Elvis on velvet? It's what garage sales are made of!
Ok, so it's not high-brow art, but, art is in the eye of the beholder, and this particular genre is certainly part and parcel of the "velvet underground" that can trace its roots of fiber artistry to the 14th Century Far East. Elvis may have left the auditorium decades ago, but fiber art is here to stay in the earth friendly hit parade of arts and crafts. It is a discipline, but such an individualized one, it's more a free form free spirited craft, closer to improvisational jazz than to a structured symphonic piece.
There can be no denying the fact that fiber arts provide the punch for one powerful ecological art attack. It's a green craft that has weaved itself throughout the fabric of history as it was woven and spun by hand and loom. One individual, Gandhi by name, was not only a proponent of homespun clothing as the simplest of statements (politically and ecologically), but this simple man brought an empire clothed in full battle dress to it's knees, while he himself was clothed only in homespun coverings. Now that is what I call a homespun victory.
Good old hemp is one of the earliest fibers used in making clothing. Happy hempsters note that fiber artists have known for a long time that hemp is more ecologically sound than all the cotton grown deep in the soil down deep in the heart of Texas. Hemp is a prosperous cash crop elsewhere in the world, while it is preposterously illegal to grow the green in the dark soils of the red, white and blue. It is also one of the most versatile and durable fabrics supplied by Mother Earth.
Hemp’s history in the U.S. dates back to the founding fathers who not only grew the plant themselves, but, the material made from it was sturdy enough to be used as sails in the great ships of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. When the fledgling country decided to expand ever westward, the pioneers plowed forward in wagon trains across the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails, and many a Conestoga covered wagon was covered with hemp cloth. The reason for its widespread use then was its overwhelming durability factor as a fiber…something you might need when travelling 3000 miles by wagon.
It has a high breathability factor and therefore is great in humid climates and won't mildew. Lightweight hemp is great for clothing from skirts to shirts, and the heavier weaves are good for furniture coverings and such. It's also used for making bracelets, necklaces and other accessories for jewelry. The eco-bennies? Fertilizer and pesticide use is near zero as it can grow like a weed, unlike the constant chemical condiments required by King Cotton, so planet poisoning is non-existent, and it grows plentiful left to its own natural devices. Of course, it's illegal to grow hemp in the United States so like our childlike dependence on foreign fossil fuels, so too, do we depend on the production of hemp grown overseas. Maybe that will change someday, and natural fibrists will shout from the mountaintops, hemp, hemp, hooray.
In the realm of organic exotica, alpaca is awesome as North America takes this endearing creature to heart in most states of the union.
In the world of alpacas lie two breeds, The huacaya and the suri. The huacaya produces a springy, warm fiber while the erstwhile suri has a fiber that looks more like silk than wool and it is cool and smooth to the touch. That appeals to artisans and high fashion designers alike.
It is warmer, softer and stronger than wool. Alpaca is compared to fine cashmere in its appeal and wearability. Alpaca fleece contains no lanolin and can usually be worn next to the skin by those who cannot wear sheep wool. With twenty-two natural colors, alpaca fiber is eco-friendly and blends beautifully with other materials. Many fine Italian designers consistently use some percentage of alpaca fiber in their fabrics to improve the softness and warmth of their garments. Not to mention, the suri looks like a Rastafarian with its long dreadlocks, Mon, and how can you hate on a Rasta?
So, the next time you see an Elvis on Velvet at a local garage sale, look at it differently. Perhaps it’s a result of basic urban arts evolution in the field of fiber arts, and not a mutant piece of pop culture kitsch. Maybe, just maybe too, you can close your eyes and picture ancient peoples at looms or by hand weaving and embroidering to leave a lasting legacy for posterity as they pass this form of art down, generation after generation…all yelling in unison “hemp alpaca hooray!”