I must say I adore Wrenn’s work. As with the Fibershed designers, it is visible proof that even unmentionables can be playful and sexy and dreamy while at the same time sustainably, responsibly, creatively crafted. Something you’d be proud to wear.

4 thoughts on “Homespun haute couture

  1. Lois Field says:

    I almost skipped reading this as I’m not into fashion either, glad I didn’t. I can’t say I would wear any of the clothes pictured but it has sparked my interest in finding out how to crochet my own panties and it’s good to hear about local movements to create more clothing closer to home in proper working conditions and environmentally sound ways.

  2. I have been trying to make my own clothes lately. Its very difficult to source local fibre! Thanks for sharing these stories.

    1. Mari says:

      Hi Liz, and thanks for stopping by! I find that too about local fiber. That’s why the work of organizations like the Fibershed is so crucial, because animal and plant fiber growers need networks with local buyers/artisans, and other kinds of incentives and support, to secure the viability of their livelihoods. Making it happen is a slow process, though. I’d like to try growing some flax when I have more land… but local fiber production on a larger scale is what I’d really like to see!

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