Last month I had the pleasure and luxury of taking a day off from my regular duties as store owner and teacher, to drive up north, near Sacramento, for a visit to Huston Textiles Fabric Mill. A fabric mill in California? Yes, indeed! That was the thing that really surprised me when I heard about this small company.
I heard about them from my friend and Janice Paredes from FIDM (my alma mater). She told me a little of what they were doing and pointed me in the direction of their website. After reading about how they work with organic cotton farms and use only materials processed in the US, I was completely intrigued and wanted to learn more.
Making fabric is a complicated process. I think we take it for granted, really. At Huston Textiles it started with American Made vintage machinery and American produced and processed natural fibers. Just that in itself is quite the miracle in today’s world of fast fashion made primarily overseas. First, the machines had to be acquired and then put into operation. No small feat. Owner and head tinkerer, Ryan (seen above) has to work with the machines, get them up and running and maintain them as well. He’s had some help, however, there are not a lot of people in the US who still understand how these vintage machines work, so he had to do a lot of the figuring out on his own.
Finding responsibly grown and organic American fibers is not an easy task to accomplish either. Once they find the fibers, they need to be processed - cleaned, combed, carded and spun into yarn. Following one of the supply chains, one might find that the cotton is grown in Texas and then once harvested, sent to a processing pant on the eastern seaboard to be made into yarn, and then sent back to Huston Textiles in California. All this before it’s even turned into fabric. I really didn’t understand how much travel was involved for the manufacturing of fabric domestically , but when I think about it, the imported fabric that we get probably travels even more - country to country, before it gets shipped to us.
I’m not going to go into how the yarns get onto the looms and how the looms run, as I’m still a little unclear on the entire process. What I found most interested in learning was how to get my hands on some of that beautiful selvedge denim they were weaving. Sadly for me, it was all spoken for. Apparently, in order to make this kind of manufacturing feasible, they need to sell about 500 yards of fabric. So, for now, retail is only limited to what fabrics they have on hand. That was mainly some research and development knits, which they are beginning to experiment with, and their white canvas fabric.
In addition to manufacturing wholesale yardage, they also partner with some really interesting responsible organizations like Fibershed and Sally Fox.
Fibershed “develops regional and regenerative fiber systems on behalf of independent working producers, by expanding opportunities to implement carbon farming, forming catalytic foundations to rebuild regional manufacturing, and through connecting end-users to farms and ranches through public education.” You can find out more about them here.
Sally fox has been “Breeding and growing organic naturally colored cottons since 1982” . You can find out more about her fibers and fabrics here.
All of this vintage machinery is so beautiful. The looms range in era from the 1920’s to the 1980’s. My friend Kelly - Pictured, accompanied me on this tour. She actually has her own loom at home, for hand weaving, and understood the process a bit more than I did. Just FYI, I will NOT be taking up that hobby. Happy to buy fabric and not make it.
These are some of the gorgeous fabrics that Huston Textiles has produced. They are part of the archive, which is kept under the careful supervision of co-founder, Kat Huston. This lady keeps the business running on the daily and you can see her pictured below, while we were all listening Ryan, during the factory tour.
It was really fascinating to learn more about the fabric manufacturing process and I’m eager to learn more about responsible fashion, fabric & manufacturing. I would love to hear from my readers about what you do to be more responsible when it comes to your clothing. I’m really trying to take a deeper look at the processes and find out what I can do to make a difference in terms of garment industry pollution and consumption of materials.
Until next time, Happy Sewing!