05 November, 2009

The Homespun Revolution Didn't Stick (Twice) so What are the Odds for Another?

I got to view Colonial Williamsburg's open house at the Costume Design Center in Williamsburg, VA.

One of the staff pointed out that during the time period that Colonial Williamsburg depicts, wealthier residents did not wear local cloth made of handspun any longer than they had to. They went right back to imported silk cloth after the American Revolutionary war because it better signaled their status.

When I skimmed Lisa Trivedi's Clothing Gandhi's Nation: Homespun and Modern India, I noticed the same issue surfaced when wealthy women were asked to adopt relatively expensive yet heavy locally-produced cloth of handspun for their clothes as part of India's struggle for independence.

Now, handspun does not necessarily have to equal lumpy, coarse cloth. Handspun done well was good enough for the Pharoahs. However, I can see how it could be an issue in a situation where spinners are charged with suddenly clothing a large number of people who are used to luxury goods. I can also see handspun being very costly to buy.

I'd like to throw out a "what if." The locavore or local economy movement could lead to people beginning to demand locally-produced clothing the way they are adopting local food.

It's already happening with knitters, weavers, and spinners searching for yarn and fibre that has never left their region.

So, say ordinary people start looking for cloth and clothes that have the equivalent of 100 food miles, or zero food miles. What would they find?

I hope they get offered quality products by local producers. I fear they may not get offered anything at all, because local production involves such investment in skill, materials and tools, and hand labour.

I hope mentors will offer to help these potential fibre locavores learn to spin, knit, and weave the way community gardens and universities are offering to teach people to tend gardens and orchards and fields.

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