Hand Spun

By Laurel Delp / March 31, 2012

Fashion designer Anna Cohen created this green wool cardigan, “Dreaming in Motion,” using Imperial Stock Ranch yarn. The Imperial Stock Ranch has been working with Oregon’s fiber artists and designers for 10 years.


We’d rather not think about it—especially when the fit is just right. Industrial clothing is made from pesticide-ridden and genetically modified cotton and treated with carcinogenic formaldehyde and flame retardants, then flown to the United States from China. Their production byproducts aren’t pretty.

Rebecca Burgess, a textile artist and indigo farmer in Marin County, California, couldn’t stop thinking about it. She believed people might be less tempted by mass-market fashion if they had more opportunities to buy clothing made in their communities from sustainably sourced materials. Would they build relationships with local alpaca ranchers and artisans, just as foodies bond with the farmers whose heirloom vegetables they adore? She had to find out. In 2010, Burgess announced that for one year she would clothe herself solely in garments made from materials sourced within 150 miles of her front door.

In Marin County, when Burgess began her project, locally produced clothing consisted of a scarf here, a sweater there. She couldn’t find anything to wear.

After wearing the same outfit for three weeks, Burgess got serious about changing her clothes. She raised $10,000 on Kickstarter.com and built the Fibershed Project (fibershedproject.com), a network uniting local organic cotton, sheep and alpaca farmers with mills, spinners, weavers and designers. The project has inspired similar co-ops throughout the country and now includes a national directory of small farmers and ranchers who provide wool, hemp, flax and nettles for “ranch to runway” fashions. Burgess’s definition of “local” has expanded to include sustainable producers across the United States. “For this to be successful, it can’t just be a marketplace of ideas,” she says. “It has to be a functioning marketplace.”

Knitters and spinners, are an important part of that marketplace, and they’re hungry for authentic materials. “In just the last three years, more than a quarter of our knitters have taken up spinning, and more and more they’re spinning fleece from locally grown sheep,” says Linda Ligon, who founded Interweave, the nation’s leading publisher of how-to crafts books and magazines, in 1975. “It’s really springing from the zeitgeist—local, handmade, back to the basics. I love that this is happening.”

Los Angeles-based writer LAUREL DELP is trying to convince her friends who just moved to the country that they need goats.


Laurel Delp
Laurel Delp

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