by Zazie Tobey, staff writer
Faith Hagenhofer, a sheep farmer and fiber artist from Tenino Washington, came to speak in Cannon Lounge on Sept. 27 about the importance of localizing fiber. She gave her bioregionalist perspective of textile production, arguing that sustainability can be possible in this field. Hagenhofer also led a felt making workshop out on fortune property at the Fiber Arts House on Sept. 28.
The majority of Fiber Arts crew members were at the workshop and had also seen Hagenhofer’s speech.
“Wilson is lucky to have fiber arts crew,” said Hagenhofer. “The school is based around the same tradition that fiber is.”
The fiber tradition is one of the oldest running; behind the success of medieval living and the spread of ancient empires, there stands a Shepherd and a weaver. Wool has played a vital role in human culture and is a sustainable resource that continues to provide pleasing aesthetics and practical insulation.
“The oldest materials in the world happen to be felt,” said Hagenhofer, “along with cedar bark. There has been evidence of preserved felt specimens, frozen or buried, in the Alti Mountains of Asia.”
All it takes to make felt is wool, moisture, pressure and agitation; its about as simple as it gets. Hagenhofer, the majority of the fiber arts crew, and two other students gathered around the table and began to lay wool out on top of a plastic mat. The felt project was made entirely out of Warren Wilson wool, thanks to the sheep that arrived last year on the farm.
“I thought the main point of Faith’s speech was localizing buyer regional fiber and keeping that conversation open between fiber artists and farmers,” said Francesca Clifford, a sophomore and Fiber Arts crew member. According to a fact from Hagenhofer’s speech this conversation is strong in our community: there are over 500 fiber-producing farms within 100 miles of Asheville.
The disparity of speculation over food versus fiber sustainability was another topic that Hagenhofer drew attention to.
“Around 30 % of food that’s bought is wasted,” said Calixta Killander a junior and member of Fiber Arts crew. “People get really embarrassed about wasting food, but not embarrassed about wasting fiber.”
People are proud of the amount of clothes they have in their closets, and even though half of them are barely worn, the shopping continues.
“You grow your own fiber, which people don’t realize,” said Hagenhofer. “[There are] so many ways to create natural fiber it’s worth investing the time, and not buying from a department store.”
Hagenhofer believes that everything today is made to be thrown away, and waste like that isn’t helping the second-hand markets. Recycling fiber is a parallel idea to buying local, and not everyone understands or has access to the magic of a Wilson free pile. By the time clothes make it to the thrift store they are shot in quality, unsellable to the local community and also worthless for shipping internationally for donation.
“The fashion world now has 12 seasons,” said Hagenhofer. “That encourages people to buy more; that one trend, item might not be there the next time they return.”
With frequent change in the fads of the fashion world, the modern day consumer has to keep buying to keep up with the times.
Going local in fiber is being able to be assured of quality and morality every step of the process according to Hagenhofer: from the growing, to the assembly, to the longevity of the product.
“We can use our land to make our clothes!” she said. “I don’t want to see another housing development.”
While leading the felting workshop, Hagenhofer said the first step to supporting the local fiber mission was to convince county planner’s to protect farmland. The more available, healthy soil, the more opportunity for growing fiber, natural plant dyes and fiber producing livestock.
Right now the reality for most fiber consumers is they are buying products that have been grown using pesticides, assembled in sweatshops thousands of miles away, and finished with toxic dyes. According to the Natural Consumer Associations, cotton uses more than 25 % of all the insecticides in the world, and 12% of all the pesticides.
Fiber Arts Crew was grateful for Hagenhofer’s brief visit and extensive amount of knowledge shared. Melanie Foster, the Fiber Arts Crew Boss, voiced her appreciation for a fellow artist that used local products to sustain the art of beautiful handwovens.
“More local sourcing of fibers,” said Foster, “that’s another step towards building the integrity of our crew.”
The group laid the brown, gray and white felt across the table, still damp from the soap and water soaked through and stepped back to admire the mosaic of fiber.
“Why am I in school right now?” said Riley Moore a sophomore on Fiber Arts Crew and a fiber enthusiast. “I should be getting my (sheep) flock together!”
Hagenhofer encouraged students to follow up on fiber news by looking up NAFTA online to learn more about trade and global versus local resources, as well as attending the American Craft Week running from October 5 to 15. The Asheville area is teeming with workshops, local fiber artists and farms that could offer internships and further insight into relocalizing fiber.