Firstly to repeat a couple of important things (for more, please see my previous post):
1. When it comes to clothing - it isn't easy being green ...
2. A great deal of the environmental impact of our clothing lies with the end user - that's you & me. The person who buys, wears, washes, irons (?) mends, re-purposes, and ultimately decides when and how that garment is disposed of.
Listing is alphabetical and it'll go over several posts
I will update it as I discover more information
I knit a lot (so I'll look at fibres often made into yarns but perhaps not so often found in commercial clothing)
I've tried to cover all aspects 'from cradle to grave'.
And a little side thought here because some of the fibres in this part of the alphabet are expensive / aspirational and this started me thinking along these lines...
From an Environmental point of view the purchase of one lovely garment, made from a gorgeous fibre, that makes us feel good and that stays in the wardrobe and is worn for decades - that purchase is definitely better for the environment (and ultimately better for our bank balance) than the constant purchasing of cheap garments from fibre that doesn't last, looks awful in a short period of time and goes into land-fill very quickly.
Bamboo - a type of Rayon using bamboo as the source of the cellulose ... please see Rayon when I get there in this alphabetical list.
Bemsilk - An Acetate - the most commonly used fabric for lining garments ... See Acetate in Part 1
Bemberg - a Cuprammonium Rayon ... please see below.
Banana, Banana Silk - you'll only get dietary fibre from the fruit - this comes from the stalks. Bananas are not trees, what looks like a trunk is really the tightly packed sheaths (bottom part) of the leaves.
After the bananas are harvested the plant normally dies so using the stalks to make fibre is a bonus.
The stalks are stripped and then boiled in an alkaline to soften and seperate the fibres. The very coarse fibres can be used for baskets, floor mats etc - less coarse for soft furnishings - the finest is spun for yarn and clothing and it has a natural sheen.
Banana fibre is not often found in our clothing shops but about a decade ago there was a fad for unusual fibres in knitting yarns and I have knitted with a 'banana silk' yarn - it was very shiny and felt nice. I'm not sure how well it stood up to washing and wearing as the garment was gifted.
Camel Hair - we can dream! This is expensive stuff.
|Surely one of the world's oddest looking creatures!|
From the Bactrian Camel (2 humps) and Wikipedia lists Australia as being a significant supplier - I'm guessing that would be from feral camels.
Camels molt every spring, so hair can be collected by hand - there are coarse guard hairs and the highly desirable soft undercoat.
Has lovely natural colour so often used undyed but it takes dyestuff well.
Camel hair is very warm and it lasts well. Often blended with sheep's wool and usually used for coats.
|Cashmere buck (male) with impressive horns|
Cashmere - another luxury fibre - this one comes from the Cashmere goat & they originally came from Kashmir. There are several cashmere farms in Australia and even our own breed.
Some sources of information say that only the neck hair is used and some breeds don't seem to have much 'body hair' but other breeds (such as the Australian Cashmere) are furry allover - so I'm uncertain about this.
In some places the hair is combed out when the goats have their annual molt - in other places the goats are shorn ... again perhaps this depends on the breed. Cashmere goats are small animals so yield is small and I guess that is why the fibre is expensive.
As with many animals, cashmeres have a double coat - the soft undercoat and the much courser guard hair - which has to be mechanically removed. Then the soft undercoat can be dyed, spun and made into lovely things.
I have knitted with commercially spun cashmere yarn and I have hand-spun some cashmere too - it is so soft ... like spinning clouds.
Cotton - Humans have been wearing cotton for 1,000s of years and many of our modern clothes are made it - cotton accounts for about 30% of the world's textile market.
Back in the 1980s cotton got a lot of press saying that is Natural (and therefore Good) - nowadays we are more likely to hear all about the environmental impact of growing cotton ... an interesting example of how our perceptions of a product are altered. Both things are true - and both focus on only one part of the story.
What is it?
Most commercially grown cotton is Gossypium hirsutum, first developed by the Mayan civilisation in Mexico. Botanically it belongs to the family Malvaceae or Mallows and some of cotton's relatives are: okra, cacao (the plant we get chocolate from), hibiscus and hollyhocks.
|Audrey, a Simply Chocolate Blythe, |
wearing a cotton shirt and posing with a hollyhock flower
The cotton boll (that's the bit we use) is a protective case that grows around the seeds - and that fibre is almost pure cellulose.Producing / Growing it
This info is mostly from Cotton Australia's web site - so it is Oz-centric.
In 2014 Australia produced 501,000 metric tonnes of cotton, most is grown in southern Queensland and in NSW, from the Qld border down the Darling in the West and the Murrumbidgee in the South. Most processes for planting, harvesting etc are mechanised - but less so in some of the poorer countries where cotton is produced.
Now there are a lot of scary stats out there - 'to make enough cotton for 1 T-shirt takes 2,700 litres of water and 1.5kg of pesticide and fertiliser' 'for 1kg of cotton (enough for a T-shirt and a pair of jeans) it'll take more that 20,000 litres of water' 'cotton production ... accounts for 10 to 16% of the world's pesticides (incl. herbicides, insecticides & defoliants' [the last quote from here]
All the numbers aside - it seems that cotton is thirsty, needs good soil or fertilisers and is prone to pests and diseases.
The mechanically harvested cotton is pressed into huge blocks and taken to a cotton gin where the seeds and trash are separated out. (We export the cottonseed to Asia & America for cattle feed.) The fluffy lint gets pressed into bales, Australian bales are 227kg and the bale covers are made from cotton knit fabric to minimise contamination - the cotton gets a cotton T-shirt of its own ;-) The cotton is classed and then almost all is sold to spinning mills overseas - mostly in Sth East Asia and China - China being our biggest customer. In the mills the cotton is combed, carded and spun - it is then woven or knitted into fabric. Cotton is often blended with other fibres.
Cotton is usually dyed at the yarn or fabric stage - cotton is a bit dye resistant and it takes a lot of dyestuff to make cotton a dark or strong colour. Seems those cool black jeans and groovy black T-shirt are not very 'green' - cotton also fades rather quickly.
Modern dyes are a mix of many chemicals (even natural dyeing with leaves & things often requires a chemical mordant) and the run-off from dyeing textiles is an environmental concern. There are many reports of rivers turning strange colours and all the fish dying.
|naturally coloured cottons (undyed)|
Only now can the cotton be made into clothing - the denim into jeans, the chambray into shirts, the interlock into T-shirts etc etc. Most of the clothes in Australian shops are sewn in China, Sth East Asia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh ... places with cheap labour because sewing garments is labour intensive but it takes skill - most garments are sewn by women. Some garment factories are quite exploitative - let's not forget the collapse of the Rana Plaza - over 1,100 people died, most were working in the 5 garment factories in the plaza complex and would've been earning about $1.25 a day.
And then the cotton does some more travelling to our shops and perhaps our wardrobes.
How should we look after it?
These days we've 'fast fashion' and cheap clothing - much of it made of cotton or cotton blends - so the question is almost 'why should we bother looking after it?' But that cheapness doesn't reflect the environmental cost - doesn't honour the skilled labour of the (mostly) women who sewed the clothes and it probably won't last. I hope eventually, to do a post (or 2) focusing on the care of clothing but a few quick words here. Consider washing clothes less often - if it isn't smelly or visibly dirty, perhaps you could wear it again. Use fewer chemicals in the washing machine ... do we really need fancy enzymes to clean our clothes? Use less washing powder and don't use fabric softener (it damages fibre). Don't tumble dry. Mend and recycle.
Cotton can absorb up to 27 times its own weight in water and the fibre is actually stronger when wet. Cotton is a really useful fibre - perhaps that's why we've been using and wearing it for so long. All parts of the cotton plant are used - the seeds are used to make oil or animal feed, the linters (waste parts of the boll) can be used to make other fabrics (see Acetate) or things like cotton balls, the plant itself is usually mulched.
Cotton will burn like paper, blended cotton fabrics may behave differently.
What happens to it when it does go to land-fill? - the Grave
Cotton is natural and biodegrades well.
So - we can't imagine life without cotton but the environmental cost bothers us - is organic cotton the answer?
What does that 'organic' label mean?
It should mean that the cotton was grown from non-genetically modified plants, without the use of synthetic agro chemicals. But then there is the processing and all those travel miles done by cotton grown here, processed and turned into garments somewhere in Asia (usually) and then shipped back to Australia. It isn't easy being green!!! However, products that use less of our planet's resources and properly regulated labelling (so that we can understand and trust it) ... that has to be a good thing.
Cuprammonium Rayon (also labeled Bemberg, Cupro, Cupra, Ammonia Silk ) - I'll look at Rayon more when I get to R in this alphabetical list but a quick look at this form of rayon because personally I find it rather alarming and try to avoid buying it.
So What is it?
Cuprammonium Rayon is made from cellulose (from plants like all the other rayons) dissolved in a solution of copper & ammonia, that solution gets mixed with caustic soda before being extruded into filaments - it is then hardened, most of the copper & the ammonia is removed and the caustic soda neutralised. The main concern is if (when?) that copper ends up in the waste water system.
Cuprammonium rayon is no longer produced in the US due to the environmental effects - but other countries have less stringent regulations.
Where do we find it?
I'm not sure how precise garment labelling is but look out for the words listed above - fabric content labels are usually sewn into the left-hand side seam. If you sew your own clothes, keep those names in mind is you plan to avoid Cuprammonium Rayon - about 10yrs ago I found Cupro on the label in the packaging of a new card of lace trim.