Saturday, June 9, 2018

Synthetic Microfiber Pollution.

As Fibers Seep into Water, States Seek Warning Tags
    By Lindsey Rupp
    Bloomberg News

I have written before about the contents of the book “Fashion Victims” in which author Alison Matthews David  writes of the "dangers of dress, past and present".

I think many are not aware that there are dangers in the clothing we purchase and wear. Perhaps, we assume that care and warning labels are sufficient, although I would guess not many buyers are even aware they exist (unless they are scratchy, and then they are snipped from the garment).  Or it may be that the government with its thousands of protective concerns for us and the environment  may be cognizant of dangers and are actually doing something proactive (not that I believe that!)

I read the above article this morning and have never considered the problem of shedding microfibers.  It seems that researchers have been finding these synthetic escapees in our water supplies and are placing the blame on "garments made of polymer-based cloth" which, when washed, can actually shed as many as 1,900 fibers with each washing.  These tiny devils are less than 5 millimeters in length and are not filtered by your washing machine nor water filtration plants.  They are known to have been found in sea water and aquatic life, and you may not want to hear this, but are found in bottled water.  So much for the crystal clean water found only in the Rockies, or maybe France.

So what is being done about this pollution?  It seems as though 2 states, California and New York are proposing bills that would require a warning tag on all garments with more than 50% synthetic fiber content.  Of course, this approach has not been endorsed by the retail manufacturing industry.  Not that it would be an inducement to return to natural fiber clothing for the multitudes buying synthetic clothing.

There were listed 3 temporary solutions promoted by the advocacy group, 5Gyres Institute.
              Firstly, wash you clothing less.  It is true we go a bit overboard with cleanliness, grabbing      our alcohol-based hand cleansers at every opportunity but I shutter to think of that effect on my yoga class.
               Secondly, use a front-loading washing machine (why this is better, I don’t know) but they are much more efficient and use much less water per load.
                Thirdly, there are, somewhere on the market, additional filters that can be added to your machine to catch microfibers.  But then, what do you do with them once they have been captured?

Knowing a problem exists is only the beginning and I doubt the person who tosses (no recycling!) plastic water bottles everywhere and drinks with plastic straws would even care, after all the fibers are only 5 millimeters long!!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Camelid Fiber - Part Three

Meet the Camelids – Part Three

In my previous blogs I discussed the members of the camelid family: camels, vicunas and guanacos.  Two other species belong to this tribe, alpacas and llamas.

Like vicunas and guanacos, alpacas and llamas are descendents of the Limini branch of the ancient camelids.  While vicunas and guanacos are both wild tribes, the alpacas and llamas have long been domesticated.  Alpacas were domesticated nearly seven thousand years ago, llamas shortly after, both in the Peruvian Andes.  Originally it was thought that both alpacas and llamas were descendents of guanacos, however DNA evidence has shown that the ancestor of llamas is the guanaco, the ancestor of alpacas is the vicuna.

Llamas are used primarily as pack animals and there are three types of SouthAmerican llamas in existence today, the wooly type, the non-wooly type and an intermediate.  While some llamas shed their wool, others have to be shorn and because their fiber tends not to be consistent, it has less of a commercial use.  Frequently their fiber is blended with sheep wool. 

Alpacas are smaller than llamas and are bred for their fiber.  There are two types of alpaca, the Huacaya and the Suri.   The huyaca or “ wooly “type is the most prominent, while only less than 10 percent is suri with long, sleek fibers.  Processing in Peru includes sorting the fibers for natural color shades (22) and several quality grades.  Nearly half the yield is graded as super fine. Each animal will produce 7-10 pounds of fleece per year.
Alpaca textiles are light-weight woven fabrics, stronger than sheep woolen fabrics with a silky luster.  Frequently alpaca fibers are combined with manufactured fibers.

Cute, eh!

Alpaca scarf

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Camelid Fibers Part Two

Meet the Camelids –Part two

In Meet the Camelids (part one – 4-15-18) I discussed the origins of members of the camelid family, namely old world camelids, bactrian and dromedary camels who are descended from a tribe of North American animals, the Camelini.  These animals migrated to Asia across the Bering Land Bridge and became the camels of Asia and Africa.

Today I wish to present the second tribe of the now extinct North American camelids, the Lamini.  This tribe was to become the South American camelids, vicuna, guanaco, llama and alpacas.  The original ancestor Limini gave rise to two independent and distinct populations, both wild: Vicunas and Guancos.

Vicunas, the smallest of the camelids, arrived in South America nearly two million years ago on the altoplano of the Andes mountains.  When the European invasion of South America occurred it was estimated that there was nearly 2 million vicunas, however, over the ensuing years the population dwindled to nearly extinction due to hunting.  The down of the animals is amongst the most expensive in the world and was a forbidden export for international trading.  Now due to the efforts of Peru, Argentina and Bolivia and Chile the numbers have increased to the extent that natives of the Andes are allowed to hand gather the wool and export it legally.  There is some farming of the animals taking place in Argentina, while other countries depend upon gathering the wool from flocks in the wild.  It is possible for vicunas to breed with South American alpacas producing Paco-Vicuna.  This is rare and is not permitted to happen (if it can be avoided) by those wishing to keep the vicuna breed pure and from further extinction.  Since it is thought alpacas are descended from vicunas there has been DNA research to find animals that are alpacas but with vicuna traits.  Since vicunas cannot be exported these animals are being bred instead in North America..  These are also called Paco-Vicunas but are , in reality specially bred alpacas.

Vicunas are the smallest of the camelids with brown body and white bib and underbelly

Guanacos live in the high plains of Chile and Argentina and to a lesser degree in the mountain regions of Equador, Bolivia and Peru.  As with the vicunas they suffered from the Spanish emigration, now numbering around 400,000-600,000.  Although they are considered wild, they are easily tamed and can be found in US zoos and private farms.  They are double-coated, like llamas with soft downy undercoats.  Their fiber, while sparse, is secondary in fineness to vicuna.

Guanacos are the size of a medium llama with brown coats and white underbellies and gray faces.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Camelid Fibers

Meet the Camelids

The Camelid family originated in North America around 50 million years ago, and one would have thought that camels and their relatives came from Asia or Africa!

Over the years the camelid family branched into two main groups, known as tribes.  One tribe, the Lamini, gave rise to New World camels, which migrated to South America.  The original Lamini tribe became extinct in North America nearly 12,000 years ago and we see their South American descendants as alpacas, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas.  The second main tribe, known as the Camelini (Old World camels) migrated to Asia across the Bering Land Bridge and became the Bactrian and Dromedary camels of Asia and Africa.

Of interest to us textile folks are the camelid fibers, each unique.  Today we will look at camels.

The Bactrian ( 2 humped ) camel perhaps originated in Afghanistan which was called Bactria in ancient times.  Its tan to dark brown hair, as long as 10 inches in length, is shed once a year.  There are both domesticated and wild Bactrian camels, although the wild population is considered engangered.  There are differences between domesticated and wild Bactrians, including some differences in their DNA.

The Dromedary camels (single-humped) are adapted to hot climates and can survive for long periods without water.  However, they produce less useable fiber than Bactrian, although Arvana dromedaries can produce up to 7 pounds of fluff.  The wild dromedaries are extinct so that all dromedaries are domesticated.  In Australia there are large herds that have gone feral, their domesticated parents were brought to Australia in the late 1800’s to access desert areas.

Camels are double-coated.  The coarse hair is very strong and suitably used for ropes, halters etc.  The undercoats are down that can be gathered by hand in the spring or by combing.  The Wool Products Labeling Act classifies camel hair as wool.  It is usually combined with other wool fibers.  Fabric called camel hair is often a twill weave with a deep nap ( or may have a flat finish) and is very soft with a luxurious draping quality.

Some camel friends I met in Morocco

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hubert de Givenchy 1927-2018

Hubert de Givenchy  1927-2018

Givenchy has died at the age of 91.  The House of Givenchy released a statement lauding the founder as “ a major personality of the world of French haute couture and a gentleman who symbolized Parisian chic and elegance for more than half a century”.

“Le Grande Hubert” promoted the concept of upscale ready-to-wear mix and match separates.  Probably his most famous “look” was called “the little black dress” , a sleeveless, black evening gown.  Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s with long, black gloves and a necklace of pearls.

For information on the rise of the House of Givenchy you may refer to my blog “ The House of Givency” 12/19/17.

“A piece of material has a life.  You must never upset it, if you want the material to speak.”          Hubert de Givenchy

Monday, February 26, 2018

Levis -King of Apparel

Today marks the birthday of Levi Strauss (Feb.26, 1829),  the creator of the most widely used article of apparel.  Levis, the first of  many denim pants, can be found throughout the world, from the far East to Oceania and all of the Western world. 

Strauss was born in Buttenheim, Bavaria, in a family of 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters.  He emigrated to the US with his sisters, joining his brothers who had established a wholesale dry goods business in NYC.

In 1853 Levi left New York for San Francisco where he began his own dry goods business, Levi Strauss & Co   Meanwhile, in Reno Nevada a tailor named Jacob Davis had been making work pants using rivets at points of stress for durability and wished Strauss as a partner. In May 1873 they received a patent  for the copper revited pants.

The first material used was a heavy canvas cloth, later denim became the cloth used which was dyed blue with indigo. Denim is a stout, serviceable, twilled cotton fabric.  Standard denim is made with indigo blue-dyed warp and gray filling yarn.  It is the most important fabric of the work clothing group.  However, we are all aware that denim now plays many roles in the realm of fashion.

During his lifeime, Strauss was well known as a philanthropist.  When he died in 1902 he left an estate of nearly $6 million dollars and the business continued as a family concer.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018



Today, this word often means poor quality, poor workmanship.  However, the term “shoddy” is actually a textile term.  Callaway Textile Dictionary defines it as wool fibers that have been made into yarn or fabrics, torn apart and made ready for use again”. This is made possible with the use of a “shoddy or rag picker”, a machine for tearing apart wool rags , clippings, etc., reducing the to a fibrous condition suitable for carding.  The machine consists of a pair of strong, fluted feed rolls between which the material is slowly passed to be acted upon by a large, rapidly rotating cylinder studded with sharp pointed steel teeth or spikes.

In the field of recycling this is what happens to fabrics too worn or damaged to be used again in their present state.  A commentary by Adam Minter in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Monday, January 22, 2018, “No One Wants the World’s Used Clothes”, cites the fate of  over 200 manufacturing plants in Paniput, India which for decades was the world’s largest recycler of woolen garments, a $4 billion trade in used-clothing.
The shoddy was made into cheap blankets for disaster relief, making over 100,000 blankets each day.

What would seem to be a good, as well as worthwhile solution to the glut of useable, but unwanted, fibers has hit an economic snag.  Minter estimated that between 2000 and 2015, global production of clothing had doubled, however the average number of times the clothing was actually worn declined by 36 percent.  This appears to be good news for the shoddy recyclers.  Enter the Chinese manufacturers.  It seems that using modern techniques, the Chinese could produce more blankets, in various colors, selling the new polar fleece blankets for $2.50 (the recycled blankets retailed for $2.00).  So now, Panipat is changing.

The crux of this environmental disaster is that even with production of shoddy at its highest peak there would still be a growing deluge of used clothing entering the market.  Now, with cheap, new fabrics available,  textile manufacturers are attempting solutions by creating new fibers from recycled materials.  This is a long process and quite a challenge.