Trial by Fiber, Part One

 Note: Lately I have been doing a lot of reading on our use of resources – in the books The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner by Fred Pearce, and Where Our Food Comes From by Gary Paul Nabhan, among others.  I sit and read for as long as I can take it in – about half an hour – and then I go work in the garden or walk the lambs, something mindless.  The new information settles into my memory banks, and suddenly, I see a full blown movie in my mind, in which my own habits are on trial.  Do I live up to my own ideals? 

It’s not so comfortable to evaluate myself, but I do find it amusing to see which celebrities pop into my mind to represent a certain role.

Trial By Fiber, A Play in Three Acts


Judge –  Morgan Freeman

Defendant  – Textile Ranger (me)

Prosecuting Attorney – David Spade

Bailiff –  Bull from Night Court

Foreperson of the Jury – Dana Carvey as the Church Lady

Other Jury Members – the alien from Close Encounters, Yoda, a Storm Trooper, E.T., the Terminator, and a few energy bubble people from Star Trek – in short, my pop culture idea of future people.

Witnesses for the Prosecution: Kevin Costner, Barbara Kinsolver, Al Gore, and other eco-celebrities


A court room

Act One

Bailiff: The case of Textile Ranger vs. the Environment and Global Economy, Judge Freeman presiding.  All rise.

[Judge Freeman enters.]

Judge: Defendant, please remain standing. All others may be seated. [They do so.]   You are here today to answer charges of Environmental Contempt.  How do you plead?

Textile Ranger (TR): Environmental Contempt!  Not guilty!  After all, I am a quilter, your honor!  Quilters are world-renowned for reusing and recycling!!

Judge:  Let the plea be so entered. 

TR: Wait!  Don’t I get a defense attorney?

Judge: No. Please take the stand.

Bailiff:  Place your left hand on the Harriet Powers quilt and raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

TR: So help me Betsy Ross. [takes the stand]

Prosecuting Attorney (PA):  [approaches the stand] I’m puzzled, Ms. Ranger – you collect and document historic and handmade textiles – you declare them to be “endlessly fascinating”.  How so?

TR: I would think that’s obvious – the variety, the craftsmanship, the beauty in textiles – it’s infinitely inspiring! 

PA:  And you just overlook all the suffering that has been caused by the textile industry?

TR:  Not at all.  I know my history – slavery in the cotton fields, child labor in the cotton mills, sweatshop workers unable to escape their locked factory in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire – but those things were in the past.  That’s all over now.

PA:  Is it?

TR: [unaware of interruption] I just want to honor those people for their skill, and create beautiful textiles of my own to pass down.  I am not committing any Environmental Contempt.

PA:  That will be for the jury to decide. Now, starting with this first charge of Unnecessary Use of Resources… we see here that your sewing machine is from 1996 and your computer is from 2004 – hmm, you don’t seem to be indiscriminately exploiting resources…

TR: My iron is from 1948!  I have needles from the 1950s!  Even from the 1850s! I don’t exploit resources!  I cherish them!

needle book

Exhibit A Cherished Resources

needles 1857

Exhibit B, sewing needle pack from 1857

PA:  How very touching.  What concerns us most is your use of fabric and batting. You say that quilters are known for recycling – what about in your own quilts?

TR: [looking a little uncomfortable] Well, I do recycle to some degree; but when I have perfectly good old clothes, it seems like a shame to cut them up.  After all, lots of effort went into sewing them. I donate them to the thrift store, and then I buy fresh new fabric to use in my quilts. 

PA: What kind of fabric?

TR: Cotton, of course.  It feels so good, it takes more handling than silk –  it has a lot of benefits. 

PA:  And how much fabric do you buy in a year?

TR: I don’t know, about 10 or 20 yards?  They make such cute designs!  I have some with happy sunflowers, and some with little puppies…  How can you say no to little puppies?

puppy fabric

Exhibit C – Extremely Cute Fabric, Impossible to Resist

PA: The cuteness is duly noted.

TR:  And fabric buying is good for the economy!

PA: [unseen by Defendant, the Prosecutor smiles smugly.  The Defendant has just committed the error of volunteering information.  The Prosecutor arranges his face into an expression of sympathy and turns to the Defendant.]  For those in the jury who are unfamiliar with the production of cotton fabric, could you explain that?

TR:  There are so many steps – planting, harvesting, ginning, spinning, weaving, dyeing – everyone from the farmer to the designer to the truck drivers – there must be hundreds of people involved in every yard!  I’m keeping them employed!

PA:  Didn’t you leave out some steps and workers?

TR: [looking puzzled] What? Who?

PA: The pesticide researchers and salespeople, the crop dusters…

TR:  Oh yeah.  Them.

PA:  How could you forget them?  

TR: I didn’t really forget them, but they aren’t the most positive aspect of cotton production.  I didn’t want to trouble the jury with tangents.

PA: Spraying pesticides is a tangent?  Haven’t you personally seen crop dusters flying in the cotton fields, many times?  Could cotton even be produced without them?

TR:  It’s true, I used to see them in the fields around the historic park where I worked,  about four times every growing season.  They have to spray pesticides to kill the bugs, and right before harvest they have to spray defoliant, to kill all the leaves so the cotton is cleaner when it’s picked.

PA:  Are you ‘keeping them employed’ too?

TR:  I suppose – but they’re just a small part of the cotton industry!

PA:  Isn’t it true that cotton accounts for only 3% of land use, but 25% of the world’s pesticide use and 11% of the world’s herbicide use?*

TR:  – making it the world’s most toxic crop.  Yes, I admit I’ve heard that.  But hey, what about your use of fabric?  That suit you’re wearing looks like very expensive wool to me – don’t you have to get it dry-cleaned?  And [twists her head to look at the bench] let’s take a look at your robes, Judge – what are they – [horrified look] – POLYESTER??

End of Act One