I was delighted to secure a South West England Fibreshed bursary earlier this year to help raise awareness of Fibreshed and make it more accessible. It enabled me to deliver a series of workshops to inform people with learning disabilities about fast fashion and the benefits of local, natural fibres.
These workshops took place across Mendip, including at OpenStoryTellers in Frome, SWALLOW in Westfield, Orchard Vale Trust in Wookey, the Reach Centre in Weare and the Hub in Yeovil.
The workshops were interactive and had lots of sensory elements, including sheep and alpaca wool, linen fibre, fragrant dye-plants and even a bunch of dried stinging nettles. In contrast to the natural fibres, we also explored man-made, petroleum based, unnatural fibres such as polyester and acrylic. It was really interesting to be able to gage people's varied understanding of fibres generally and then to explore where they all come from, together. Many people were quite shocked that polyester and acrylic come from petroleum.
The sessions addressed issues around fast fashion and I gave the groups the opportunity to sort through a charity shop ‘rag bag’ and look at the fibres that make up the clothes that are destined for waste – whether in the UK or abroad. As you may imagine, over 90% of the contents of our rag bag were made with petroleum based fibres.
To emphasize the harm that these types of clothing cause, we watched a snippet of an Unreported World documentary 'Fast Fashion's Toxic Legacy' about the impact of our addiction to fast fashion on Ghana, where they are receiving 15 million second hand garments weekly and only 40% of these go on to be sold.
The South West England Fibreshed is a community of textile growers, processors and producers based in the south west who advocate for clothing and textiles to be grown and made within the region, in a way that is actively beneficial to the environment. In the south west we have access to a fantastic variety of wool, dye-plants, flax for linen and a gradually expanding number of mills - as well as many knitters, weavers, spinners and dyers who process such fibres.
The workshops gained lots of positive feedback. “This is something I’ve never thought about before, it is interesting to learn about where our clothes and their fibres come from,” said one participant. Another said “This has blown my mind – I’m going to go home and check all the labels in my wardrobe now.”
The project culminated in an event day at Fernhill Farm, a local regenerative farm and fellow member of the South West England Fibreshed. Participants enjoyed a tour of the farm and were delighted to be able to see sheep being hand blade sheared. I facilitated some handweaving on frame looms, which enabled the group to transform the clothes from the ‘rag bag’ into new handwoven coasters and panels to take home.
I have been concerned about fast fashion for many years and Fibreshed has helped me to discover an alternative where clothing can be fully local, biodegradable and good for the planet. I really wanted to make this learning accessible to more people and The South West England Fibreshed bursary enabled me to do that – now I want to do more!
I also created an Easy Read guide to Fibreshed which will soon be available on the South West England Fibreshed website.
If you are interested in booking a similar workshop at your day service, school or community setting, please visit my workshops page to find out more.