While many of us think about the fibre composition of the textiles that we work with, there is a growing movement that looks beyond our supplies to the very land that they come from. The Fibreshed movement supports a “soil to soil” process. In a regional fibreshed, a finished garment made by a local designer may eventually become compost. This compost can support land where sheep feed or cotton or linen can grow. Crops can be sown to have optimum health, with growing seasons alternating between fibre, dye, or feed crops. When fibre is finally taken from the land or shorn from animals, local artisans weave, dye, cut, design, and transform the fibre into a wearable item that can be cherished until one day it again returns to the compost.
While seemingly utopian, the Fibreshed movement is a critical response to the most pressing issues of our climate crisis. Founded by Rebecca Burgess in Northern California in the early 2000s, it has become a non-profit focused on education, regional textile economies, climate-beneficial agriculture, and an education and advocacy program. Fibreshed activities have removed more than 45,550 metric tons of CO2e (CO2 equivalent gases) through four years of community carbon farming practices and created over 90,000 kilograms of climate-beneficial wool to fund ecosystem restoration. Public education is an important component of the Fibreshed network, and there are forty-five affiliate communities globally, Canada included.
When artist and educator Emily Smith came across Rebecca’s work while attending the Bay Area Maker Faire, she was transfixed. As someone who had roots in textiles and in organizing activist-maker communities such as Maker Faire, she wanted to bring the same thinking to her home region of Vancouver, British Columbia. Through her academic research in textiles and circular economies, Emily developed the Fibreshed Field School, an experimental mentorship program that invited student researchers from Emily Carr University and Simon Fraser University to look at local textile production through the lens of ecology and economically viable methods of production.
All images by Benny Zenga / courtesy Fibreshed Field School, unless otherwise noted.