The Common Thread RECAP
A collaboration between the Nature Lab and Southeastern New England Fibershed, The Common Thread explored the commonalities within the systems of land, waste, material, and color and how they can intersect with various modes of thought to drive positive change. This virtual series built the base for an 8-part conversation taking place from October 2020 — May 2021 focusing on broader issues around Regeneration.
September 9 welcomed the first live conversation of The Common Thread virtual series, RESTORATION and GROWTH, with the Tomaquag Museum Executive Director + Narragansett Nation Member, Lorén M. Spears, and Botanist + RISD Faculty member, Hope Leeson.
With an opening Land Acknowledgement from Lorén, the conversation insightfully addressed multiple perspectives on how we can restore and grow. Previously, Hope said "you can't care for something unless you understand it." During the conversation, Lorén shared that "we are the land; what we do to the land we ultimately do to ourselves."
So when it comes to living sustainably, if we don't understand the land we walk on, including the history, plants, food, clothing, and resources we gain from it, then we can't care for it. We can't regenerate. And in thinking of Lorén's definition of "regeneration as continuation," how to care for the land and all beings within it is cyclical; the knowledge stays alive as it passes on through generations.
September 16 hosted the 2nd live conversation of The Common Thread virtual series, WASTE as a new HARVEST, with Landscape Architecture graduate Fengjiao Ge RISD MLA '20, New England Alpaca Fiber Pool Founder + Executive Director, Chris Riley, and Textile Artist + Former Fabscrap Community Coordinator, Annie Keating RISD BFA TX '17.
All three of the presenters showed how understanding waste can inspire local and international innovations; how the ways in which waste, reframed, can heal and support the land and communities.
Instead of letting waste add to the problems we see daily, we, especially brand companies as Annie noted, need to learn about waste in order to see how we can reuse and repurpose it. As Chris mentioned, waste needs to be part of a circular process. We need to immerse it back into our systems and take advantage of the old, the oversupplied, and the trashed fiber (for example) for compost, products, even soil remediation. Rather than seeing waste take up space and degrade the earth, we can instead, as Fengjiao previously shared, "make new land from waste."
We want to note that many great questions were asked during this session that we did not have time to answer live. You can now find the questions, with answers, here.
September 30th hosted the third live conversation of The Common Thread virtual series, MATERIAL and SOIL HEALTH, with Fibershed Executive Rebecca Burgess and Designer Tareq Alzawawi RISD MID '19. Our guests presented on the regenerative possibilities of soil health, and how every individual has the opportunity to positively impact local and global ecosystems.
All consumption and production systems, both locally and internationally, are composed of a series of smaller cycles-- but these smaller cycles are often extremely disconnected. Rebecca noted that the idea of sustainability is "so tethered to marrying consumption and production communities, and bringing them closer together versus spreading them farther apart.” This is exactly what Fibershed aims to accomplish by “supporting local natural fiber systems and establishing relationships between farmers and makers.”
Tareq suggested that sustainable solutions to environmental issues should focus on passive strategies, biomimicry, and regeneration. He argued that we must adapt to support the natural cycles that already exist, and implored us all to think about how our “participation could change elements of a [natural] system.” One person's input or output can drastically affect an entire cyclical system, and small actions can lead to bigger impacts.
October 7th hosted the final live conversation of The Common Thread virtual series, COLOR and ECOLOGY, with Natural Dyer + Textile Artist + Hancock Shaker Museum Artist-in-Residence, Brece Honeycutt, and RISD Museum Costume & Textiles Associate Curator + RISD Apparel Faculty Member, Laurie Brewer. Our guests presented on how the relationship between natural color resources and regional ecology has impacted the production of textiles, dyestuffs, and apparel throughout history.
Before synthetic dyes were introduced in 1856, textiles were exclusively dyed using local color resources. This means that the flowers, trees, and other plants that were local to a dyer's region (or could be imported), directly determined the textile colors that could be produced at that time and place. Brece shared how the monetary value, spiritual significance, and local accessibility of natural dye resources helped determine the integral role of color within the Shaker community. She noted that before synthetic dyes became ubiquitous, "you could identify where someone was from by the colors they were wearing."
Laurie provided an in-depth look at several textile pieces housed at the RISD Museum, and what their colors can tell us about how and where the objects were created. She encourages the current and next generations of apparel designers to "reconsider ways in which nature and color can be utilized in textiles and fashion," and to draw inspiration from designers who have already established "systems of sustaining sound practices for producing dyestuffs and textiles."
We want to note that Brece and Laurie compiled a list of resources and readings to expand upon their discussion, which can be accessed here.