Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Life of Our Fabric, Cotton

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This gorgeous print is by artist Julia Bowling Burnett. To view and purchase more of her work, click here.

You know the jingle for the cotton. And it really is the fabric of our lives. One look at the tags of your clothing, bedding, linens and most of you will find that you really do live in cotton.
It is, by far, the most common fabric found in the shop. I love it because it’s easy to work with, soft, absorbent, comes in almost endless colors and prints. But there’s an ugly side to this well-loved fabric.
The amount of pesticides allowed on food can be astounding so just imagine what they allow on crops not intended for food! Cotton fields are laden with toxic chemicals, much of which runs off to pollute rivers and soil. Ninety percent of cotton is farmed in third-world countries. This means they have few, if any, regulations on pesticides.
From toxic fields, cotton is transported to be dyed. More toxins are added to both the cotton and the environment. Forty percent of all denim sold in U.S. is dyed in South China. Rivers flowing nearby dye factories dump so much poisonous dye into the rivers it can actually be seen from orbit.
Once dyed, the cotton must be sent to yet another factory to be turned into the product you buy. For some items, this means being sent off to sweat shops where people, people like you and I trying to provide a good life for our families, are paid unfair wages, forced to work through illnesses and consistently being forced to work multiple shifts in a row. Some workers will literally use clothes pins to pin their eyes open as they work hour after hour after hour. People, like you and I, just trying to provide the most basic care for their families.
So what can we do about it? I think we need to start by becoming more aware that this happens. Take a moment to watch this video which details much of what I’ve written above.

So what are our options? When purchasing new, we can use tools such as the Good Guide smartphone app. Using this we can learn to buy new products from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible. We can use our power to vote with every dollar we spend.
As we learn to think more about the hidden cost of new products we bring into our home, we can also focus on buying used when possible. This keeps our money out of the hands of greedy, bottom-line focused companies while keeping items out of our landfills.
As a purveyor, ok – borderline hoarder, of fabrics I find joy in giving items a second chance at life. I love hunting down just the right print at thrift shops and antique malls. My friends know I’ll never turn down an in-kind donation of random fabric scraps. I even received a call to pick up a truckload of upholstery fabrics from our local animal shelter after someone dropped off the unwanted lot to them.
But what’s more important than the joy I get in finding a great piece of fabric to up-cycle, is the benefit of not polluting our Earth and of not subjecting another human being to unimaginable circumstances. And so I want you, my customers, to know that I support responsible companies when purchasing new fabrics and that I look first to local distributors to supply my crafty endeavors. When I can’t find local sources I move to Etsy where I can support small businesses also dedicated to the handmade movement. So far, I’ve not had to look elsewhere. If I did, I think I’d have to question how important the really project is, as well as how sustainable it is. But as I’ve learned, it just isn’t worth the cost of that hidden price.

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