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how quickly does linen biodegrade?

In the Summer of 2023, we ran an exciting community-based art & science project!

We've been on a mission to better understand how long it takes linen fabric to biodegrade, and our lovely community helped us find out the answer.


How did it work? We sent linen fabric samples that participants buried in their garden, yard, compost pile, or that sad patch of dirt by their back door, with a step-by-step guide to easily upload photos of the unearthed linen to our online database every two weeks. We were excited to see how quickly theirs turned back to dirt!

Participants all across the U.S. participated in the 8-week experiment (no science experience was necessary)! Together, we created the first visual database of linen biodegrading to unearth a brighter future with plant-based clothing.

Why do we care?

But we're only keeping them for half as long.

An estimated 85% of textiles go to landfill every year.

We're buying 60% more clothes than we did 15 years ago,

Why do we care how long it takes fabric to biodegrade?

Landfill illustration

Over 65% of our clothing is made from plastic that takes hundreds of years to biodegrade.

Microplastics are consumed by ocean and terrestrial wildlife, causing harm to their bodies and ecosystems.

Every time you wash a polyester shirt, up to 70,000 tiny pieces of plastic fibers break off, and up to 40% of those enter into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

In contrast, linen fabric is made from plants, not plastic. It has been suggested that it can biodegrade within weeks.

Biodegrade = turn back into dirt

Linen = soft, breathable fabric made from flax plants

Let's get some data to back this up!

This isn't an experiment locked away in an academic lab...
The contributions you make from your backyard will be what matters most!

Citizen Science = Community works together to collect data

Participants chose from 1 of 2 experiment versions: 

Charlie Darwin original illustration
Sign up here!

simple science

Shirt to Dirt experiment kit

Your task: Plant 4 linen squares, dig up and photograph 1 square every 2 weeks. 

Your kit comes with:

  • Five undyed linen squares

  • Wooden burial markers

  • Easy-to-follow instructions for experimental protocol

Duration: 8 weeks

Cost to participate: Free or Pay-What-You-Can

buried meditation book

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Your task: Design and embroider your own meditative fabric book with guided prompts from artist Emma Freeman of Creative Unearthing. Bury your fabric creation underground and dig it up every two weeks to snap and upload a photo. 

Your kit comes with:

  • Several pieces of linen in an assortment of textures and plant-based dye colors

  • Embroidery needle

  • Linen embroidery thread (plant-dyed)

  • Guided prompts for creative inspiration (written and video format)

  • Easy-to-follow instructions for experimental protocol

Duration: 8 weeks (dig and photo biweekly)


Cost to Participate: $30

How was data collected?

(simple science kit)

1. Bury all 4 fabric squares

3. Take a photo of the fabric on our photo template card

Charlie Darwin original illustration
charlie darwin illustrations
planting linen underground

2. Dig one up every 2 weeks!

Charlie Darwin original illustration

4. Upload your photo on the Charlie Darwin submission form

(buried meditation book kit)

Charlie Darwin original illustration
Charlie Darwin original illustration
Charlie Darwin original illustration
Charlie Darwin original illustration
Charlie Darwin original illustration

1. Stitch your fabric book however you like

3. Every 2 weeks, dig up your fabric book!

2. Bury your fabric book

4. Take a photo of your artwork, then re-bury it

5. Upload your photo on the Charlie Darwin submission form

Data collection

Shirt-to-Dirt is hosted by:

This project is organized by bio-artist Leah Widdicombe. She is the CEO of Charlie Darwin Textiles, a plant-based clothing brand that prioritizes biodegradable solutions in the fashion industry! 

Leah believes the garments you love should live long and biodegrade fast, not contribute to landfills.

Dark Clouds
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Dark Clouds

In collaboration with Emma Freeman

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The Buried Meditation Book version of this experiment is designed and led by artist Emma Freeman of Creative Unearthings. Emma uses ecoart therapy to guide students on their healing journeys and discover art making that is deeply connected to nature.

Emma headshot_web.jpg
About Leah & Emma

Hear more about why we started this project...

The fabric

The linen fabrics used for this experiment are remnants from the Charlie Darwin handmade clothing brand, but the fabric is originally sourced from


This linen is OEKO-TEX certified as free from toxins. The fabric dyes in the meditation book fabric are sourced from Botanical Colors, Jacquard, and whatever brand of black tea we had on hand at the time!

Recent submissions to the gallery


Simple Science

8 weeks

North Carolina


Simple Science

8 weeks


I planted my #5 linen sample (the control) in a pot of same soil and watered it whenever I had to water deck plants. We are in extreme drought and #1-4 barely degraded. Just add water to highly acidic soil and linen degrades!


Simple Science

6 weeks

North Carolina

Photo Gallery

Learn more on our blog:​

Couldn't participate this year, but want to get updates on this project?
Sign up for email updates!

Learn more

Have a question? Here's some answers!

Do I need to have a garden or experience with gardening to participate? 

Nope! Even just a sad patch of dirt by your back door will do! It's just important that it's buried outdoors (not in an indoor pot). 

Do I need to have experience doing science stuff?

Nope! Just be comfortable with getting a little bit of dirt on your hands and taking a photo with your smartphone. 

When is the first day we can start the experiment?

Experiments should be started anytime before August 31st.

Is it safe to bury this fabric next to other food in my garden?

Yes! The fabric is made from plants and if you get the dyed fabric in the buried meditation book kit, it is also dyed with pigments from plants. The fabric is OEKO-TEX certified free from toxins. But don't eat the fabric...

How much space will this require?

For the simple science experiment, it will require 1-2 square feet of land. For the buried meditation book experiment, plan for about 6 square inches of land.

Can I invite other people to join the experiment?

Please do! Our goal is to get as many people to participate as possible. 

Ways to share:

What if I forget to participate halfway through, or just decide to quit?

Been there! This is a low-pressure zone. BUT our data is much better when we see all 5 photos uploaded (6 for the buried meditation book). To help you remember, you will get email reminders every two weeks after your burial date. 

What will I get with my experiment kit?

To see more about what comes with each kit, check out their individual kit pages. 

Simple Science ...or... Buried Meditation Book

Will there be instructions?

Yes! For the simple science kit, you will receive detailed, easy instructions for how and when to bury, dig, photo, and upload. For the buried meditation book kit, you will get all those things, plus guided prompts for creative exploration led by artist Emma Freeman. 

Where is the linen fabric sourced from? 

The linen fabric is originally sourced from Europe and sold by I then use it to sew garments for my artisanal clothing line, Charlie Darwin Textiles. The fabric you will receive is scrap off-cuts from custom-sewn garments.  


Project News

[Coming soon!]

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