An Interview with Three Rivers Fibershed by Kate Westlund

The fiber community has many moving parts, but not all parts communicate easily with each other. The Three Rivers Fibershed is setting out to change that. I caught up with three of the founding members to find out how.

[A partial interview first appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of The Cable Gram, the Minnesota Knitters' Guild's quarterly print newsletter. If you are a member of the Guild, log in at knitters.org to view back issues.]

Title and ending photos from Lydia's Flock; photo by Jared Strand.

Alpaca fiber processing, Maddy Bartsch

MINNESOTA KNITTERS' GUILD

First things first — what is a fibershed?

JESS DANIELS

A fibershed is a strategic geography; a way of engaging our regional fiber system and the many resources we have in our community. So the Three Rivers Fibershed extends to a 175-mile radius centered around the Textile Center in Minneapolis and includes Southern Minnesota, Western Wisconsin, and Northern Iowa. A fibershed encourages the identification, appreciation, and connection of local fibers, local natural dyes, and local labor to create textiles and clothing that are grown and sewn close to home.

We’re a member of the Fibershed Affiliate Program, a grassroots network of communities around the world working to strengthen regional fiber systems, all with the support of Fibershed, a non-profit organization based out of California.

MADDY BARTSCH

[A fibershed is] a never-ending cycle that sustains itself for years to come. Each step works in harmony with what came before and what comes after.

Soil to Soil, illustrated by Andrew Plotsky

MKG

What are the challenges of starting a fibershed here in the Midwest?

LYDIA STRAND

For me, it’s navigating how to most effectively meet the diverse needs of producers, artists/makers, and consumers throughout our Fibershed radius, while encouraging and empowering those who support Fibershed’s vision and see specific need to become involved in their Three River’s Fibershed geographic area.

MADDY

We serve a large radius of 175 miles which covers areas ranging from very urban, like the Twin Cities, to many small rural communities and everything in between. So for us the challenge lies in connection: connection to resources, connection to consumers, and connecting individuals in their community to leading what Fibershed looks like for them. We believe empowering individuals from within their communities is crucial to the success of our Fibershed in meeting the unique needs of our strategic geography.

Flax harvest, Andrea Mycklebust
We believe empowering individuals from within their communities is crucial to the success of our Fibershed in meeting the unique needs of our geography. - Maddy Bartsch

MKG

We’re all familiar, whether we know it by name or not, with the concept of fast fashion — mass-produced clothing made quickly and cheaply — and we can all appreciate that knitting is inherently slow. How does fast fashion’s antithesis, slow fashion, come into play with a fibershed?

JESS

Our current fashion systems rely on excessive and unsustainable consumption driven by cheap clothing that externalizes the true cost of the resources used and impact on humans and the environment. Slow fashion is a movement toward more intentional purchasing, mindfulness and caring for clothing, and questioning the status quo of fashion.

MADDY

When I consider clothing from the perspective of slow fashion, I become aware of all the hands that have touched my finished garment. From the planting of seeds to the shearing of sheep, to the washing, dyeing, spinning, weaving, sewing, and finally transportation of that garment.

JESS

Supporting local farmers and the economy by participating in our fibershed is one facet of slow fashion — it helps us learn about what goes into making clothing, from soil to skin, and creates an alternative path forward that can regenerate our land and livelihoods.

Photos from the 2016 Fibershed Knitalong that Jess participated in. Using fiber sourced from fellow Three Rivers Fibershed co-founder and shepherdess Lydia Strand, Jess knit the Radiata shawl by Emily Cunetto. [Photo of Jess by Paige Green; other photos by Jess.]
Our current fashion systems rely on excessive and unsustainable consumption driven by cheap clothing that externalizes the true cost of the resources used and impact on humans and the environment. - Jess Daniels
Fermenting indigo, Maddy Bartsch

MKG

What are your goals for the Three Rivers Fibershed?

LYDIA

Short term, we are working on offering an ever-expanding events calendar, filling out our producer directory, and preparing to build a retailer directory to better connect local producers and consumers. All of these resources can be found on our website, ThreeRiversFibershed.com. This spring, we are planning a natural plant dye demonstration.

MADDY

Personally, I hope the Three Rivers Fibershed can grow in many of the ways the California Fibershed has. It would look different of course, to match our fiber communities unique skills, resources, and interests, but being able to have larger events like their Wool Symposium would be wonderful.

We are working on filling out our producer directory and preparing to build a retailer directory in order to better connect local producers and consumers. - Lydia Strand

LYDIA

We also hope to provide various on-going educational opportunities — natural dyeing, beginning shepherding, producer support systems — and creating initiatives like a Fiber CSA, Fiber Co-op, etc.

MADDY

It would be wonderful to, at some point, offer memberships that come with the benefits of education through classes, admission to events, or opportunities to fund specific research projects in our fibershed.

MKG

Lastly, how can interested people get involved?

LYDIA

Buy local fiber! Ask your favorite [yarn store] if they carry local yarn. If they don’t, encourage them to. Visit Shepherd’s Harvest Festival in May and connect with local fiber producers. Check out the Three Rivers Fibershed producer directory for direct sources of local fiber/goods!

MADDY

Sign up for our newsletter via our website (we promise we won't spam you!). Support events that promote slow fashion, sustainability, local food and farms, and the arts, of which Minnesota has many. Check out our website at threeriversfibershed.com, which is regularly updated with new events and producers. And feel free to email us with any questions at threeriversfibershed@gmail.com, especially if you're in need of help in locating resources. We're here to connect our fiber community.

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