The author in a homegrown cotton vest.
Photo credit: photo of Cindy Conner taken by Walt Conner
I have made my own clothes since I learned to sew as a 4-Her growing up. Having arms and legs longer than the norm was a big incentive. I can also grow things. My work has been researching what it would take to grow all one’s food, including the cover crops to feed back the soil, while keeping a small footprint on the earth. Yet, I had no idea how to get the cotton I could grow in my garden to become clothing to wear until I decided to make that my focus when I grew it again in 2011.
I needed to know how to spin the fiber, which is a skill that takes some time to master, and how to ply it, scour it, weave it, and then decide on an appropriate pattern for the vest I intended to make. I joined a handspinning group in my area and spent the next several years working toward my goal of making something to wear. Besides new skills, I garnered new friends and it has been a wonderful journey.
Once my vest was finished, the teacher in me decided that I needed to teach people to grow their own clothes, but since not everyone could grow cotton in their area, I would need to learn to grow textile flax and make it into linen. That threw me back to the beginning of learning new things. Besides learning from books, I took a flax to linen class at the John C. Campbell Folk School. I have since made a shirt incorporating both cotton and linen homegrown fibers. I haven’t written about that shirt yet, but I have written about a homegrown cotton shirt I made. A project I expect to finish this spring is a dress woven from my homegrown, handspun cotton and flax/linen.
I have to admit, getting to this point has taken much determination and energy. On the upside, it has been a tremendous amount of fun. It has also taken patience, particularly while learning to spin and while calculating if I will have enough of my limited spun fiber to weave the project I have in mind. Of course, I had to learn to weave first, beginning on a very small table loom and moving up to a very large floor loom that I am the caretaker of. All of this takes time and effort, but it is worth it in the end.
If you would like to grow your own clothes, start acquiring skills. The growing and sewing, of course, but also learn to process your homegrown fiber, and to spin and weave (or maybe knit or crochet). Eventually you will be able to do it all. You could start learning through books and videos. Seek out classes in these skills through your local parks and recreation programs, college continuing education, and craft and yarn shops. Join fiber related groups in your area and attend fiber festivals in your region. Fiber festivals often offer classes, as well as a marketplace where you can find fiber and equipment.
To further gain inspiration to do this, read my Seed to Shirt article that was in the April/May 2018 issue of Mother Earth News. Definitely check out the opportunities in your area. Once you learn these things, you can be the one to share your knowledge with others. I will be sharing what I have learned on June 8, 2019 at my Grow Your Own Clothes Workshop at my place near Ashland, VA. There are many things to learn and skills to acquire and it may take years before you will actually be wearing something from your garden. However, it will be fun years and you will end up wearing something that came from both the earth and your own hands.
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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