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Cotton or Linen?

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Let’s talk about cotton.

I’d be surprised if there isn’t cotton in the wardrobe of everyone reading this. I’d be even more surprised if there aren’t several cotton tote bags (and it’s quite possible I might even have screen printed some of them.)

So why are we moving away from cotton?

In theory cotton is a brilliant fabric, but in reality producing it uses a lot of water and pesticides. I vaguely knew that cotton used what I thought of as quite a lot of water, but doing some research showed me I was underestimating this very badly.

How much water? That varies depending on how the cotton is grown and how much effort is made to reduce water use. A kilo of cotton uses between 7000 and 30,000 liters of water.

If cotton was being produced somewhere where it rained all the time and water needed to be used up that might be workable. However cotton thrives in warm countries and is often grown in dryer areas.

So the amount of water used by cotton makes it unsustainable, and that’s part of the reason we’re going to be using a lot less of it.

Another reason I’m keen to stop using cotton is the amount of pesticides used in its production. Unless it’s organic cotton uses huge amounts of pesticides. Many of these are toxic and can contaminate surrounding areas and water.

Another reason for stepping away from cotton is that it’s become something that we happily accept without thinking about what it costs. Cotton tote bags are the norm these days at yarn festivals (and all sorts of other places too). They’re given away for free or sold as souvenirs. Unless you reuse your bag often, it’s done a lot of environmental damage for very little gain. What’s even worse is when bags are decorated with vinyl – so plastic is heat pressed onto a cotton bag that may have been produced in less than ideal conditions to create an ethical and ecological nightmare.

Why linen?

I love linen fabric. I love how it behaves, how it creases and how it ages. Linen is a brilliant fabric for bags because it’s strong.

We’ve been able to source linen which is grown in Belgium and dyed in the UK. That means that the use of pesticides and other chemicals are tightly regulated.
Flax production (that’s how linen starts its life) uses very little water in comparison to cotton. It’s not a crop that relies heavily on pesticides.

We haven’t found anyone making linen bags that we can print, so we’re making the bags ourselves from scratch. That gives us the ability to make exactly what we want. We can put pockets in everything, including the tote bags. We can work out sizes so that we don’t waste any fabric. We worked through a 20 meter roll of fabric making bags for Edinburgh yarn festival and the only waste was a couple of inches at one end where I squared the fabric up, and another couple of inches at the other end where we couldn’t fit anything else in.

Making the bags ourselves means we know exactly how the people making your bags are treated – because they’re us. So I can guarantee no sweat shop conditions (although if you’d asked me that when I was ironing twenty linen tote bags I might have rolled my eyes at you)

Our new project bags have cotton ribbon and thread. Linen ribbon seems to tend towards the open and delicate rather than sturdy so for now cotton ribbon is the best option. If anyone knows of sturdy linen ribbon for either drawstrings or handles please get in touch. We’re using cotton thread rather than polyester. There was a moment of great excitement when I found linen thread, followed by the disappointed realisation that it was meant for book binding.

Our new tote bags have cotton handles for now while we continue looking for linen webbing. It’s not perfect but it is better.

One of my jobs for later today is to take photos of the new tote bags and project bags for the website, and I’ll share those on Thursday.

Thanks for reading – and if you have any comments or queries please let me know.

 

 

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