Sunday 16 September 2007

This is Not Hemp

On our way home from camping, we stopped in at the Rose Haven Farm Store. The owner, Linda Swaine, was at a trade show and had thus taken all her best locally made, naturally dyed wool with her, and all her hemp, much to my dismay. But I did find this:

For me, this is practically the holy grail of my nascent fiber journey. When I was a girl, I read the fairy tale The Wild Swans over and over again and marvelled at making cloth from a weed. That fascination suddenly came back to me as I was meandering through the All Fiber Arts Library a while back and found some articles on stinging nettle. And then this! Poor Mr. S. had to endure a two-hour drive back to Toronto, me babbling on about textiles and mills and he with no escape.

Now that it's in my eager hands, I'm not sure what to do with it. It's fairly friable, and smells a bit of coal-tar (I wonder how they processed it?). While I was in the shop, I had a good chat with the lovely, very knowledgeable woman who was minding the shop about wool and local goods and mills and production. The end point being that if a small farmer wants their wool processed without the usual chemicals, the mill charges a premium for doing this "special order" separately, thus driving up the price of the end product and making it hard for the organic or "natural" farmer to make a living as people are generally not yet ready to pay the price for such yarn.

This seems to be the case for so many things. Chemicals are subsidized, the conventional ways are ingrained, oil is still cheap and so local markets are saturated with cheaply made, massed produced items. Holding hands with these obstacles is the lack of a deeply rooted fibre industry in Canada, such as linen in France or silk in China. I am unfortunately not familiar with First Nations' fibre history, and the rest of us are a couple generations' of immigrants, each bringing with them different fibre traditions.

Wouldn't it be lovely? A dirt-to-fabric source of pride? Wool we can do, and there are still wool mills in Canada, but mostly not in Ontario. (Although I did find Belle Vallee Wools, for example - and it seems they're doing it the old ways...) We don't have the climate for flax and linen except in Quebec. Cotton's right out. So....nettle and hemp, anybody?

Oh yes, hemp.....

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