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Think Globally, Knit Locally

Choose fiber thoughtfully, opt for natural and well-grown products as much as possible, and support local producers: three manageable goals for knitters and crocheters that will help fibersheds thrive.

Carol J. Sulcoski Mar 13, 2024 - 9 min read

Think Globally, Knit Locally Primary Image

Choosing wool from your fibershed is one way to make an environmentally friendly knitting choice. Photo by Paige Green, courtesy of Pennsylvania Fibershed

Take a quick walk through a grocery store and you’ll immediately be hit with choices: organic, non-GMO, locally raised, free-range. . . . We’ve come a long way in thinking about what we eat and where it comes from. Rebecca Burgess, founder of the nonprofit organization Fibershed, is surely delighted that we have options when choosing what we put into our bodies. Her organization’s mission is a bit different: to get people talking about what they put onto their bodies.

You’re probably familiar with the idea of a watershed or even a food web—a regional network in which different segments of the environment interact to form a self-sustaining system. What if we applied that construct to clothing? Burgess calls this kind of system a fibershed.

In her book Fibershed, Burgess boils down the organization’s focus to three ideas: “the source of the raw material, the transparency with which it is converted into clothing, and the connectivity among all parts, from soil to skin and back to soil.” Big issues, to be sure, raising questions like where fiber is grown and processed; what pesticides, herbicides or other substances were used; who makes the fiber into cloth and the cloth into clothing; and what happens to clothing once it’s past its useful life.

It can sound overwhelming.

Take heart: knitters and crocheters are ahead of the game when it comes to thinking about clothing. We know about types of fiber, and we have more information than ever about how manufacturers create their yarns. We’re committed to making clothing by hand rather than purchasing it (at least some of the time!). We pass along or mend our heirloom creations rather than sending them off to a landfill. We may even be thinking about a yarn’s carbon footprint and its makers’ recycling practices. As Fibershed’s Heather Podoll observes, knitters have already placed themselves “directly into the ecosystem of transformational processes that bring textiles from their origin in the soil, in the healthy growing of fiber plants and animals, into usable products in our communities.”

A Knitter’s Sustainability Options

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