• Sue McDowell

Learning local during a pandemic

“The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.” ― Helen Keller


"Muslin" - polar bear template, 2020

Back in my January 8th post, I listed "conservancy" as the 5th point in my five-point-star of focus for 2020. Little did I know then that the pandemic would provide a considerable amount of time to pursue learning about and engaging in conservancy projects!


In 2016, I reached a tipping point in how I thought about the glass I was using for my art. It became clear to me that the manufacturing of this glass was fraught with environmental concerns and, in some cases, manufacturers just re-located their operations outside US borders. I was uncomfortable with these decisions and decided the only voice I had was as a consumer. So I stopped purchasing more supplies and have done limited work in glass since - choosing to use up my stock rather than purchasing anything new.


I'll admit that my knowledge of the fiber world was, at best, naive. As I started really delving into weaving, I entered the world of yarns. The good news is that there is an amazing wealth of resources and energy being put into sustainable harvest of plants/animal fibers. The bad news is the more I learned, the sadder I was.

  • In 2013, the US produced 27 million pounds of wool but only .03% of that was processed in the US.

  • According to the World Bank 17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dying and treatment and 73 of the toxic chemicals in our water are solely from textile dyeing and 30 of those cannot be removed (Wilkes, pg 198).

  • Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping.

Ugh!! What's an artist to do? What's a weaver to do??


Well, to start with, I'll admit I'm a glass-half-full kinda gal. So I looked for places where someone, anyone, is working in fiber that aligns with my conservation-based values. And, since I also have a tendancy to be an all-or-nothing gal, I'm forcing myself to embrace Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's challenge:


"Don't do nothing because you can't do everything. Do Something. Anything!"


If I focus on weaving with value-based products then I, too, can pass along value-based earth-healthy products. This helps me stay on track to be part of a Circular Economy and even to have enough energy left over to pursue even more impactful changes (moving to vegan eating since Livestock/Manure account for 6% of greenhouse gas emissions - the purple thread, below).


And so that's why there's a picture of "Muslin" my "project bear" at the top of this

Are you lost, little bear?

page. Muslin is a test for how I could make stuffed polar bears with all "climate-friendly" product - the pre-felt for his fur is from a local shepherd, the roving inside is also from a local producer. He doesn't have plastic eyes or a wire insert. And he's a template for bears I could make with my own woven fabric someday. Though I admit he has significant problems! (Like the more I work in fiber the more I know how bad I am at sewing?) But he's a great sample. And a start.


And he was fun to make. It's nice to problem solve knowing that maybe, somehow, the little bit I do can shift our focus from fast-consumer-linear thinking to sustainable, circular, regenerative living.


-Nameste

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