Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Conscious Creation

Quilters have known this for a long time: fabric is amazing. This is a medium I, as a non-quilter, have begun to use more and more in my artwork. I love the versatility of pattern and texture and find myself staring at people's sofas and bed coverings wondering, ''How would that look on a card?'' I'm not alone in this area. The fabric arts is a growing medium. But what is the impact beyond the art world?

The answers aren't pretty. If you stack all the world's fiber needs into one pile, half of that pile would be cotton. Cotton doesn't exactly step lightly. It lives on 3% of the earth's arable land and, from that not-so-tiny corner, sucks up more than its fair share of chemicals. From the ground to the bolt, this plant sees chemicals of all kind: insecticides, bleaches and more. Cotton consumes one quarter of all insecticides used in agriculture. The cotton t-shirt I'm wearing is responsible for 1/3 of a pound of chemicals...imagine what my craft cupboard stash is responsible for...imagine how many pounds of chemicals are present in our favorite fabric shops or the textile section of Joanne's.

These numbers don't come without a cost. Chemicals get into water supplies and into the air. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that every year 20,000 people die due to pesticide poisoning in the third world.

Once my future blue damask print is out of the soil and in adoring homes across the nation in the form of shirts, skirts and lovely name brand prints, it may not be there long. The the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Solid Waste found that each of us here in the US is responsible for 68 pounds of clothing and textile waste every year. That means at 27 even if I take away my first 10 years (such an unfashionable youth), I am still responsible for 1156 pounds of fibers in my local landfill.

As fabric admirers, we have options. Support organic. Only 0.03% of the world's cotton is organic but it will have less pesticides used on it during its rearing. Stores touting beautiful organic cottons are popping up all over the internet. Earlier this month one of my favorite design bloggers, Grace Bonney at Design*Sponge, highlighted Plover Organic, a company focusing on linens made with organic cotton. Companies such as Plover Organic are quickly creating amazing options for our homes and (with a little creativity- they have some fabrics by the yard) our craft closets.

An even better alternative is to recycle. Take a trip to your local Goodwill or second hand store. I was surprised to find that my Goodwill actually has a big section dedicated to fabrics. If yours doesn't have a fabric section, every shirt, skirt, bedspread and table cloth could be a future card, collage or assemblage piece. I always hesitate when I grab a lovely print cotton shirt for it's pattern because I think, "Someone might actually wear this and I'm going to CUT IT UP." It seems almost sacrilegious. But if it's the difference between that shirt and new fabric, cutting up an old shirt keeps 1/3 of a pound of pesticides out of everyone's air and water. I'm sure in light of that the would be wearer won't mind.

I love the inspiration that comes from browsing the bolts in a fabric store: so many possibilities. I'm not about to give up new, non-organic fabric completely, but I am going to change the way I look at fabric. I want my art to say something about me, and when I can, I want the products I use to make a similar statement.
Images credits:
Cotton Plant
Plover Fabrics
Recycled Bedspread Napkins - Check out the other neat (and tasty) things at www.ohmindy.com

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