Growing Good Fabric

growing good fabric

Among our objectives as a non-profit are education and community building. We typically work toward these goals via outreach at the Denver Botanic Gardens, demonstrating at its free days and festivals, teaching sessions of its Kids Camps, and offering classes to members. We really love sharing our knowledge and passion for dye plants with fiber and horticulture groups, as well as with the casual garden visitor. Experiencing the wonder as people come to understand that plants can and do make color is its own reward! It’s always been our intention to branch out into the wider community and, last month, we had a remarkable opportunity to do just that.

On a cold, late February day the Mountains & Plains Fibershed sponsored Growing Good Fabric: A Community Roundtable on Soil Health, Fiber Farming and Natural Dyes. Are you familiar with Fibershed? Modeling it on the watershed concept, founder Rebecca Burgess coined the term to define a region providing all the resources needed to make an item of clothing. Fibershed is also a movement, promoting use of locally-produced, climate-beneficial textiles.

Illustration by Andrew Plotsky

As its website states, “The goal was to illuminate that regionally grown fibers, natural dyes, and local talent was still in great enough existence to provide this most basic human necessity — our clothes.” The climate beneficial component is key, and a major concern of Fibershed is sustainability and environmental stewardship. Quoting its vision statement, “through strategic grazing, conservation tillage, and a host of scientifically vetted soil carbon enhancing practices, our supply chains will create ‘climate beneficial’ clothing that will become the new standard in a world looking to rapidly mitigate the effects of climate change. We see a nourishing tradition emerging that connects the wearer to the local field where the clothes were grown, building a system that can last for countless generations into the future.”

The mission of our local Mountains & Plains Fibershed is to “foster collaboration among textile artists, designers, fiber farmers, processing mills, suppliers, and retail businesses in and around Colorado.” Thus, the Growing Good Fabric event was an early step by this young organization to foster community among producers, artisans, and consumers. As a new member of Fibershed, we considered the day a great success! IMG_2918Engaging  presenters included:
Philip Taylor, Ph.D. an ecologist and fellow at the University of Colorado, who studies ecosystems and sustainability, with a focus on carbon farming. Phil is the founder of Mad Agriculture, a local nonprofit whose goal is to restore our relationship to the land;
Katie Bell Miller, owner and operator of Heritage Belle Farms, a small, diversified, sustainable family farm and ranch operating on the high plains of Calhan, CO;
and our own Donna Brown, a Littleton, CO -based natural dyer with over 25 years of natural dyeing and teaching experience in venues across the US and abroad.

Along with other Mountains & Plains Fibershed members, the Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden had an education table, loaded with samples and books, staffed by volunteers happy to chat — and chat we did!
IMG_2919We met fiber producers, spinners, knitters, weavers, and connected with other dyers in the Front Range area. We also took the opportunity to offer for sale our first Natural Dye Kits for Kids, stocked with French marigold and weld from last year’s harvest. The room was crackling with energy, good humor, communication, and connection. We’re glad to have participated, grateful to the Mountains & Plains Fibershed for making it possible … and can’t wait to see what comes next!







Author: Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden

The Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden is a joint project of the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild, established by a donation from the family of Janice Ford. Janice was an enthusiastic and energetic dyer, weaver, and seamstress who passed away too young in 2011. The garden has been flourishing since 2014, enriching and coloring the lives of visitors, artists in many media, and especially those whose privilege it is to tend it. The garden is located at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms. From June to September, we are there most Thursdays, 9-12, to weed, harvest and dye. Visitors are welcome to stop by to see what we're up to!. Admission is free to Denver Botanic Garden members, with a $5.00 fee/car for non-members.

2 thoughts on “Growing Good Fabric”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this report of the gathering. I so hated to miss it, but it was unavoidable. Now, at least, I have a good idea about what I missed (sadly!). I would have loved to have heard the speakers but maybe I will hear more about their work sometime too.
    We have lots of exciting dyeing going on and it won’t be long until we’re back in the garden again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We missed you! It seems very likely we’ll meet up with the speakers and other attendees again for future projects. And, yes, our winter dye kitchen days are fun and satisfying — we’re really fortunate to have such a eager and mutually-supportive community. Can’t wait for planting day!


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