Green textiles

Alabama Bike

A gorgeous design by Alabama Chanin, conveniently displayed with this bike. Photo: Alabama Chanin.

I just got back from Washington D.C., where I went to meet informally with folks connected to or interested in the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. ASPO is planning their yearly conference and they wanted to share some aims for the event which is being held for the second year in the nation’s capital this November. I’ll be there and I hope you’ll go, too.

But as I often do, when I get the opportunity to travel up to DC, I first of all make sure to hit some great international eateries. I also go to museums. In particular I look for exhibits that are focused on energy, the environment and anything “Green.”

This time I was in luck.

All sewn up

Being a textile artist myself (I work in needle felting and in repurposing existing fabric toward new ends) I was excited to see that the Textile Museum has an exhibit open through September 11, 2011 called Green: The Color and the Cause.

Turns out that throughout human history there’s been few textiles dyed green because the elements for dyeing green don’t really exist in nature the way other colors do.

Sure, there’s green everywhere in nature, but this doesn’t translate to a natural and “sticky” or  rather “fast” green dye. Artists and craftspersons would have to mix dye colors and mordants to get green, making it an enviable end result. The exhibit covers this by displaying various centuries old garments, household linens and rug fragments from China, Persia, Japan, India, Turkey, Egypt and Peru.

New works

These were stunning, but the contemporary pieces excited me even more. In particular I was taken by a few submissions that successfully pushed the intellectual edge, whether or not I found the materials exciting in and of themselves.

Maggy Rozycki Hiltner’s Hothouse Flowers 2005 was easily my favorite. And here I did love the materials. Her repurposed embroidery fragments taken from vintage dish towels and other linens formed a collage on the upper and lower edges of a wall hanging that frankly could also be called a “table runner” if one wanted to get practical and look back on the origins of the pieces.

Enclosed in the center of the runner are embroideries reminiscent of vintage children’s story book illustrations of people. The artist referred to it as akin to the Japanese Superflat art movement, but to me it read as a kind of Dick and Jane figurative representation. Unlike happy-go-lucky vintage illustrations, the embroidery here is meant to suggest how kids are pushed today, and how that push toward success and achievement often means alienating them from nature, the very thing that nourishes us the most. It’s a stunning, provocative and humorous piece.

Also notable was a jacket by Alabama Chanin, a “slow clothes movement” artist collective under designer Natalie Chanin. I’ll definitely write just about her and Alabama Chanin in the future, exploring the opportunities and excitement of the slow clothes movement, but for now let me just say that growing, spinning and weaving locally, hand sewing and elegant garments go together beautifully. What an inspiration for any innovative designer with a needle, an imagination and a willingness to experiment with traditional methods.

Teresa Barkley’s quilted wall hanging Freedom From Hunger: Cabbage and Potatoes 2010 offered a radical upending of the cheesy printed fabrics ubiquitous in the country crafting tradition. Instead of offering the sentimental schlock innate to these fabrics, Barkley turned her motif into a true meditation on the life cycle, the human relationship to nature, and the spiritual elements in depending on nature’s indifference for our growth and sustenance.

Weaving it together

I never would have thought I would have loved Emily Dvorin’s Verdundant so much, because I can be a bit snobbish about natural materials and how they “speak” to me, versus the “deadness” in artificial ones. But this piece really surprised me. Using bright green cable tie lines like the ones used in quick hand cuffs or to bolster a fence, Dvorin weaves together a bowl that is at once a seemingly organic piece and useless to the point of being extraneous. As the exhibit says about her work

Verdundant is a conflation of two words, “verdant” (green with growing plants) and “redundant” (exceeding what is necessary). The title encapsulates Dvorin’s message. Her green basket, which mimics a growing plant, is “a commentary on overconsumption of commercial goods, societal excess, and throwaway consumerism.”

I loved it! The thought, execution and humor were razor sharp and did what all good art should—push us past our comfort zone to engage with something we might otherwise dismiss.

I have plenty to say about the rest of the equally amazing pieces, but if you’re going to be in the DC area this summer see this show and a companion exhibit, Second Lives: the Age Old Art of Recycling Textiles, (which plays a few months longer than Green, through January 8, 2012). This exhibit is full of fascinating information on how textiles have been reused throughout history. It offers a telling example about how the fossil fuel age is different from all other times in our total disregard for how things are made, the value inherent in them. Our disposable culture will one day give way to the long standing necessity of reusing items. Indeed it already is. This exhibit provides inspiration for anyone looking to value items more fully, and the creative inspiration to reenvision what an item can be.

–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List

If you enjoyed this article please share and follow Lindsay’s List on Facebook and Twitter.

Related posts:

About Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren has no intention of ending up the Scarlett O'Hara of the 21st century, dizzy and confused as neo-Rome burns. Instead, the Staunton, Virginia based writer, designer and high-heeled survivalist writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog and edits Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil and the coming life of sweaty labor and, hopefully, nicer manners.


  1. macrobe says:

    This post was partly nostalgic for me. Decades ago while living in a cedar log cabin I built in the back woods of Maine, I made most of my own clothing: skirt from a table cloth, long skirt from a white sheet that I tie-dyed, summer dress from a bed sheet, dungaree bib-dress from old discarded jeans. Made quilts from discarded clothing for myself and my daughter. All hand sewn or on an old Singer treadle machine. I also traded garden vegetables for spun wool yarn and knitted my own socks, mittens and hats. This turned into a cottage business where I was paid cash or by barter to mend clothes and quilts, knit custom hats, and even hand sewed a pair of leather pants. And back then, it was okay not to wear underwear :)

Speak Your Mind