Monday, November 3, 2014

Organic Cotton


Organic cotton fabric - I have bought a little of it here and there for quilting in the past. It cost slightly more and it was rarely true white but I chose it because it was better for 'the environment'.

Then a few weeks ago I stumbled upon this:

'Approximately 25 per cent of the world's insecticides and 10 per cent of the world's pesticides are used on conventionally grown cotton and it's estimated that 50 per cent of all the insecticide used in India is sprayed on cotton. This causes monumental damage to the environment and to the health of farm labourers who are exposed to the chemicals. Non-organic fabric can also use genetically modified seeds....

Unfortunately it gets worse: as the pests develop resistance to these chemicals and the soil loses it fertility, the farmers find themselves in a never ending spiral of debt....illness, depression...suicide


...Organic cotton farming...natural fertilisers...crops are rotated and bugs are hand-picked...Weeding is also done by hand...allows farmers to grow their own food safely and keep animals.....increased opportunities for women working within the organic system...farmers involved also gain skills and training because the organic system is so tightly controlled and education-focused...the farmers are generally paid faster than those in the traditional industry...'



Suddenly 'the environment' was becoming very personal. This double-page spread in the midst of Cassandra Ellis's impressive book, 'Cloth' (borrowed from our local library - published October 2013), has started me on an intriguing trail of discovery. Before having children I had spent a total of eight months living in India over the course of two trips, and my husband has had much more time India, even as recently as 2012, visiting some of our Indian friends. (See the label 'India' in the group of tags in the column on the right for more about our ongoing India connections).

The more I read, the more I have been disturbed by what I have learnt about conventional cotton farming, harvesting and printing/finishing.
Gina Pantastico, Director of Operations for Cloud 9 Fabrics recently shared a couple of articles over at Sew Mama Sew which have been most informative yet not too technical:
This first one looked at cotton farming and in the second article Gina gave a somewhat disconcerting outline of harvesting and printing/finishing cotton fabrics..
Another site, O Ecotextiles, covers some very interesting issues in greater depth including, but not limited to, fabric. 

What to do? While I still treasure and will carefully use my collection of conventional cotton fabrics, I can see organic cotton featuring much more strongly in future purchases - for the sake of the farmers, the environment (our waterways, air and soil) as well as the health of those who work with and use/wear the end products - and that's every single one of us! 




Today I received a small order of hand printed organic fabric from Maze and Vale. Leslie custom mixes environmentally friendly, water based textile inks and screen prints her own designs in her one room studio in Melbourne. The fabrics are fine, soft and smooth, the prints are wonderful and the packaging was delightfully personal (thank you Leslie!).




I am very grateful also for companies like Cloud 9 Fabrics and Birch Fabrics who are continuing to release ever more enticing designs in organic cottons. There are some packages of organic fabric on their way to my home right now - at least one of which I hope will arrive in time for my birthday later this week. 

Do you have experience with, or thoughts on organic cotton? I would love to hear about it.



*** Just to clarify that the Maze and Vale order shown above, as well as the 'packages' on their way, are all my own purchases.  I really want to support the organic cotton system as well as looking after the health of myself and my family. In fact at this point I'm not buying any fabric unless it is organic and have been busy looking into organic batting, organic threads as well as organic bed sheets etc.

Sharing at WIP Wednesday and Fabric Tuesday.

29 comments:

s.c said...

Yes sometimes books can be real eye openers. By the way I like the cover photo of the book. Perhaps you can do the same sometime with your quilts. It must give a splendid result.

Karen @ Pieces of Contentment said...

It was the cover which caught my eye - maybe I will try something similar if I can find a suitable chair.

:)

Fun60 said...

You have certainly researched the subject well Karen and I admire your resolve to improve the lives of others albeit in a small way. How much better the world would be if we all tried changing our lifestyles albeit in a small way.

Erica Sta said...

Dear Karen, that's a very, very important theme you post! Maybe you would like to read about here:
http://www.hohenstein.de/en/certification/hohenstein_quality_label/hohenstein_quality_label.xhtml

I studied in 1984-1986 there, before I become an artist. It's true, we should think on our children, which World we give to them.

Have a good weekend, greetings by Heidrun

DeniseinVA said...

A marvelous post Karen, a very important one. I buy organic food, but never thought about the fabrics. Very enlightening. Thank you!

diane b said...

Although I am not a fabric buyer, I have heard of the environmental problems associated with cotton growing. We need the world's population to do think and do what you are doing. But............
It is like the problem of gas mining the little people's voices are not listened to.

Mary said...

Excellent post. Thanks for bringing all that to our attention again. It's true, that taken by the pleasure of shopping in a quilt shop, we rarely think about where our cotton come from, and how they are made. Thanks for linking to Cloud9, I didn't know the shop.

Cary said...

I haven't been here for a while. Looks like you've been busy quilting! I love the Peaceful Night quilt! I've been thinking about organic fabrics, but am always put off by the higher price. Thanks for your comments, as they may well push me closer to trying organics. :)

geanina said...

very interesting post, Karen!

Dirk Rosin said...

thank you Karen ! :-)

Erin said...

Oh wow Karen! Never really thought about it until your post!!! Though I know at Moree the planes fly over with the spray going and if the wind takes it...! We looked at moving there years back and husband was really not keen due to this.

Karen @ Pieces of Contentment said...

Sounds like you made a wise choice Erin! The more I look into it the worse it appears too. I’ve found a site in Victoria which sells organic sheets or the fabric to make your own, as well as mattresses and other items. I plan to order some fabric this week to make a set of sheets as we have a lot of contact with our sheets…. Will keep you posted.

Karen @ Pieces of Contentment said...

Thank you Denise. It’s quite interesting to discover how textiles can add to our chemical load, through direct contact with our skin (the largest organ of our body), breathing in whatever chemicals they are gassing off and then the dust which they gradually produce too.

Karen @ Pieces of Contentment said...

Thank you Mary. Having discovered what I have it makes it difficult for me to buy conventional cotton now! You will find Birch, Cloud 9 and some other organic fabrics available with many online retailers and they are bringing out more fabric lines with wider appeal, not just for children’s clothes/quilts.

Gail Dixon said...

A very important read! Thank you so much for sharing. Something must be done about pesticides. My mother worked at a chemical plant for decades and ended up with Parkinson's Disease, as did a high percentage of her coworkers.

The fabrics shown here are lovely!

Karen @ Pieces of Contentment said...

This is true and very sad Gail. We suspect pesticides and fertilisers played a large part in my father’s Parkinsons too. He was a very fit and healthy banana grower. I understand a disproportionate number of farmers end up with Parkinsons. Many reasons to choose organic.

One of the things I hadn’t realised was the multiple treatments/finishes of cotton and other textiles which is embedded in them, making them toxic to wearers in an ongoing fashion - plus the load of chemicals they add to the immediate air surrounding us and house dust etc

Linda said...

Yes, I came across similar information not long ago. And before that I learned that much of the rice in this country is contaminated by arsenic, quite possibly introduced into the soil by pesticides used on cotton.

For a long time I've made an effort to buy underthings made of organic cotton. Seems like a healthy idea.

Kirsten said...

Interesting post Karen - I have bought a few Cloud 9 fabrics recently and I think they are well worth the slightly pricier cost. I also need to find out more about bamboo quilt batting as I have used it in a few quilts recently and love how soft it is and maybe it is more eco friendly too.

Karen @ Pieces of Contentment said...

Hi Kirsten,
I'm pleased to hear of your experiences with Cloud 9 fabrics.
I’ve looked into bamboo batting a little. From what I’ve read it appears to flatten somewhat after several washes. It requires little if any chemicals during growing but I read the processing requires lots of harsh chemicals and water, unless done in a highly labour intensive manner.

If you find out more, let me know. It’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal too which is good. I bought some 50/50 bamboo/cotton batting from our new Spotlight store last week to use in my Ginger Blossoms quilt. It was cleaner/less spotty and whiter than the pure cotton yet I think it will wear better than 100% bamboo in the long run.

amanda | wildly simple said...

Some very important information here, Karen! I believe I had learned most of the bad news about cotton before, but I needed the reminder.
I don't do anywhere near the sewing you do, and don't have experience with organic cotton fabrics.. but my favorite tee shirts of all to wear are made of organic cotton. They are so very comfortable!
Happy November to you & yours.. I feel like it's been too long since I've been here to visit. Life - you've gotta love it. And live it. :)

Marijke said...

Hi Karen,
I love the organic cottons you have bought! I buy mine organic where I can (just ordered some with my gnome fabric, thanks for the link!) What has holds me back is the softer colours often seen in organics, great for home decor, but for quilting I like them bright. Repurposing torn clothes and sheets helps to keep up my fabric stash. And making the most of what I have.
Have a look at hemp or bamboo as well, no chemicals needed and a whole lot less water to let it grow. Hempco sells clothing as well as the fabric.
I've quite a bit of clothing from Braintree and Bamboobody, a mix with organic cotton, bamboo and hemp. Although most mine and the kids clothing comes from the op-shop or hand me downs. I love op-shopping a lot more then the mall!

Preeti said...

I never really thought about this before and I'm so thankful to you for sharing this information, Karen. Making conscious decisions to purchase and use eco-friendly materials, will help future generations. I'm going to read the articles you've shared. PS: I didn't realize you had spent time in India! Did you ever go to Bangalore? That's my hometown :)

Karen @ Pieces of Contentment said...

Hi Preeti

I’ve not been to Bangalore nor any of the southern areas but I imagine it would be pretty. The main places I’ve been to are Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Bhopal, Nagpur, Jaipur and Delhi. We were in Nagpur for about 4 months early 1991. My husband has been to many more places in India and Pakistan, and most recently to friends in Bihar.

We have ongoing contact with friends in Nagpur and Purnea in Bihar. Our friends from Purnea came to Australia and stayed with us for a couple of weeks last year and a few years before that also.

Indian summers are very hot, especially in some of the places we visited, with unreliable water and electricity supplies making it very difficult - but I guess you may be familiar with this.

Jeanne said...

That is truly a very fascinating article and something that i think I never really thought of . Can certainly see the benefit of organic cotton, and it does become much more personal when you think of it in this fashion. You have to wonder even if your family may have some impact from this process currently used in India. Will check out your websites

Karen @ Pieces of Contentment said...

Thanks Jeanne. It’s something which has really struck me as being important, especially as in the western world most of our textile purchases fall more into the ‘want’ than ‘need’ category, whether they be fabric, clothes or for the home. If I’m using discretionary income for a ‘want’, then the least I can do is choose the item wisely and use it well knowing my choices have a wider impact.

Elise Lea said...

Interesting. Pesticides in the cotton is not something I had though about before - but very eye opening.

I have more recently been noticing the chemicals in my fabrics (probably for sizing and printing) because I can smell them sometimes when I iron my fabrics for the first time - i can smell it in the air and on my hands after ironing - which concerns me.

Kelsey Boes said...

This is definitely something I should think more about. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

Kaja said...

I'm trying a wadding at the moment that is 80/20 cotton/polyester, not organic but made entirely from recycled materials. It's got a lovely, slightly felt-y feel to it so I'll probably stick with that or wool from now on.

DeborahGun said...

It is funny how things like this really strike us when they are close to our experience and people we love. Indonesia has featured a little in the blogging world recently and I have immediately wanted to find out more - because I am concerned for those making the fabric and whether they are being treated and paid well. Thanks for drawing my attention to this huge issue - I must admit that in the past I have just thought of 'organic' as being something that only the rich and trendy can afford to get into.

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