Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sustainable Life

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about “sustainability” but I’m totally confused about what that really means. One definition (from Wikipedia) says “Sustainability itself is expressed as meeting present ecological, societal, and economical needs without compromising these factors for future generations.” It all sounds lovely. Can we in this severely overpopulated world actually live this way? Truthfully, I don’t think many people are willing to give up a lot of their 21st Century perks and really do what it takes to achieve this noble goal. It’s particularly difficult while others seem to be exploiting the planet and the population like crazy just to get rich on the profits. I’m not really a very philosophical or navel-gazing type of person. I just do what I do and carry on as best I can. Of course it’s not enough – but then nothing ever is, is it?

But I never cease to be amused by people hopping on a new bandwagon. If it’s a good thing, go for it! More power to ya. You do need to think things through a little better though before you blindly follow the crowd. (Just ask those morons at the recent Stanley Cup Riot who are now apologising left, right and centre because they joined in the insanity! Doh.) In our own little corner, we’ve been shopping with our own bags and boxes for at least 20 years only now we don’t get funny looks from the cashier. We’ve had a veggie garden for nearly 40 years, ranging from a strip of dirt under a window to boxes on a flat garage roof and currently to nearly 1/4 of our city lot plus nut trees and berry bushes and don’t forget the dye garden. We have a huge compost box. Also I’ve been making at least a portion of my wardrobe since I was a teenager and then some of our household textiles too, incorporating all of the textile arts as I learned them: sewing, dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting, crochet, rug hooking. T-Man fixes things and keeps them working as long as possible. We use stuff until it wears out - and then often we continue use it some more until we get around to replacing it. And so on and so on. Blah-dee-blah-dee-blah. Is this all sustainable in a global sense? Don’t think so. Not even close. However I believe that every little bit we can do does help somehow. I’d still do it all anyway.

Yet we are all bombarded day and night with advertising that tells us we need to have the latest and greatest whatevers to be happy and fulfilled human beings. The news is full of doom and gloom about how businesses are failing and the economy is tanking and we all need to buy-buy-buy to save it. I don’t know about you, but I pretty much have enough “whatevers” and don’t have room for more. It’s mostly lies anyway. I don’t “consume” enough to support the economy the way it’s currently set up and don’t really want to. It’s a terminally flawed system. Of course it’s going to hurt bigtime to fix it, if it can be fixed at all. I have no useful ideas on that. Probably it will just have to break badly first. Finances and big business makes my head hurt so I’m not even going to go there.

Meanwhile let us just discuss a new book I got:


Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess is the latest book on natural dyes. It’s quite good actually. Rebecca is a textile artist and educator and she seems to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Her focus is to use dye plants from your local area – hers is northern California – in a (here’s that word again) sustainable way. There’s a lot to ponder here. Plus she has much clearer instructions (or at least I understand them better) for some of the techniques of wrapping and steaming, flower pounding and indigo fermentation vats. There’s lots of lovely pictures to accompany the information. Though one photo labelled “black walnut” (p.84 although unnumbered) is actually Persian walnut (aka English walnut or Juglans regia). The leaves are rounder and the nut husk is speckled. (Sharing my backyard for 31 years with a tree that’s at least 50 feet tall now, I think I’m qualified to identify the species!) There are other photos of actual black walnut to compare the pointier leaves. Both types are excellent dye sources anyhow. Mistakes happen, but I hope there are no other errors especially in the recipes, which are the most important to get right.

Rebecca has loosely organised this book in “seasons” which, although it has a lovely flow, makes it hard to find certain pieces of information. For instance a short discussion on Navaho-Churro sheep is in the Summer section, flower pounding is in the Spring and wrapping leaves in fabric is in the Fall section. Similarly, Japanese indigo is in Summer and indigo fermentation is in Winter. You’ll need to make good use of the index. And probably a few Post-Its to find the elusive tidbits.

There are a few handspun and knitted projects included but they are pretty clunky and basic – like the ones I produced in the 1970’s when I first learned to spin and dye. Sometimes I wish I could spin that lovely bulky yarn again! I’d have to practice a lot and probably need to use my old cottage wheel to do it. Might be a fun exercise some day anyway. I remember it sure uses up the wool stash faster anyhow.

So I’m still in the process of reading and evaluating the rich information contained in Harvesting Color. Do go check out Rebecca’s website (linked to her name above) and her blog has a great post on her local Fibershed project’s fashion show. No fair that Sally Fox (of coloured cotton fame) is included. Cotton doesn’t grow in my area! The idea of a fibreshed (sorry, Canadian/Brit spelling) is an interesting one though: bioregional clothing akin to the 100-mile diet. Around here I’d be wearing a lot of dog fur however since it’s the most common fibre grown in my vicinity. Unfortunately those little yappy toy mutts don’t produce much.


Heather said...

I'm with you on the sustainability thing. Growing up in the 60's and 70's with environmentalist parents on a budget just bred it into me. But even with my good practises the "footprint" test I took recently informs me that 3 1/2 planets would be needed to sustain my lifestyle, simply by virtue of living in North America.

Louisa said...

Man! If you can't be even close to sustainable on your lovely little island in the Salish Sea, Heather - then pretty much nobody can. I despair for the rest of us, truly. Island people are just the best at making do with what they have available. And you don't have all the temptations of the giant malls and big box stores. At least until you get to town! Heh.