Monday, April 24, 2017

Organic Cotton - Good or Bad?




Organic Cotton is not the perfect solution and whether it is good or bad can get confusing. It is a good alternative to many other options but one must always be aware of labeling. Unless an item is labeled with accreditation from an appropriate third party the word organic can mean just about any thing. The two most common labels are "Made with Organic" this will normally mean that it is 70% certified organic, the other is "Cerified Organic" this means it was made from 95% organic materials. But until there is a standardized global accreditation that everyone follows this cannot be guaranteed. One of the most common uses for organic cotton presently is large fashion companies using it for about 50% of their blends in t-shirts, some are making an effort to reach "Certified Organic" status. Underwear and infant wear are also areas of fashion where it is consistently becoming more prominant.


Many people living in the United States who are concerned about organics will probably recognize the above logo. This is from the United States Agriculture Department Organics and you may see this occassionally on clothing in the US. This would ensure that the raw cotton was organic but not that the rest of the process involved in the making of the garment was enviromentally conscious.


GOTS goal is to help standardize regulation between countries on what constitutes an organic textile. Organizations from Canada, United States, Japan and Britian etc belong to this larger international accreditation board. In a lot of ways organic clothing is like organic food, make sure you read the labels for fibres/ingredients. Garments that  are labeled FairTrade plus Organic are the most enviromentally conscious, that is unless you are also concerned about your carbon footprint. As I said it can all get confusing. The basic thing to remember is Knowledge is Power. Every individual needs to decide what their priorities are when it comes to Eco Fashion and often they may use some form of a sliding scale. I also include whether it is Made Local and the companies general business practices in my equation which can confuse things even more.

Now on to some basic pros and cons of raw organic cotton.
Pros
-Farmers exposure to toxins greatly reduced
-cotton is a breathable, lightweight fabric choice for a large variety of clothing eg. t-shirts, jeans and other casuals
-normally done as a rotaing crop which helps maintain soil fertility
-better for protection of local wildlife as no leeching of chemicals into surrounding enviroment 
-premium normally paid to farmers approx. 20% more
-if FairTrade farmers are also guaranteed better wages and conditions
- a variety of cooperatives are being created in developing countries to help small farmers
-hypo allergenic

Cons
-whether organic cotton or conventional cotton it is one of the most water intensive crops. It is the 2nd thirstiest crop in industrialized countries and 4th in developing countries
-organic agriculture at the moment is still less efficient, meaning same amount of resources produce a lower volume of product - organic yields are often 25% less then conventional
-weed control can be an issue - thus more labour intensive, often greater fuel emissions and wear and tear on equipment which equals higher carbon footprint
-a bug infestation can cause devastating effects and can lead to 50% or greater loss in total yield
-must be cleaned before processing so this can be an added expense
-certification is normally to expensive for farmers, especially in developing countries. It also takes a minimum of three years to attain
-cost of finished garment more expensive for consumer
-limitation of colourways available to keep finished textiles organic

Is any type of cotton garment truly sustainable? This question can open up a whole new debate. Over the last century Cotton Growers have often been under scrutiny on various practices. There has been issues of poor working conditions, slave labour, child labour etc. It is also said that fashion manufacturing is only 2nd to the oil as the most polluting industry. Many fashion companies are making a conscious effort to become more eco friendly and this is a great movement to support. We all need to think how our purchasing actions effect others and the world we live in so any knowledge of where, what, how and who made our clothing is a wonderful base for this. A good hashtag to check out for this on social media is #whomademyclothes 





Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Eco Chic


"Eco Chic The Savvy Shoppers guide to ethical fashion" by Matilda Lee was published in 2007. Being published in 2007 many of the companies that are covered are sadly gone. This is partially due to the recession of 2008 that continued until 2010 and beyond. Many fledgling eco companies were effected by this as often profit margins are less in these types of businesses. People also weren't willing to pay a bit more for what was often considered a luxury item. Enviromental concerns often loose out to personal finances, a main factor in why fast fashion is so popular. 

Matilda Lee covers the topic of Fast Fashion and our Throwaway Culture throughout the book. Which one came first? This is a question that will never be resolved, I think they go hand in hand and it is a difficult cycle to break. There has been advancement in attempts to break this cycle since things like the Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013. The news coverage and resulting documentaries including "The True Cost" have made the general public more aware. People are becoming more concerned with how and where their clothing is made and companies are becoming more transparent with the details. A good example is People Tree, they are an enviromentally friendly fair trade pioneer in the fashion world, founded in 1991 and still going strong. They have a wonderful website which clearly states their mission, has a meet the maker section and presently they are running the #5 Looks Challenge. 
PeopleTree #5Look Challenge 

What constitues a Green Fabric? Is cotton a good option? These are questions asked in the book and no there are no defintive answers. Knowledge and making informed decisions are the two most important things when it comes to eco fashion. Matilda Lee obviously did a lot of research to write this book and she passes her knowledge to the reader.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Staycation for Spring Break - Marimekko & Ballard

Yesterday as part of our Staycation during my daughter's Spring break, her and I went to the Nordic Heritage Museum. This is a museum in the Ballard area of Seattle. It's main focus is the Nordic people who moved to this area of the NorthWest and it is presently located in an old school. It is a very informational museum and I love the fact that they quite often have exhibits related to textiles in some manner.The draw for me this time was the Marimekko with love exhibit.



This exhibit is on loan from the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto. This is also an excellent museum tho it seemed I never made it there often when living in Ontario, I guess my excuse is it was approx. a 3 hour drive from home. Marimekko is a Finnish home furnishings, textiles and fashion company based in Helsinki. They are known for their graphic bold prints, we both fell in love with the x-large beanbags that were situated around the exhibit. I am thinking I shall have to put one on my wishlist.


Pictures were not allowed in the main exhibit area, but there was a variety of fabrics and clothing on display along with a short film. One area I found interesting was the bios for some of the head textile designers over the years along with examples of their work. It is on until July 9th so if you happen to be in Seattle and like textiles check it out.

After the exhibit my daughter and I walked down to the Ballard Locks, first stopping at Totem Red Mill Burgers for lunch. The locks are nice but the novelty is lost on us. We come from an area in Canada referred to the Land O Lakes with a lot of waterways and canals so are quite accustomed to the workings of a lock. Will probably go back once the botanical gardens are in full bloom as it is a very nice area to walk around in.

Before heading home we decided to wander around a bit in downtown Ballard. We discovered a cool little art place called Push/Pull which carries indie comics and local artists work. They have a couple of pinball machines, something which we both always approve of. It looks like they also do a variety of comic and drawing classes which I may have to look into. Another place we had fun wandering around in was the Ballyhoo Curiousity Shop, if you ever have a need for some taxidermy, skulls, bones or  quirky antiques this is the place to go. From here we went to Space Oddity Vintage, here I was tempted by test tubes, flasks and some vintage card catalogues. Our last stop before catching the bus was Lucca Great Finds, here I purchased some new pencils and was tempted by a pair of Merchant & Mills scissors.

My New Pencils :)
Our day in Ballard was a nice way to spend part of our Staycation and the weather even cooperated.


Friday, April 7, 2017

What is a Toque?

So since moving to Seattle I have discovered I use words that the average person here does not know. Toque is just one of them but it is one that often results in a conversation started with What is a Toque?

Being Canadian means I have a different meaning for this word then some other people. And No a Beanie and a Toque are NOT the SAME.

CANADIAN
a close-fitting knitted hat, often with a tassel or pom-pom on the crown

So this is about the closet definition to what I would define as a toque. It also needs enough length so that you can turn up the edge so you can have an extra layer of warmth for your ears. And a proper toque should definitely be knit, personally I crochet more but a crocheted toque just don't seem right somehow.

A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles

Type: 1. Origin - Toque was borrowed into English from French and has been used to designate certain kinds of hats since the 16th century, including chefs' hats and lawyers' hats. Toque may also refer to a style of women's hat fashionable in North America in the late 19th century. In Canada, this word and the spelling tuque was likely borrowed from Canadian French, as the hat was associated with French Canadians. Voyageurs and lumbermen wore tuques with long tails, later the meaning was generalized to include those without tails. Toque is also culturally significant as one of the most widely known Canadianisms and is often used as a generic name for winter hats, at least by younger residents.


Here is the type of picture I would of been given in elementary school in either french class or social studies of the traditional French Canadian Voyageur. I remember kids joking that he was wearing Santa's hat. You can also see that the French spelling is tuque here, sometimes you will also see touque.




So here is an image of a very basic toque with a moderate size pompom. You can pull it down to cover the back of your neck some or you can fold the edge and get double thickness over the ears.


If you were lucky maybe you would have one with an oversize pompom. Those were the ones I loved. It was an awesome Snow Day if you came back in and it looked like you had a snowball attached to the top of your head. You were then told to take it back outside and you knocked it onto the side of the house to remove the snow and ice.Then you brought it in and put it on the radiator/woodstove or somewhere to complete melting and be nice and toasty next time you ventured outside.


Here's one that actually says Canada. Not handmade but it is technically a toque and I these are the type I most commonly see here on the West Coast, though normally with a sports team written on them instead of Canada.

Without the pompom or at least a tassel the toque then becomes a watchmans hat to me. And then from there they can start to develop into a beanie. A beanie is most commonly crocheted, does not fold up at edge, and fits tight to the skull. If it is made from fabric it becomes a skullcap. Or if it is loose at the back of the head it is then a slouchy beanie. I know I am being particular but it is one of those things I always thought of as pretty common knowledge. I admit this may be because clothing definitions are important to me. I also have a tendency to be a little specific about colour terms, both are side effects of an education in fashion. But the main thing that I am reminded of when a conversation like this starts is how people from different regions and generations can call things such different names or be confused by anothers terminology. 


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"The Game Believes In You" - Computers, Coding + Education


 "The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter" by Greg Toppo sucked me in. I ended up finishing this quickly, read the first couple of chapters on the bus. Then last Thursday after my dentist appointment I sat down and read the rest, thus didn't get a lot else done that day. So I guess officially I read the book in March but since I had already decided it was part of my April list ;). 

So this book does a very good job of supporting it's title, it starts with the topic of how math games such as ST Math and it's mascot JiJi the pengion have entered many American elementary schools. One of the best features of this game which I feel is a very strong feature is that there are no language barriers as most of the game is based on visuals. So children who haven't learnt to read or have english as a second language can improve on their math skills also.


Greg also touches on the history of programming and how it has delved into the field of education throughout this. Educational psychologists as early as 1950s-1960s were suggesting that pre-programmed "teaching machines" be brought into the classrooms, they were even going as far as to suggest they replace teachers completely. They felt that the machines would be better equipped in dealing with students differences of learning. Each child would be working at their own speed and learning to their full potential, it was a very idealsitic dream at the time as technology was still not advanced enough to accomodate the concept.

1960s Teaching machine designed by Sidney Pressey & Burrhus Skinner

1960s Jetsons TV Series
This whole topic lead me down the slippery slope of reading about different teaching machines which were being created as early as the 1910s. They have changed greatly over the eras but the basic concept is normally the same, how to teach children efficiently and the most effectively. Greg discusses both the pros and cons of these devices in his book.

 One of the quotes I really liked was from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi "The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile" or "Optimal experience is thus something we make happen". In the 1980s Csikszentmihalyi developed the notion of "optimal experience" or "flow" a state when a person's abilities match the task at hand so perfectly that the work necessary becomes invisible.

Greg also covers a variety of schools which are known for utilizing game design and computers heavily in their curriculiums. Quest To Learn in New York is a good example in this category. There have been many revamps throughout its development and no the kids don't just play computer games all day. A feature at the school is project intensives and what I would call cross pollination of subjects. A very strong feature is that students are required to question how things are constructed and why they are made that way, then asked to reconstruct them. Everyone should always question Why? and How?. Reading the book probably creates as many questions as it answers, but I personally think that is a good sign in a book and a school.


Monday, April 3, 2017

April's Reading List


For the month of April I have choosen three books to read. This is something I am going to try to do each month, read at least two or three non-fiction books. I read a lot so it shouldn't be that difficult but I have decided to be a bit more organized about it. I also purchase a lot of books so this will be a good way to go through some of the backlog.

The first is "Eco Chic - The Savvy shoppers guide to ethical fashion" by Matilda Lee. This is a book many other books reference and I finally ordered a used copy from England. It was published in 2007 so I am sure some of it will be dated. What has attracted me was the fact that it is one of the early books to deal with the topic of Eco Fashion or ethical fashion. Before 2007 these were not terms the average consumer would of been aware of.

"The Lost Art of Dresses - The Women Who Once Made America Stylish" by Linda Pryzybyszewski is a book I picked up at University Bookstore. It was first published in 2014 and is the history of the "Dress Doctors" and fashion from about 1910-1960. It also discusses and laments the loss of home economics being taught in school. I also think it is a shame that home economics is no longer considered worthy of being taught in school, this is one of the things that attracted me to the book. I also love the concept of a "Dress Doctor" partially due to the fact that I think many people should see one, mostly so they could learn how clothing should fit.

The third book I have picked is "The Game Believes In You - How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter" by Greg Topppo, published in 2015. I have been fascinated for a while by how computers and coding can benefit the youth of today and have been researching it in a variety of ways. My research has taken me down a variety of paths including learning some programming languages, experimenting with a Raspberry Pi and electronics, and of course gaming. Gaming is a topic that causes very strong reactions in most people. I have always seen both benefits and disadvantages from gaming so am curious how it is approached.