Threads of change - Page 2

A fibershed activist wants us to consider our clothes

Rebecca Burgess spends the day in a greenhouse planting indigo seeds for her natural dye project

Burgess makes her own clothing, too, and to research her book (Harvesting Color, Artisan, 180 p., $22.95) traversed the country learning from female "wisdom-keepers," women whose craft practices were based on passed-down traditions encouraging the health of their ecosystems.

Today is part of her latest endeavor: growing her own indigo dye so that locally made garments can be dyed blue sustainably. Her day's work entails planting 400 indigo seeds in flats filled with soil from a ranch down the road. This spring and summer, she plans to raise 1,000 indigo plants in three garden plots just outside the greenhouse. The day the Guardian came to visit, sheep lounged in the pasture beyond her garden plots, as if to illustrate the point that this process won't require any long-distance transport.

She realizes that few people have a greenhouse to plant indigo in, much less the time necessary to produce their own clothing — or the money needed to dress in handcrafted pieces. But by proving that it's possible to wear clothes that were created by your own community, she hopes that people will at least "settle for second best, which in this case is wearing organic, American-made materials."

Even that would be something — right now clothes just aren't on most of our sustainability compasses. As an example, Burgess recalls a panel discussion she attended at which sustainable food champions Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin were speakers. Someone ("And it wasn't even me!" she insists) asked them what role garments played in a sustainable lifestyle. "And they were speechless. They didn't have a thing to say."

It was a PR challenge Burgess was happy to assume — she has since struck up an e-mail correspondence with Pollan, which she hopes will spread her message further. "Clearly we need some education."

Join Burgess and other yarn producers for a locally made fashion show and to see plans for their community mill May 1 at Toby's Feed Barn in Point Reyes. For more information call (415) 259-5849 or visit


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