Thursday, 3 May 2007

organic fairtrade cotton has arrived

Last week three parcels arrived containing organic fairtrade cotton - mostly metre lengths for me to test for wax and dye qualities. Following my research into 'conventional' cotton production I vowed to find a sustainably produced cotton - or two - to become my standard. I last tried several years ago, but found dye take-up not satisfactory and the type of fabric not ideal (an admission: I am pretty ignorant about different fabric types - but for sustainable practice I need to learn more about all my materials).

I have two percales (one natural and one eco-bleached) and a soft voile from Greenfibres in Devon; two calicos (one hand loom, the other powerloom, both unbleached) from Fabrics Ltd in mid-Wales; and a handloom (I think a calico) from Bishopston Trading in Bristol. Greenfibres also supplied me with a small sample of Nettle Mix fabric, 90% cotton/10% nettle to try.

It was such a joy to open the packages, especially Greenfibres' and Bishopston's, because of the care they had taken with packing. They seemed to come with love, care and meaningfulness - just as my Riverford organic veg box does. It's part of the cycle of things that makes something not anonymous or just a commodity. It places an onus on me to maintain and enhance this aura and pass it on. I believe this is what Maori call mana.

For one of my PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) assignments I studied ancient wisdom, and Maori culture in particular. This was to learn the place of art and craft in their culture, how their art and craft skills were and are passed on and how sustainability and ecological knowledge related to that. About mana I wrote:

Mana is a spiritual power residing within people. It is conveyed from craftspeople into their work, imbuing it with value. Mana accumulates through the user, wearer or owner, and the collective knowledge and history of the art. Wholly unassociated with monetary worth, this value is also not connected to intrinsic meaning or beauty. As such, mana is not easy to translate though 'prestige' is commonly used.

Greenfibres' cloth was wrapped in grey tissue - possibly unbleached and recycled tissue - and tied with a ribbon (like a present!). This was inside a brown paper (slightly padded) sack taped together with paper tape.

Bishopston's came in a cloth bag, which if the graphics weren't so ugly, I would use (will try overdyeing it and then use it). The fabric was inside a plastic bag in the cloth bag, which was also in a polythene bag but this was the postage one.

Fabrics Ltd used no polythene other than a documents holder on the outside of the brown paper wrap they used. Open the paper and there is your fabric exposed to the elements - refreshingly trusting of the postal system. Their graphics is worse than Bishopston's... but they can be excused by being a small family business just moving into organic fabrics (the other two are seasoned players).

Some of the packaging has been re-used to send half the cloth to Caroline King who will also be testing them. She is moving back into batik after an absence of some decades and wants to start out how she means to go on. Isn't that sensible! Create the right habit from the start...

And I, I will not only be testing, I have been charged with a responsibility I wasn't expecting...

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