What’s a woman to do with a pickup truck full of fiber? If you’re Ishana Ingerman, you’re about to launch a very warm-and-fuzzy enterprise: making stylish coats from the hair of animals raised in Vermont. In a wearable twist on the locavore movement, Ingerman says she wants “to bring together a sense of place through textiles.” But the Burlington multimedia artist isn’t just thinking knitwear sold at craft fairs; she envisions being part of a new, farm-to-fashion textile industry in Vermont in which consciousness meets couture.
Plenty of Vermonters care about what they put on their plates, but fewer of them could be called fashion plates. Still, Ingerman believes they’ll find reason to choose clothing made with the same concerns about close-to-home farmers and producers, organic materials and environmentally safe processes that motivate the local-food movement.
“With most of our textiles coming from China,” she says, “there’s a new awareness of local and nontoxic fibers.” Dyes, petrochemical fragrances and adhesives used in the modern manufacturing process are “hugely toxic,” charges Ingerman, who suffers from multiple chemical sensitivities. That brightly colored T-shirt from the other side of the world has “a very big carbon footprint,” she adds.
On the other side of the coin, Ingerman points out, a nascent textile infrastructure has been quietly taking shape in Vermont, with a couple of weaving schools and small-scale fiber mills — including the Hampton Fiber Mill & Spinnery in Richmond and the Vermont Fiber Mill & Studio at Maple View Farm Alpacas in Brandon, where she’ll bring her fiber.
“I want to work with as many people as possible,” Ingerman says. “I’m working with an expert pattern maker — a New American from Moldova — and will use local dyes; there are farmers in Vermont growing plants like madder.” So far, though, only two of her 10 coat designs require dyes at all; the rest “will be the natural colors that come from the animal,” Ingerman notes.
Fiber’s journey from the backs of alpaca, sheep, llamas and angora rabbits to the backs of humans is a complicated one. First it has to be “skirted,” i.e., sorted and cleaned, Ingerman explains. Then it goes to a mill where it is scoured (washed), carded and made into roving, which Ingerman describes as “a sausage that goes on for miles.” This is spun to a variety of weights and thicknesses, and then plied. Finally, the fiber is ready for weaving.
Locally, that’s the missing link: “We don’t have any weaving mills in Vermont — yet,” Ingerman says. For now, she’s lined up a weaver just across the border in Massachusetts.
Ingerman, 45, is interested in fashion — she says she’s been designing clothing since grade school — but more passionate about the larger picture. “One of the biggest issues for me is education about the environmental impact,” she says of the textile industry.
In this she’s far from alone; the natural-fibers movement is growing nationwide. One of its champions, textile artist and educator Rebecca Burgess, came to speak in Vermont last year about her Fibershed Project — in which she vowed to spend one year wearing exclusively clothing made from fiber sourced within 150 miles of her northern California home. “She also spoke about how she got weavers, growers and others together in her area,” says Ingerman. Burgess “also got at-risk youth involved in a program to make farm-to-fashion jeans,” she adds. “They’re growing cotton and making indigo dye.”
All of this inspires Ingerman. She’s launching a Kickstarter campaign this weekend to get Farm to Fashion: Coats off the ground — and her truck full of fiber off to the mill.
Farm to Fashion: Coats will be on Kickstarter by Sunday. Ishana Ingerman can be reached through her website, littleoakstudio.net.