Feeding on Our Fibers: The Environmental Impact of Synthetic Clothing // Activism through Tapestry!

Updated: Sep 14

Environmental Impact of Synthetic Clothing

In the Spring of 2022, I was a mentee in the Creature Conserve mentorship program, creating an art piece that explored the human connection to nature. Together with my mentor, I created a multi-media tapestry that illustrates how our clothing choices impact the environment, specifically the pathways of microplastic fibers from clothing into the mouths of ocean wildlife.

Did you know that microplastic fibers from polyester and nylon clothing are not only overloading landfills globally, but they are also the most frequent microplastic type ingested by wildlife, particularly in ocean ecosystems?

With my thrifted hot pink fuzzy socks and yellow rubber raincoat in hand, I try to make visible the invisible journey of microplastic fibers, exploring the environmental effects of what we wear and how we throw it away.

Gallery slideshow (click the arrows to navigate):

It was a fantastic experience to work with my mentor, Lee Fearnside, on this project, as she provided me with feedback on composition, color, and texture. For me, the hardest part of expressing activism through art is finding a way to make an attractive visual representation of something that's ugly, invisible, and not widely talked about, but I think it's a challenge well worth the hard work and deep thinking.

This tapestry is entirely handmade by me, using a combination of thrown-away garments, personal clothing, and natural-fiber fabrics that I dyed by hand using pigments from plants.


Environmental Impact of Synthetic Clothing

Interesting details about the construction:

Size: This piece is 42.5" long x 32.5" wide.

The top portion - Synthetic Fiber Clothing, Quilted

Cut from various thrifted/found, used garments that were originally made from plastic fibers such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic. In person, you'll be able to quickly identify the texture of a pair of hot pink fuzzy socks from Dollar Tree, blue Victoria's Secret underwear, an orange GAP sweater, yellow Old Navy raincoat, navy Walmart t-shirt, coral "Baby Phat" purse, pink Kohl's scarf, rainbow Walmart swimsuit, and a pair of Kohl's burgundy pants, among a few others. The pieces were selected for their colors and fiber content, so the store brands were not intentionally sought out for the project, but were identified later in the process of making. Interestingly though, all of these stores are guilty of also contributing to fast-fashion in some way.

The middle portion - Tangled Fibers

Cut from the same old garments above, with the addition of several more polyester yarns, threads, and fabric remnants. In an arduous process, these were sliced into thin ribbons using a rotary cutter, then machine quilted in a sandwich of interfacing that I later washed away to expose the crazy entanglement of threads and fibers. Unlike tiers 1 and 3, this middle portion exposes the space between the fibers, so you can see gaps and holes that show the wall/living space behind it (similar to a spider web).

The final, bottom portion - Naturally dyed and hand-appliqued seascape

Cut from all natural fibers, primarily linen, cotton, and a cotton-linen blend, that I hand-dyed using pigments from plants. The dye materials included acorns (grey), indigo (blue), black beans (bluish-purple), onion skins (yellows and burnt oranges), logwood (purple), black tea (grey). The wave pattern in the water was hand stitched using cotton embroidery thread, and the fish were pieced together and sewn on using a hybrid of machine and hand sewing. Waves of plastic fibers from tier 2 were mindfully pulled into tier 3, and hand stitched into place.

Environmental Impact of Plastic Microfibers

Hanging - Plastic Clothes Hanger

The tapestry has a sleeve at the top that encases a wooden rod with a small eye-hook on each end that can hang onto nails or picture hangers. The pink plastic clothes hanger is not attached, (because insync with the metaphor of this tapestry, it is made so cheaply that it cannot bear any weight!), so you could secure it behind the quilt top as it was placed in the photos, or choose to disclude it from the hanging (when placed the way it was for the photos, it adds an additional 8" to the total length of the piece).

To purchase 'Feeding on our Fibers':

This piece is currently for sale for $1,300 + shipping.

For more inquiries, email me at Charliedarwinco@gmail.com