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Sustainable Textiles

By Green Energy Times Staff

Some of us make a point of buying hemp or organic cotton garments because we know how bad pollution and health problems associated with synthetic fabrics are. While “going green” by looking at a garment’s tag seems easy, the reality of textile production is very complex.

The fiber in most hemp and organic cotton garments found in this country is grown and processed on the other side of the world. Most natural fibers include chemicals with such health hazards as formaldehyde solutions, pesticides, and synthetic dyes.

A movement supporting local people for local textiles, similar to support for farmers’ markets and local businesses, has been growing for a decade or more. This has been going on as new fiber processing mills, making yarn from local fiber, have sprouted up across the nation.

Ishana Ingerman, a Vermont designer, has taken up the challenge of reestablishing a regional textile industry. She started with a Kickstarter fundraiser, in hopes of showing what can be done in New England. The project, called Winter Moose, touches on a wide variety of artisans and small businesses. It was successfully completed in January.

Winter Moose will start by purchasing yarn made with Vermont fiber, from a Vermont processing mill. Some yarn will be left its natural color, and some will be dyed by local dyers who grow their own dyes or use plant dyes grown in this country. When the yarns are ready, several weavers in Vermont will make samples of different kinds of fabric. When the weavers return the woven samples to Ingerman, she will direct the finishing processes and testing. Finishing processes can shrink a woven fabric by half, adding water resistance and durability. When the small samples are finished, the first run of cloth can be manufactured.

The plan is to use a Vermont carding and spinning mill that can organically process the fibers that Ingerman has gathered from Vermont alpaca and sheep farmers. Vermont hand weavers will weave dozens of yards of textiles, while Ingerman sources the most effective way to finish larger quantities of cloth. She and her daughter have designed coats, hats, and bags that will be made from the cloth, and she will make the initial patterns for each item.

The patterns and cloth will then be passed to local professional seamstresses and stitchers, who will cut and sew the garments. Handmade wooden buttons will be supplied, as will 100% organic cotton lining, grown and processed in this country, if possible. Zippers, threads, and other notions, if they cannot be found in Vermont, will be made in America.

A large part of this project is organizational. It requires connecting masters and experts who have never worked together before.

It is however also educational. Ingerman plans to gather information about new technologies that may aid in traditional processes. She plans to support, wherever she can, environmentally sound practices, efficient cross-sector interfaces, skills training, and consumer education.

Ingerman also hopes to attract new talent and skills to the industry through the Refugee Resettlement Program in Vermont. She believes the Winter Moose project may provide career opportunities by connecting and expanding the present fiber to fashion industry of Vermont, and eventually, New England.

Ishana Ingerman’s web site is www.wintermoose.com.

Excerpts used with permission from Ishana Ingerman’s, “Sustainable Cloth: A Vermont designer takes up the regional textile challenge.” copyright 2014

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