Katie Allen ’19 holds a bundle of flax fibers in one hand. In the other, she holds a simple drop spindle that resembles a child’s wooden top with an elongated stem. She overlaps the long fibers with the tight strands already formed, and gives the spindle a whirl. The action twists them into a growing bundle of yarn. In the moment of transformation, the raw material takes on a new name: linen.
Allen is in the late stages of a Student-Originated Studies (S.O.S.) project titled Sustainability in Fashion: Flax to Linen. Her work began in April with a half-pound bag of seed that she sowed on Evergreen’s Organic Farm. The seed grew into long, bright green stalks with vivid blue flowers. After harvesting, she treated the plants with water to dissolve the outer cellular layer. In late summer, she beat the dried flax to remove the husk, and was left with bundles of shimmering fibers to turn into cloth.
The project combines the skills she gained as a student in the Practice of Organic Farming with her experience in the fashion industry. Allen models on Instagram as @willowwhisp, and works as a designer who creates new pieces from upcycled thrift store finds.
“The bottom line of the project for me was not to necessarily make a piece of fabric, it was to be able to say that I followed every step all the way through,” Allen says. “I feel like I understand textiles so much better now after actually doing it all by hand.”
She encourages fashion consumers to consider the damage caused by large-scale textile production. Every step of the chain affects the environment—from the pesticides used to grow cotton, to the heavy use of water resources in dyeing, to the emissions of the import/export process. As an alternative, she envisions a textile market that adopts the values and practices of the organic farm movement.
“I just really wanted to figure out what a localized textile chain would look like. This is about as local as it gets!” says Allen.