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In the photo I am wearing my new homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton vest. It has been years in coming. I learned to sew in 4-H when I was young and make most of my own clothes, including jeans and shirts. I began to quilt in order to use the scraps left from making our children’s clothes. But, to go from seed to finished vest was something else entirely. I had to learn to spin and weave.
The green and brown cotton came from my garden. I found that the weight of my harvest was 25 percent fiber and 75 percent seeds. If you grow your own, you end up with a lot of seeds to share. As a result, many of the members of the handspinning group I joined are growing cotton from my seeds.
Some states may have regulations about growing cotton. The boll weevil is monitored in Virginia and there is a small charge per acre to cotton growers to pay for that. If you are growing cotton on a small scale for non-commercial purposes, it is probably not necessary for the state to put a weevil trap at your place. Nevertheless, you are required to send an email to the Office of Plant Industry Services at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to say you are growing cotton and to ask for a waiver of the fee. If you live in a cotton growing state you might want to inquire about similar requirements.
I spun my cotton on a hand spindle, not a wheel, and wove it on a small table loom. I had other things keeping me busy so it took quite a while to get to the point of having fiber spun fine enough for this project. My earliest spinning in 2011 resembled rope more than thread, but I kept at it and got better. You can read more about the spinning and weaving and get a closer look at the details at Homeplace Earth.
All the while I was refining my spinning I thought I would use my resulting vest to start a conversation about the work Vandana Shiva is doing in India through Navdanya to help the cotton farmers there who have struggled after growing GMO cotton. I also wanted to talk about how Gandhi encouraged the Indian people to spin and weave their own cotton if they wanted to be free of British rule. However, now I have more thoughts and questions about the conditions of the workers who produce all the cheap clothing that is in the stores in the U.S. and the environmental problems resulting from the production of fabric. Did you know that there are lots of toxic chemicals used in the production of fabric and some linger in the clothes you wear? Learn more about these issues at Green Choices.
In years past when the making of clothes happened closer to home, people had fewer articles of clothing, as evidenced by the lack of closets in old houses. Now our closets are bulging. What is the cost to the environment and to the welfare of the workers, just so we can have so many clothes? I think we should begin to ask where our clothes come from, just like we ask where our food comes from. Meanwhile, you could take control of your closet. Read the labels in your clothes and learn more about their production. Think about opting out of corporate control of what you are wearing, as well as what you are eating.
If you are not going to be growing your own fiber, seek out those who do. Visit Fibershed and support local production. If the prices of clothing handmade by others is too steep for you, learn to make your own. The cost for my new vest was minimal and I have a one-of-a-kind item. You could learn to sew or maybe knit a scarf or a pair of socks. If making your own is definitely out of the question, learn about companies who have taken these concerns to heart, such as TS Designs. For their Cotton of the Carolinas brand t-shirt, everything from dirt to shirt happens within 600 miles and all in the Carolinas. Their American Soil Organic t-shirts are made from USA grown certified organic cotton. There are so many exciting things to do in this world to make it a better place. And just think, it could start with what you choose to wear.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.
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