Why doesn’t the US have right to roam laws?

We’d never given this issue much thought, but the idea of private property remaining accessible to others who will act responsibly as passersby is an interesting one. If nothing is damaged and the goal is simply to get from one place to the other, or enjoy nature without borders, then why not? Ken Ilgunas writes […]

via Private Property in the US — Raxa Collective

I MADE YOUR CLOTHES – FASHION REVOLUTION — Artisan Lifestyle Brand and Fair Trade Manufacturer

The collapse of Rana Plaza, and the hundreds of deaths it brought about, has been presented to the world as exposing the ruthlessness of third world manufacturers, and the lack of conscience on the part of their big label customers—the brands with which we are all familiar. But it also reveals something deeper, something as […]

via I MADE YOUR CLOTHES – FASHION REVOLUTION — Artisan Lifestyle Brand and Fair Trade Manufacturer

The Zuckerberg Donation and a Legacy of Control

When I was very young, my parents used to tell me why having “lots of toys” wasn’t a good idea. “The more you have, the more you want,” they would say. I didn’t have many toys — we were poor — so the idea of possessions feeding greed didn’t make much sense to me then.

But I’ve learned the truth of that statement from observation over the years and lately I’ve been observing Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg is a 31-year-old computer programmer who did two things that made him famous: he founded Facebook, the social networking super service, and, as a result, he amassed a fortune worth about $46 billion. His bank account is as large as the capitalization of many countries.

The Zuckerberg Family

The Zuckerberg Family

How he got to these lofty heights of wealth and cultural impact is a matter of often fierce debate — he’s been sued by former “partners” several times. But what’s more important than how he got control of Facebook is what he’s constructed with it: a ubiquitous presence in the lives of a billion people with the potential to frame and manipulate their communications, their relationships and, to a frighteningly large extent, their lives.

So last month, when Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced in a letter to their new baby — a rather novel way to package a press release — that, over the course of their lives, they will give almost all their Facebook shares to a project called the Chan Zuckerberg Iniative, the world took note.

The Initiative, they explained, would “advance human potential and promote equality” in health, education, scientific research, and energy. In short, change the world: on its face, a worthy cause. But, like many of Zuckerberg’s plans and projects, this one has another side that is darker, more cynical and, even if only partially successful, a potential nightmare for the human race.

A good, short, piece that explains why philanthropy and charity will never, ever fundamentally change the lots of the world’s poor and destitute. That the only way to do what Zuckerberg claims he wants to accomplish is to somehow build a world in which the rich don’t – can’t – exist. Consider this a companion to People Will Not Buy Zero Waste Until They Can Afford It.

Read more at This Can’t Be Happening!

Coffee Capsules Are Terrible For The Environment, Still — Raxa Collective

Way back when, early last year, we thought for sure this company was going to respond seriously to the challenge posed by the fun-yet-serious viral campaign highlighting its environmental atrocities. Many people we know and love use these machines or machines like them. These friends are generally serious devotees of the capsule machines due to their convenience. […]

via Coffee Capsules Are Terrible For The Environment, Still — Raxa Collective

While it’s easy to elevate the K-cup into this symbol of everything people like me like to hate, the Keurig is merely a symptom of a much bigger, deeper problem: the glorification of convenience at the expense of literally everything else.

The consolidation of local specialty stores into huge, “big box” multinationals.

The growing hostility towards use of the general internet browser, to be replaced with tightly controlled and corporate app environments.

The mass apathy and acceptance of corporate surveillance for the sake of being sold “better” products, or government surveillance for the sake of leading “safer” lives.

The advent and wide adoption of the disposable utensil that doesn’t need washing, to coincide with the mass movement away from reusable food packaging. Or hell, food that doesn’t even need you to prepare it.

Fertilizing the hell out of depleted land (with fertilizer made from fossil fuels) instead of nursing what little topsoil we have left, because restorative farming isn’t compatible with monocropping enterprises. Monocropping enterprises that allow meat industry CAFOs to function, by the way, and whose ethanol allows us to continue to squeeze just that much more energy from our every gallon of gasoline…

Keurig is an easy scapegoat, but making the K-cup recyclable or even compostable is still far from a sufficient solution.

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

How to Build a Low-Tech Internet – Low-Tech Magazine
Somewhat related to my piece on the internet and proprietary technology. A rundown on how the developing world connects to the internet.

Notes From an Ultra-Radical Perfectionist – Counterpunch
On why some feel that Bernie is not that great of a “lesser evil”.

The Myth of a Free World: Not Just Political – Counterpunch
Colonialism, liberalism, and the myth of the atomised individual.

Pixel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In the Gig Economy – Fast Company
The challenge was easy enough:  spend 6 weeks trying to get by in the “gig economy” and make at least $10/hour doing it. Or… maybe it’s not so easy after all.

The scientist who first warned of climate change says it’s much worse than we thought – Grist
An article about James Hansen on the state of climate science, apathy, and the status-quo 28 years after he spoke on the subject before Congress.

How Societies With Little Coercion Suffer Little Mental Illness – Bruce Levine
The argument is made that institutional coercion via compulsory education systems, consumer capitalism, government, work, and other aspects of modernity, create conditions that foster mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other “diseases” that hardly exist in smaller, simpler societies. Also, that their symptoms are often simply managed with costly prescription medications rather than identifying the underlying cause and attempting to rectify it, either on a small (personal) or large (systemic) scale.

Becoming Real By Becoming a Beast – an excerpt at Dark Mountain Project
In his new book Being a Beast, Charles Foster tries to enter the worlds of a badger (living in a sett in the Black Mountains, trying to turn himself into a more olfactory creature, and eating earthworms), an otter (swimming the rivers of Exmoor and catching fish in his mouth), an urban fox (rummaging through the dustbins of London’s East End), a red deer (being hunted by bloodhounds on Exmoor, and shivering amongst dying deer in the Scottish Highlands) and a swift (obsessively following the migration route from Oxford, across Europe, and down the West Coast of Africa). In this excerpt he looks back at the book, and wonders if he’s been wasting his time.”

Manual Mondays: Carpet Cleaning

Another Manual Monday! I know this seems like an odd subject, but seeing as how we have come into possession of a few rugs that are really too thin to be vacuumed (and that I just don’t like using the vacuum anyways), this seemed like a good one. After all, we’ve had textiles on our floors for much longer than we’ve had electricity – there’s gotta be some clever wisdom there on how to maintain them.

Here we go!

Isham-Terry House, Antiquarian & Landmarks Society – date unknown

To Restore Carpets to their First Bloom.
Beat your carpets with your carpet rods until perfectly clean from dust, then if there be any ink spots take it out with a lemon, and if oil spots, take out as in the foregoing receipt, observing to rinse with clean water; then take a hot loaf of white bread, split down the centre, having the top and bottom crust one on each half, with this rub your carpet extremely well over, then hang it out on or across a line with the right side out; should the night be fine, leave it out all night, and if the weather be clear, leave it out for two or three such nights, then sweep it with a clean corn broom, and it will look as when first new.

The Butler’s Guide to Household Management and Proper Behaviour, 1827

Washing. – The dye-houses have done some very satisfactory work on woolen carpets, but the process shrinks the carpet very much.

Cleansing on Floor. – Where oil is required to be removed, without taking up the carpet, pipe-clay thoroughly beaten into the carpet will absorb it within forty-eight hours, when it can be brushed off. This is just the opposite, in its action, from naphtha.  Water spilt upon carpets should be sopped up, not rubbed.

           – Carpet Notes, 1884

Modern manual methods are pretty much exactly the same as the old ones: rug beaters, carpet sweepers, soap and a little elbow grease.

Wikipedia on carpet sweepers:

A carpet sweeper is a mechanical device for the cleaning of carpets. These were popular before the introduction of the vacuum cleaner and have been largely superseded by them.

However, they continue to be used in home and commercial applications as they are lightweight and quiet, enabling users to quickly clean crumbs up from the floor without disturbing patrons, patients, babies and pets. (A very early appearance in film occurs in the 1914 Charlie Chaplin film Laughing Gas, where Chaplin uses it to clean the waiting-room floor of a dentist.) Carpet sweepers are still available in many parts of the world.

A carpet sweeper typically consists of a small box. The base of the box has rollers and brushes, connected by a belt or gears. There is also a container for dirt. The arrangement is such that, when pushed along a floor, the rollers turn and force the brushes to rotate. The brushes sweep dirt and dust from the floor into the container. Carpet sweepers frequently have a height adjustment that enables them to work on different lengths of carpet, or bare floors. The sweeper usually has a long handle so that it can be pushed without bending over.[citation needed]

The design was patented by Melville R. Bissell of Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States, in 1876. Bissell began selling carpet sweepers in 1883. They became popular in the UK after the first Ewbankmodel went on same on 1889.[1] New powered versions were designed at the beginning of the 20th century, with rechargeable batteries and an electric motor to spin the rollers and brushes.

Even though carpet sweepers have been mainly overshadowed by vacuum cleaners, their legacy lives on in floor cleaning robots that have limited suction power and rely on sweeping to collect larger bits of debris from the floor. While some research models of robotic vacuums only rely on vacuum motors, models on the market such as Roomba or bObsweep invariably combine suction and sweeping.[2]

Wikipedia on rug beaters:

A carpet beater or carpetbeater (also referred to as a rug beater or rugbeater, mattenklopper, carpet whip, rug whip, clothes-beater, dust beater or dustbeater, carpet duster, wicker slapper, rug duster, or pillow fluffer, and formerly also as a carpet cleaner or rug cleaner) is a housecleaningtool that was in common use until the vacuum cleaner became affordable during the early 20th century. Carpets, rugs, clothes, cushions, and bedding were hung over a clothesline or railing and the dust and dirt was beaten out of them. Typically made of wood, rattan, cane, wicker, spring steel or coiled wire, antique rug beaters have become very collectible. Modern mass-production versions can also be in plastic or wire.

Uses

Its use in cleaning has been largely replaced since the 1950s by the carpet sweeper and then the vacuum cleaner, although they are still sold in most household stores.

In Germany[1] and Poland,[2] an outdoor carpet hanger for beating is called a Teppichstange (carpet bar) or a trzepak (beater).

Since the 1990s, it is very rare to see anyone using a trzepak for its prime function. In the newest housing developments, trzepak are rarely installed. Some people preferred to beat carpets in winter on the snow – they laid the carpet face down and beat it. This method had some advantages – for instance, insects would freeze to death even if they were not expelled through beating – but it left a dirty and unpleasant-looking patch on the snow, and therefore some communities forbade beating on the snow for aesthetic reasons.

That’s all well and good, but what about dust mites? One of the primary reasons people clean the fabrics and fibers in their home is to control dust mite populations and their collective poop. And the only way to do that is with vacuum cleaners, air filters, and the like, right? Well, not necessarily.

Most mites survive vacuuming anyways – the only truly effective way to manage mites is with extreme temperatures, soap and water, and just staying on top of the amount of dust that’s in your home. All of which are doable with manual methods.

Some suggestions:

  • If space permits, beat rugs outside – the dust will get back out into the environment where it belongs instead of a landfill.
  • Wash upholstery instead of vacuuming – obviously, throwing cushion covers into the washing machine isn’t “manual”, but coupled with a manual laundering regimen, this is easy.
  • If you live in an area that gets frost, leave rugs outside overnight to freeze the mites, then beat them out in the morning. (This works for fleas at every stage in the life cycle, too!)
  • Buy and use allergen covers for your cushions, pillows, and mattresses.
  • Spritz eucalyptus oil infused water or alcohol onto unwashable upholstery to help kill mites.
  • On the more extreme end, maybe think of getting rid of the carpeting in your house. Carpets are made from synthetic fiber and can’t be composted with sweepings anyways. If cold floors are hard on your feet, wear slippers!
  • Get a latex foam mattress, or if you’re super adventurous, make your own. (I’m gonna try this someday because I hate mattress stores on principle, and refuse to buy one new anyways.)

So that’s mites – what about difficult messes like broken glass?

Turns out, you’re not supposed to vacuum glass if you have a bagless machine to begin with, because they can get lodged into moving parts and shorten the life of the vacuum or outright damage it. Good Housekeeping recommends using slices of sandwich bread; SF Gate recommends using tape to get tiny shards out of carpet.

(I’ve since had the “opportunity” to try out the bread slice method since writing this, and it works really well. When the bread doesn’t pick up any more glass, you can fold it up to two times to get a fresh side without really risking getting glass on your hands. Oh, I also recommend eating off the crusts if they’re stiffer than the interior of the bread.)

That’s about it, though. There were no special tools aside from the rug beater, just a few tricks for getting out dust and the occasional spill.

In the next MM, I’ll do a little digging into the topic of light.

“Our Hemisphere’s Temperature Just Reached a Terrifying Milestone”

Our planet’s preliminary February temperature data are in, and it’s now abundantly clear: Global warming is going into overdrive.

There are dozens of global temperature datasets, and usually I (and my climate journalist colleagues) wait until the official ones are released about the middle of the following month to announce a record-warm month at the global level. But this month’s data is so extraordinary that there’s no need to wait: February obliterated the all-time global temperature record set just last month.

Using unofficial data and adjusting for different base-line temperatures, it appears that February 2016 was likely somewhere between 1.15 and 1.4 degrees warmer than the long-term average, and about 0.2 degrees above last month—good enough for the most above-average month ever measured. (Since the globe had already warmed by about +0.45 degrees above pre-industrial levels during the 1981-2010 base-line meteorologists commonly use, that amount has been added to the data released today.)

Keep in mind that it took from the dawn of the industrial age until last October to reach the first 1.0 degree Celsius, and we’ve come as much as an extra 0.4 degrees further in just the last five months. Even accounting for the margin of error associated with these preliminary datasets, that means it’s virtually certain that February handily beat the record set just last month for the most anomalously warm month ever recorded. That’s stunning.

Shooting the Messenger

cartoon-climate-aust

So among my friends and family, I think I’ve sort of become The Person That Knows A Lot About Environmentalism and Climate Change and Peak Oil. Which isn’t to say I haven’t earned it – I do spend an inordinate amount of time staying on top of the science, the politics and history of political movements, technology, sociology, history, and the world of “green” whatever. My zero-waste antics are interpreted as endearing by many (though my vegetarianism, on the other hand, is a burden), and I’ve even gotten a new nickname among some of the cousins: Greenpeace.

I can live with this. (And c’mon, Greenpeace is a hilarious nickname.)

But something I’ve started to notice in the past year is that people come to me not just as a source of information, but as a kind of guru anymore. It’s hard to describe. It’s more than just that people see me as a kind of authority to impress, but rather that I’m like… some kind of manifestation of their own guilt and that I need to be appeased.

Case in point: Earlier today I had a very good friend of mine link me to a website called Be An Un-Fucker. It rehashes the most basic – and I mean basic – eco-friendly tips known to the Western world. Take shorter showers! Use your own grocery bags! Sort your recyclables! Bring your own lunch to work! Buy second-hand!

Oh no, I thought to myself. It’s going to be one of those conversations, isn’t it? 

I have a problem with that kind of mentality, if you didn’t realize this already. Consumer-based solutions for a consumption problem? Yeah, good luck with that. It’s like trying to avoid lung cancer by switching the brand of cigarettes you smoke.

The website, though, it cute. And it gets its point across very well. However, I’m… way past that. Lightyears, even. Balls-deep. I read things like this and this  and this in my spare time.

And so, I get bombarded with recommendations for links and organizations and websites every so often from well-meaning folk who want me to validate their idea of Right Action (to borrow a concept that gets used a lot in polytheist theology) without putting in the work of understanding the larger picture themselves. And they often go the way that my interaction did today. Someone I know will come to me with a pet theory, a bit of techno-optimistism grounded in little more than the wet dreams of corporate fat cats looking for the next financial bubble to inflate, a bit of scientific speculation of ill-repute, or a new miracle-product (or brand, or…), and invariably want my opinion on it. Oftentimes the question will be implied, or couched in sneakier rhetoric, but the desired outcome is almost always the same:

This thing I’m telling you about will do the trick, won’t it? 

And my answer – at least the one in my head – is almost guaranteed to be no, no it won’t. 

In a post from earlier this month at The Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer summarizes some of my feelings pretty accurately:

The point that nearly everyone in the debate is trying to evade is that the collection of extravagant energy-wasting habits that pass for a normal middle class lifestyle these days is, in James Howard Kunstler’s useful phrase, an arrangement without a future. Those habits only became possible in the first place because our species broke into the planet’s supply of stored carbon and burnt through half a billion years of fossil sunlight in a wild three-century-long joyride. Now the needle on the gas gauge is moving inexorably toward that threatening letter E, and the joyride is over. It really is as simple as that.

But I can’t actually say no, as it turns out.

When I start stating facts and figures, using big words, and referencing history, one of two things tends to happen: I get called a nihilist (which I am to a great extent), or I am completely ignored. Not even figuratively ignored; literally ignored. My words go in one ear and out the other. Other times, if I’m lucky, I’ll wind up in a philosophical argument about what “help” even means in the context of “but at least it’ll help, right?”, like the time that a creative friend of mine told me that he believed that better depictions of a collapsing biosphere in mass media would “help”, the idea of which I emphatically rejected. (Talking trash about consumer culture and industrial society is diametrically opposed to what mass media is all about.)

And then these discussions will always end one of two ways too: the person in question (the petitioner) will either walk away having ignored half of what I said, or personal incredulity would create in them a sense of having been wronged by me and then I become a bad guy. Accepting what I’ve said at something resembling face value happens so rarely that it honestly catches me by surprise every time it happens.

I’m having to learn to shut these conversations down more and more, because I’m discovering that nobody wants to understand what I’m saying – they don’t want to understand the science, the history, or what’s required of them in order for us to have a future – they simply want to win. Win me over, win a debate with me, what have you, they want validation from me and I’m not going to give it.

And that makes them mad.

I don’t really know what to do about these awkward interactions. I predict they’re only going to happen with greater frequency as the years go by, as things get worse, and as people get more and more desperate to cling to the status quo of middle-class American life despite the writing on the wall. Folks are already interpreting me as some kind of moralistic whatever – despite the fact that I have no answers – and viewing my understanding as little more than subjective opinion will continue to make me easy to dismiss.

I think I need to do a couple of things: 1. start avoiding these conversations altogether. Dodge, change the subject, feign ignorance or apathy, whatever it takes. If someone wants to seriously engage the subject, they’ll do it on their own. And 2. learn to de-escalate when I’ve mistakenly assumed someone wants to learn but actually just wants to show off. Especially if this is a person I otherwise like.

Any of you guys have this issue? How have you dealt with it?

People Will Not Buy Zero Waste Until They Can Afford It

For those of you who’ve gone on the record and said that going zero waste “isn’t expensive”, I want you to answer two questions:

How much money does your household make in a year, and where do you live?

The answers you give can mean the difference between bamboo and plastic toothbrushes; shrink-wrapped non-organic produce and farmer’s markets; municipal recycling programs or none at all. The answers you give can mean the difference between access to a grocery store period… or being awash in a gray sea of convenience stores.

accessinfographic595 I make well-below the poverty line in annual wages (despite being a college graduate who is overqualified to work in most basic positions), and if I didn’t have family willing to take me in, or a spouse to support me (which he can do in a very limited capacity until I am a legal resident of Canada), I would be homeless. If this makes you uncomfortable, good. I say this to remind you that there are millions of people in my shoes, and worse – we are not merely statistics for you to prattle off at university lectures or on message boards. We are real people, and surprisingly enough, many of us are very concerned about the environment, but our lack of stable work or housing means that most conventional – by US standards – activism is beyond our reach. (And for me as an anarchist, I’m not interested in most reformist activism anyway. I want to see entire institutions burned to the ground, and buying $30 water bottles won’t accomplish that.)

The thing is this: when we talk about zero waste being cheap, who is it cheap for? And where? When we talk about it “saving” the environment (even though personal lifestyles have never won a single victory in the history of eco-justice movements), who’s environment will it be saving?

Part of the reason – actually, the main reason – that I’m pro-littering when it comes to areas dominated by middle- and upper-class people, no matter what region or country, is because this undermines the NIMBYism inherent to much of the mainstream conception of what it means to be environmentally-friendly and “sustainable”. It undermines the stock we put in the very notion of lifestyles at all – for some reason, we have it in our heads that making the right purchases and taking pretty pictures for our blogs is all we’ll ever need to do to reverse climate change. When we blow this particular category of action out of proportion, then of of course caving in and buying a bag of potato chips or cuppa joe in a paper cup feels like you’ve let down the entire world.

In my piece on littering, I recall the history of just how the world’s actual polluters got us to start blaming ourselves for their messes:

…Keep America Beautiful, obviously the first and most influential of the anti-littering movements, was founded by a group of key players in the beverage industry, who were beginning to see bad publicity when their products were turning up on roadsides and in ditches all over the country. […]

So like any good capitalist, these businessmen sought to hand the responsibility over to the unwitting public, rather than deal with the repercussions of their manufacturing practices, or – god forbid – face government regulation. According to them, “People start pollution, [and] people can stop it.”

Zero wasters who want to see an end to the convenience store and what it represents have their hearts in the right place… for the most part. But they fail to perceive and understand the world beyond their own backyard, from the comfort of their chic, urban apartments or mortgaged single-family homes. When I first read Zero Waste Home, there was no mention of who the book was for – though the cover could have told me – and yet, its content assumed that I had access to a Whole Foods, and access to the disposable income to shop there. Among other things.

The ironic part is that I do – and that’s precisely because I don’t make enough to pay rent. If I did, I’d have no money to buy any food with!

To be quite blunt, attempting to do some zero waste shopping here in Vancouver the other day is what spurred this post. I wanted to buy some oil, so I looked at the prices at the two stores I know sell bulk EVOO, and they were phenomenal. $12-15 per 100ml is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a staple that gets used on a near-daily basis. Or how about peanut butter: I could pay $6 for a little over a cup of peanut butter from the grinding machine at WF, or I could buy four times that much for $8 from a local co-op even though it comes in a plastic jar.

It’s a no brainer.

East Vancouver is not a food desert by any means, and for that I’m grateful. But Glendora, the California city where I’ll be living with my mother for a little while, is. There is no walking in Glendora, no curbside pick-up for recyclables, the transit options are pitiful, there is no infrastructure to support bicycling, and the nearest farmer’s market is in the next town over. I will need to get into a car to buy groceries, or I don’t buy groceries at all.

Out of sheer necessity, my zero waste efforts will be curtailed tremendously. I will be throwing recyclable materials in the garbage. But most importantly, I will buy food where it is feasible for me to do so. If that means Stater Bros., then unfortunately, Stater Bros. it is. At least I’m not stuck trying to feed a family from the local 7-Eleven.

What would happen if, every time we were tempted to denigrate ourselves over a single soda can or candy wrapper, we instead decided to remember that millions of people in the US (and Canada) have no choice in the matter? That, instead, we started talking about ways to put an end to food deserts and poverty-stricken communities’ reliance on convenience stores? Or talked about how ridiculous it is that we’re willing to pay $7-8/lb for salad bar cherry tomatoes or hummus because the plastic clamshell or tub would weigh too heavily on our conscience? (To say nothing of how a clamshell of tomatoes gets a more visceral reaction than, for instance, US foreign policy.)

I’m sure some of you are wondering why it is I continue to blog under the term “zero waste”.

Honestly, this is because I still believe in it – nature has no concept of waste, and neither should we. It is the only mark of a truly holistic community of organisms and resources. Just because I believe that most other lifestylers are misguided in their understanding and intentions, I’m not going to give it up.

To me, zero waste is about habits. It’s about fighting capitalist culture through the language of garbage, by-product, and so-called “innovation”. It’s a way to foster healthy boundaries in my work and relationships. It’s a way for me to understand myself as a steward, not an owner, of things. It’s a way to reject the encroachment of consumerism and voyeur culture on my life. It’s a way for me to reject the notion of disposability in every facet of life and society: no person is disposable, no thought or feeling is (or ought to be) disposable, no action is disposable. There is no throwing anything “away”, whether opinions or onion skins, and we need systems – cultural habits – in place to ease their decomposition and re-use.

If zero waste means little more than a hoard of $15 canning jars and an Apartment Therapy house tour, I’m going to go on record to say that you’ve got your priorities all mixed up.

Ecoprinting

Ecoprinting

I took an ecoprinting class last night at the Homestead Junction, a local joint here in Van that is pretty much one of my favorite stores in the world at this point. The class was taught by Caitlin Ffrench, a super nice, tarot-reading, punk-hippie local textile artist who started the class by acknowledging that Vancouver is, in fact, unceded Coast Salish territory, and that whenever we go out foraging for plant material to print with, remember that this is their land.

And then I proceeded to learn about ecoprinting, a technique developed by – if I remember correctly – India Flint from learning about traditional egg-dyeing in eastern Europe.

All in all, the technique is ridiculously simple: soak your fabric in mordant, find yourself some leaves and flowers, arrange them along the fabric as you fold it (so that no part doesn’t have stuff touching it), roll it up very tightly with a stick, wrap it very tightly with string, and stick it in a pot of boiling water for about 15 minutes for every inch in diameter your bundle is. Let rest, cut off the string, unwrap, and voila! A beautiful, utterly unique, and low-tech work of textile art.

Above is my piece, about 24″ square – perfect for furoshiki, for turning into a bag (to collect more plant material in), for wearing, to cut napkins or kerchiefs out of…

What struck me about this technique is just how low-impact and zero waste it is. It’s not wholly non-toxic – natural mordants, while often more or less safe for skin contact, should be disposed of carefully because they are solutions of metals – but it’s as green as fabric-dyeing can possibly get. And about as easy, too.

So I’m going to tell you how to do it!

You’ll need:

  • Water
  • Fabric
  • Mordant (see below)
  • Plant material: leaves, husks, berries, flowers, rinds, bark, etc.
  • A jar or large metal pot that won’t touch food ever again
  • A stick
  • String
  • Heat source

1. Buy or make a mordant.

Some mordants, like alum, need to be purchased, but others you can make yourself. Copper and iron mordants are easy enough to make at home, and I’ve read that you can even use an aluminum pot for your dye bath instead of alum, or just use plants that have a high tannin content – like crushed acorns, oak galls, pomegranate rind, juniper needles and others -as tannin also acts as a mordant.

But for now, we’ll stick to the basic iron/copper mordant.

To make some at home, grab a glass jar, fill it full of nails (for iron) or pennies (for copper; sorry Canadians, you’ll need US pennies), and fill the rest of it with half water and half vinegar. Set it sit until the metal starts to rust and the water starts looking really, really gross when you shake it. Strain out the metal pieces, and the resulting liquid is your mordant!

2. Pre-soak your fabric.

Gather up your fabric and throw it into a container that you can from here on out designate as not food-safe. Cover it with water and add a splash of mordant, letting it sit for a half hour or so.

3. Gather your plant material.

We used what Caitlin provided, which were leaves she’d collected in autumn and stored in a freezer. But green foliage works great too, and she even recommended going to florist shops and asking for their leftovers, especially when it comes to using plants from other climates like Eucalyptus. Leaves, husks, berries, and flowers will all work, assuming they have some kind of pigment to contribute.

4. Arrange your pattern.

Remove your fabric from the mordant, and wring it out. Lay it down on a flat, protected surface, and begin arranging your plant material onto half of the fabric (assuming something wider than 8 or so inches). With leaves, put the top-side facing down. Fold it in half, like a sandwich, and arrange again. Repeat this process of arranging and folding until you’re left with a long strip no wider than your dye container is tall. Arrange your last set of plants along the top of your strip.

5. Tie the bundle.

Grabbing your stick (which also shouldn’t be longer than your container is tall), start at one end of the fabric and wrap very tightly – as tight as you possibly can – around it. The fabric should still be wet, so it won’t loosen so easily if it’s sticking to itself. Then grab your string and wrap it around the fabric, also as tightly as you possibly can. the fabric doesn’t need to be covered with the string exactly, just tightly bound.

6. Prepare the bath.

There are a few ways you can do this part. We did ours in a huge stock pot on a hot plate, and the liquid was just remnants of some of the instructor’s other dye baths – she doesn’t like to waste dye! This is why the fabric turned out gray instead of stayed white. But dye isn’t necessary, and we could very well have used water too – or hell, we could have omitted the water altogether also, since this only requires heat, and not necessarily steam or boiling water.

You can do what we did, and boil your water on the stove or a hot plate, and set your bundle in the bath, and let it sit for about half an hour – roughly 15 minutes for every inch in diameter of your bundle – and remove it when done.

The other method is the one I’m interested in: using a jar. For this, get a heat-resistant jar, throw in your bundle, and cover in boiling water. Screw on the lid, and set aside for two weeks – this is similar to solar dyeing – and remove it when done.

7. Enjoy your beautiful fabric!

Once cool, unwrap your fabric and take a peek. That’s what so wonderful about this method: there’s no telling what you’ll get, and it’s almost impossible to get nothing. Every piece is unique. Caitlin said to let the fabric “rest” for a few hours or overnight before hand washing with dish soap and hanging to dry. After that, feel free to launder as normal.

In conclusion?

Ecoprinting and natural dyeing is freaking rad. It can be done on less than a shoestring budget, accomplished with random junk you find on sidewalks and in parking lots, done with fabric or garments you get at the thrift store (bedsheets, anyone?), and the results are impressive every time.

Oh, and it’s also a damn eco-friendly art form.

Give it a go!
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