As a fiber farmer and former fiber processor I have often contemplated what I call entrepreneurial fiber farming and the fiber arts community. I differentiate this type of farming from more traditional sheep farming, which I refer to as commodity fiber farming. Commodity fiber farming supplies wool in bulk through collection points such as wool pools, selecting for uniform characteristics that lend themselves to a consistent product. Entrepreneurial fiber farmers supply small quantities of many different types of fiber directly to fiber artists through direct sales on the farm, at fiber shows, farmers markets, and on line.
The primary question I ask, is how can this become an industry that contributes to the fundamental need of putting clothes on peoples backs from local farms? Currently the fiber arts community consists of farmers, processors, show organizers, media, celebrities, and consumers who are all part of a niche market directed at creating one of a kind art pieces and hand crafted articles of clothing. Essentially we are producing luxury goods in that they are not a part of peoples base line, everyday wardrobe. For that we get our mass produced clothes through the same outlets as everyone else. The reality is that we don’t actually have to shop anywhere else to cloth ourselves.
Personally, I would prefer to be involved in work that is meaningful in a fundamental way by contributing to real needs. Of course art, nice things, and experiences have aesthetic values that fulfill a genuine need that contributes to happiness and health. I have worked very hard to live in a place of great natural beauty because art, nice things, and experiences mean a lot to me. However, I want to know that my work also contributes in a fundamental way.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the fiber arts community does contribute in fundamental ways through the preservation and development of fiber and textile skills and knowledge, and the preservation of fiber animal breed diversity. Although none of us fundamentally need nalbound naturally dyed socks made from an icelandic/alpaca wool blend that was hand spun and made on bone needles, the people that did all that are preserving a host of things that the world would be poorer without. In addition, although I don’t want to sound like a preper for the apocalypse, someday all of this might come in really handy should the availability of mass produced clothing come to an end.