2019: the Year of Natural Fibers at Awbury!

Natural fibers are any hairlike raw material directly obtainable from an animal, vegetable, or mineral source and convertible into nonwoven fabrics such as felt or paper or, after spinning into yarns or woven cloth. 

Natural fibers are the  materials that supply much of our clothing, bedding, linens and other everyday products that support our lives.  ❦ Natural fibers are renewable resources. ❦ If they are grown organically and sustainably, they enhance the lives of those who produce them and those who purchase them. ❦ Natural fibers decompose, naturally. ❦ They don’t give off plastic fibers which are then flushed into the waterways and oceans of the world. ❦ Natural fibers breathe. ❦ They act like a natural thermostat, wicking moisture away from the body when worn, and cooling it in hot weather.  They are insulating. They make up the fabric of our everyday lives from the sheets we sleep on to mechanical strength fibers used in constructing the vehicles we drive.

In 2019, Awbury offered a variety of workshops and lectures to engage our community in learning about  fibers and the plants and animals that provide them. Materials we will explored include; flax, cotton, wool, bamboo, silk, cattails, cashmere, wood and paper, willow, milkweed, and hemp.

Our core programming was in partnership with the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers, who led monthly lectures and workshops.  PGHW is a non-profit organization whose mission is to foster the art and craft of weaving and the fiberarts.  They are located in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, and their motto is “We learn by doing and grow by sharing.”

In addition to these monthly events the Cope House galleries exhibited fiber arts throughout the year that explored not only the materials themselves but also social fabric, history, and cultural connections with natural fibers. 

We also created a Secret Garden “Fiber Fantasy” by yarm bombing the AdventureWoods Natural Materials Playground, led by Philly Knits.

Year of Natural Fibers Events:

Taught by members of the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers

❦  Saturday, January 12, 2019 – Spin-In for St. Distaff Day

❦ Sunday, February 10, 2019 – Straw Weaving

❦ Sunday, March 10, 2019 – Weave a Wall Hanging on a Rigid Heddle Loom 

❦ Sunday, April 7, 2019 – Finger Weaving

❦ Sunday, May 19, 2019- Felting Fabulous Flowers

❦ Sunday, June 9, 2019 – Dyeing a Silk Scarf with Indigo

❦ Sunday, July 14, 2019 – Making Beads from Recycled Fabric and Cloth

❦ Sunday, August 11, 2019 – Eco Printed Scarves 

❦ Sunday, September 15, 2019 – Weave a Door Knob Basket

❦ Sunday, October 13, 2019 – Fabric Wreaths

❦ Sunday, November 10, 2019 – Weave an Tablet Bag

❦ Sunday, December 8, 2019 – Year of Natural Fibers Celebration Dinner, with presentation on “Early Textile Production in Northwest Philadelphia.”

Presenting: Awbury’s 2019 series on natural fibers!

Articles written by La Salle graduate and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

January – Flax

Flax is one of the oldest domesticated crops.  While many plants of its time were grown for food, flax broke the mold and began being cultivated for its ability to be made into linen. 

Click here to read the full article.


February – Cotton

This month’s post explores the origins and impact if cotton – a plant whose cultural and social ramifications includes having shaped the commodification of enslaved Africans in America.

Click here to read the full article.


March – Coir

Did you know that the coconut you find in the store has already had its shell removed, and that that outer husk contains a robust, coarse fiber that can be used in ropes and cordage, mats, flooring, and more?

Click here to read the full article.


April – Hemp

Hemp is ancient – cultivated earlier than any other fiber we will learn about this year. Originating in Central Asia, the plant spread across the world to Europe, East Asia, and eventually America. In fact, hemp was a staple to colonial America.

Click here to read the full article.


May – Kudzu

Yes, kudzu is a quickly-growing invasive vine that made its home here many years ago, but did you know that it also can be used to make everything from baskets, paper, and starch to healing treatments and even clothing?

Click here to read the full article.


June – Silk

Silk, like all of our fibers this year, is naturally occurring, but the process of systematically producing the fiber is called sericulture.  This begins with the silkworm – the larva of the moth that produces the actual fibrous material.

Click here to read the full article.


July – Milkweed

This fiber can be used as a less expensive filler than down, in pillow cases, comforters, and even some jackets since it is a soft and hypoallergenic substance.

Click here to read the full article.


August- Cattail

Materials made from cattail are mold-resistant and very durable, and cattails are used for everything from nutrition and medicine to cleaning wastewater at sewage treatment plants.

Click here to read the full article.


September – Willow

Underneath the willow’s trunk is a fiber that can be used for basket weaving and cordage, but its extraction is an intricate process.

Click here to read the full article.


October – Wood Pulp

The first operational paper mill in America was started not too far from Awbury, by Wilhelm Rittenhouse on the nearby Monoshone Creek.

Click here to read the full article.


November – Bamboo

Bamboo grows so quickly and densely that it has become illegal to grow in some regions, including Philadelphia.

Click here to read the full article.

December – Wool

We end the year on a warm and fuzzy note – learning about the wool of sheep, cashmere goats, and alpacas!

Click here to read the full article.


Past years:

2020 – the Year of Citizen Science

2019 – the Year of Natural Fibers

Corresponding article series: Awbury’s 2019 Series on Natural Fibers

2018  the Year of the Pollinator

Corresponding article series: Pollinators– from wasps to wind

2016 – Awbury Arboretum’s Centennial

Corresponding article series: The Country in the City: Natural History in Northwest Philadelphia