On this week’s podcast we talk to Laura Sullivan, a fiber artist living and working in Vermont.
She works at University of Vermont Extension, growing hemp fiber in the research trials at Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh.
Through her work with textiles and hemp, she has come to a revelation that clothing is agriculture — or at least should be agriculture.
She points to traditional ways of spinning and weaving.
“Almost every culture around the world did this,” Sullivan said. “So it's almost universal in that way. And those fibers were all derived from the soil. So in that sense, to me, clothing is originally agriculture and can also be agriculture again in the future.”
Her work at the Extension fiber trials gives her access to hemp fibers. But because there is no infrastructure in the Vermont to process hemp fiber, she does it all by hand.
“I use all antique hand equipment to do my processing, and it's not ideal by any means,” she said.
From retting and breaking, to sketching and hackling, spinning and scouring, she takes us through the whole process.
During the interview she talked about the importance of fibersheds.
“A fibershed is a commitment to work within the geography of a land base,” Sullivan said. “It's a way to belong to each other and the land.”
The fibershed movement asks: Where is fiber in our environment, and how can we work with it?
Domestically produced textiles are at an all-time low, thanks to the now-replaced North American Free Trade Agreement, she said.
“In 1990, 50% of clothes worn in the U.S. were made here,” Sullivan said. “And now that figure stands at 2%. So in a very short amount of time, we have completely offshored the entire industry.”
And at what cost?
“The textile industry was the biggest employer of people in rural America, and namely women and those without diplomas. So we've really lost a lot in that, especially in a state like Vermont, where we are largely rural and agrarian. It's just a huge missed opportunity,” she said.
Sullivan is hopeful that industrial hemp can revitalize the domestic textile industry.
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