As many of you know, last year the California Fibershed created a limited edition of California grown, dyed, woven and sewn blue jeans, which were showcased at the Grow Your Jeans fashion show and fundraiser in early October, 2015.
This was an incredibly exciting milestone for the organization and community as a whole, and over the summer of 2015, as I spun, wove, and designed a top for the fashion show, I marveled at the reality of California grown blue Jeans. This pilot project showed us that in fact, jeans made of California cotton—dyed in locally grown indigo, hand woven and sewn in the San Francisco bay area, with USA-made notions—are possible. Exactly when they will be available to the public is still being determined, a topic I will discuss here in the coming months. In any case, for me, the fire had been lit.
Jeans are so ubiquitous–they permeate the daily cultures of our country, and have for the last hundred years. And yet, somehow it never occurred to me that I could make my own pair of jeans from start to finish. In fact, the thought really surprised me, and I actually stopped to wonder… “wait, could I?”
As the Grow Your Jeans event drew near, the question nagged at me. Yes, of course I could, I thought… but still I felt uncertain, even as the Fibershed team was showing me it was possible.
I am a farmer, a weaver, a natural dyer, and a maker of so many things. I have all the tools at my fingertips in my community and my home studio to take on a project like this from start to finish. Why, I wondered, would I falter?
Carrots and Blue Jeans
Years ago I worked on an educational organic farm that offered tours to elementary school classes. On one of those days, at the beginning of a tour, a teacher asked her class: “Now class, does anyone know where carrots come from?”
Several hands shot up, and she called on a little boy in the back to answer. “They come from… the store!” he shouted triumphantly.
His response struck me deeply. I was raised in a family where growing food was part of the daily rhythm of life. But how many children in this country have never once seen a carrot in the ground? Or a round of broiler hens, raised from eggs, waiting to be slaughtered? To most Americans, consciously or not, carrots, along with all other groceries, do come from the store. And by the time they get there, the farmer that grew and harvested and packed them is so far away they will never be known, the reality of their work no more than a distant notion.
As I sat there wondering why the concept of making jeans from scratch was so baffling to me, I remembered that little boy. Because I, like probably most other Americans, have unconsciously lived most of my life with the vague notion that jeans too come from “The Store.” And, like the boy and the carrot, I am now having to undergo a paradigm shift in thinking as that building block of assumption is pulled from the foundation of how I view the world, and replaced with something much more vast… and meaningful.
In honor of our children’s innocence, and their capacity for change, let us take a moment to think about this.
How many of us realize that every item of clothing we own–from our run-of-the mill t-shirts to our lacey bralettes, work jeans, business casuals and $5 tank tops–were sewn by another person’s hands? These things are so common place, so easily accessible in this country, so uniformly crafted, and their production grounds so far from our doorsteps, that it may never occur to us that they are actually made by living, breathing people. When questioned where our clothing comes from, we may likely assume most of what we buy was cranked out by some giant machine in a factory somewhere. But there is no machine alone that can produce our daily threads. To this day, every seam of every garment in your closet has been touched and crafted by human hands.
Take a garment, any garment, from your closet and turn it inside out. Run your fingers down the seam lines, and as you do, take in the reality that another person, not too different from yourself, sat in front of a sewing machine and made those seams. A person with warm skin, a beating heart, and a life to lead. Their hands held this cloth, pieced it together, guided it through the needles and trimmers. And because of their hands, the garment now rests in yours.
Beyond the warehouses, mechanical looms, vast chemical dye baths, sizing, shipping, cutting, and sewing of fabric, are people. The absorption of this reality is pivotal in our ability to look consciously at the clothes we wear, and begin to see the giant network of human skill and industry that every one of us plays a part in, every minute of every day on earth. .
More often then not, the highly skilled workers that make our clothing toil in horrendous working conditions for painfully low pay, in countries far enough away that they are easily forgotten (or more often, never known). Their situation is the result of a profit-driven global textile industry that continues to pollute the world’s waterways and devastate human rights along every step of the production process.
But the knowledge that real people somewhere out there in the world make the clothes we wear every day is, to me, the means to empower a reform.
Like the women and men working in those sweatshops, I have hands and heart and intellect. Like them, I can learn the skills to create the garments I rely on to clothe me as I move through the world. And by taking these skills into my own hands, I can, in my own small way, contribute to the strengthening of local economies and sustainable practices, and contribute to the demand for a changing world.
Just as not everyone is destined to be a farmer, I know that not everyone is destined to make their own local clothing. But we can each work to consciously broaden our awareness, and our appreciation for the network of hands that supply our basic needs. We can each make our daily decisions with care, and in doing so, we can contribute to changes that will benefit our planet, our lives, the lives of others, and those of our children. For me as a maker, the best way to gain this appreciation is unquestionably through making. Let us each find our own way, together.
This summer I begin the journey to create, from thread to finish, my own pair of locally grown blue jeans. In the process of opening this project, I have begun conversations with the various members of the Fibershed team that created the original jeans last year, and have received an amazing and generous outpouring of advice, support, and shared knowledge in response… much of which I hope to pass along here as I move forward and document the process. This month I begin the first steps, starting with the weaving of fabric samples and the dyeing of locally grown cotton warp threads in home-grown indigo.
Please stay tuned, and feel free to share with anyone you think will be interested in following along! Whether you simply appreciate gaining a window into the creation of one of our country’s most beloved garments, or whether you too are inspired to create your own pair of jeans from start to finish… This summer I hope to shed light not only on my own process, but that of the incredibly knowledgeable, highly skilled group of people that last year turned California-grown blue jeans from a dream into a reality.
To be continued…
A big loving thank you to Sally Fox, Dan Disanto, Rebecca Burgess, and Leslie Terzian Markoff for sharing your incredible skills and perspectives with me as I embark on this project.
Photo credits: first two photos of the Fibershed Jeans and the top I made for the fashion show are courtesy of Paige Green. The rest of the photos are my own and protected by copyright.
Please do not use any of the photos or site content presented here without my prior written permission.