Setting up a Fibershed for Melbourne, Australia

I find buying new clothes really hard. I used to worry only about the ethics of how they were manufactured. I’m really glad it’s now easier to find fair-trade or ethically made clothes, but I still wonder about how the fabrics are made. There’s not enough information about how sustainably the fibre is grown, whether the people who manufacture it are treated ethically and what the environmental impacts of the fabric processing and dyeing are. So far my solution has been to buy only second-hand via thrift stores and clothing swaps. It suits me pretty well to gather what I need from the cast offs of others, but there are always a few items that are hard to find (a pair of good fitting dress pants are worth their weight in gold!). I could make my own, but I don’t have good sources for pre-loved fabric and yarns. Setting up a Fibershed could be a good way to deal with my problem.

What is Fibershed?

Fibershed started with one woman in California creating a wardrobe for herself using only dyes, fibers and labour sourced within 150 miles of where she lived. She teamed up with farmers and artisans to build the wardrobe and this is where I get really excited – the project is all about discovering who grows the resources in your area, and connecting them up with the people who create things with those resources. Others are obviously excited by this idea too – there are now at least 15 similar projects all over the world.

That sounds like a really hard thing to do

I agree! I had setting up a Fibershed on my ‘things to do one day’ list until I read this post by a blogger who is setting up her Fibershed in Perth, Australia. She was calling on others take up the challenge and one person from my hometown of Melbourne had put her hand up. All of a sudden, this seemed like a crazy, but vaguely possible project to take on.

How am I going to do this?

Apart from sheer grit and determination? I’m going to keep to Nicki’s ground rules:

Map of my Melbourne Fibershed region

My Melbourne Fibershed region

  • the fibre must be farmed and processed within 500km of Melbourne, Victoria (this map tool is a great way to visualise the area I have to work with)
  • all fibres must be natural
  • any dyeing must also use local non synthetic materials
  • all fabric and clothing made must be of quality construction so as to ensure the life of the clothing is long, and not need excessive ironing or washing.

Given I’ve never made a garment for myself, let alone a whole outfit, I’m not going to get too hung up on what (if anything!) I’m able to make by April 2016. What I’m really interested in is getting to know my local:

  • Growers
  • Processors
  • Manufacturers
  • Creators

I don’t know much, but I do know that Australia was built on ‘the sheep’s back’ and at the very least I should be able to knit an item of local wool. I also know that Victoria has a long and proud manufacturing industry, as well as a strong fashion culture. I’m interested to see what leads I can follow there. Wish me luck!

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21 Responses to Setting up a Fibershed for Melbourne, Australia

  1. I look forward to helping you with this project,the Vikings used Gotland fibre for their clothes and for sails in the long boats,and of course for meat.It has a long staple high lustre and has a soft handle and the natural colour range from light silver to black and all the nuances in between.I have tried to make my web page informative so people understand the journey .I have yarn and rovings for the spinners and felters in the future pelts will be available.
    I look forward to hearing from you

    • cheliamoose says:

      Thanks Cheryl! I haven’t met you yet and you’ve already been very helpful connecting me to people. I was able to see your Gotland fibre for the first time this weekend and you’re right – it’s incredibly soft with lovely natural colours. I’ll be writing a blog post on my excursion soon.

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  3. Ophélie says:

    How exciting! I hadn’t realized that half of Tasmania falls within 150km of Melbourne.
    Looking forward to reading more about your adventure, and in taking part myself.

    • cheliamoose says:

      I hadn’t either, Ophélie! I almost feel like I’m cheating, being able to access the ACT as well as little parts of Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales…not enough to give up the option to draw from their wonderful resources though 😉 I’m very glad to have you following along and I’m looking forward to your input particularly once I get to the making stage.

    • cheliamoose says:

      Oops, I just realised Ophélie, that you said 150km; my project’s radius is 500km so Tassie is probably still the original distance away that you thought 😉

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  6. Assume you’ve looked into Bendigo Woolen Mills? I haven’t made it to their shop yet but have woven with their 3ply and was very happy with the result. Good luck.

    • cheliamoose says:

      Thanks for the suggestion (and the luck)! Yes, Bendigo Mills was one of the first I looked into. Their wool is sourced from the NSW Highlands, which is outside of the 500km limit for this project. I’ve crocheted with their yarn in the past and I agree, it’s a lovely product to work with.

      • Thanks for letting me know where they source their wool from. That’s good to know. I’ll keep using them, personally, because at least they’re an Australian supplier and I feel I want to support what little is left of the Australian fibre industry. If you find an Australian or NZ supplier of carpet wool in your research travels please let me know.

      • cheliamoose says:

        I agree, I’m using arbitrary restrictions for this Fibershed project, I don’t think that should stop you from using a very good Australian product like Bendigo wool! I’ll keep my eye out for carpet wool for you 🙂

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  11. Fibreshed is a great idea. My Shropshire Sheep are well suited to the Strathbogie Ranges, having the most dense wool of the Down Breeds. Does not wet felt, very good for needle felting. I find it very easy to spin, prefers medium to fine. Can be used with other fibres, if a softer feel is preferred. I spin and knit my own 100% Shropshire Socks, only 3 pairs so far, as farming, spinning, knitting, takes up a lot of time. Have also knitted Shropshire/Gotland mix. I have a website which can be accessed, but is still undergoing improvement. Shropshire Sheep were once the most popular sheep in Australia. However due to economics and WWI this changed. A medium sized sheep with a gentle temperament. Very much a wool which one can use for most projects.

    • cheliamoose says:

      Thanks for that information Marilyn! I’m very interested in seeing how Shropshire and Gotland perform as a sock yarn blend. I’m also looking forward to visiting your farm in a few weeks time 🙂

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