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Straw into gold, agriculture and textiles.

Much of this business is built on the connections to be made between textile manufacturing and agriculture as ancient human practices. I began making cloth napkins in 2012 and committed to setting aside some portion of purchases to support urban agriculture. I quickly realized that I craved a more transparent supply chain to source my fabric. As my business grew and I figured out my market, it became clear to me that I was still interested in this bigger dream weaving together textiles and food production. Five years later, as I clarified my mission around supporting sustainability and local farms, I scribbled on a torn envelope the words: “My success lays in the food movement. Restaurants. Farms.” My connection to these words guides my business to this day. As KGS grows, all our fine products remain richly associated with farms and food. We offer beautiful goods for the home, elegant textile rentals to restaurants, fruitful collaborations with other artisans, and we still strive to continue our support of urban small farming. And at long last, we are working to grow our very first flax crop in Pennsylvania and exploring the many-hued possibilities of fiber farming in our region.
Our human culture is deeply intertwined with enterprises that produce fabric for us to wear alongside the food for us to eat. Lately, I’m reminded of the Rumplestiltskin story as collected by the Brothers Grimm. In the story, the king demands that the miller's daughter perform the impossible feat of spinning straw into gold. I can connect the story to my own interest in linen as the flax we planted begins to germinate at the farm. In my research, I am learning how flax straight from the fields resembles straw, and that flax plants must be rippled, retted, broken, scotched, hackled, spun, and finally, woven before becoming linen. So maybe there is an element of truth in this Rumpelstiltskin story after all as I continue to follow the threads of this relationship between fiber and farms. I can see how with hard work, and a little magic, our Pennsylvania grown linen will be worth its weight in gold.

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designs that honor the cloth

The process of getting linen from flax is an arduous one. Yet, I’ve found beauty and satisfaction in the toil it takes to produce a piece of cloth without the use of industrial equipment and/or the exploitation of labor and resources. As Emma so perfectly said it, "it has led to a reverence for and connection to the cloth." This deepened bond between myself as a designer, Emma as a farmer helping me harvest flax, and the earth's bounty serves to remind me how important zero waste design is to the kitchen garden series.

Zero waste design is about taking the time to see beauty in every inch of cloth in front of me. My designs are inspired by the shapes I find in the world, with all of their swirling lines, sensuous shapes, and organic colors. I bring these ideas to my work table and experiment until the contours are organized and laid out on the materials before me. Then I look again at the spaces in between, those empty areas that remain among the contours, and find more inspiration, until all that is left of the fabric I laid out is just the tiniest bit of scrap to become worm food and decompose into earth again. 

The challenge of minimizing waste for any given piece is to not compromise important construction details or the elegance of the drape. For example, when I designed my cross back aprons, perfecting the form and function led to unexpected ways to use all the linen . I chose to add a side seam and to make the strap and the facing one long piece from the back hemline all the way over the shoulder with only one point of attachment at the front. Not the easiest method or the most efficient use of fabric, but I chose it because it hangs more elegantly on different bodies and is ultimately more durable and long wearing. As I figured out the apron design, I let the spaces left behind from my cuts, inspire more designs for other products. My minimalist tea towels emerged from the remaining edges, where I can cut right up to the raw edge and embrace its unfinished beauty. The fabric left behind from cutting the straps yields the perfect rectangle to attach to a shirtsleeve for our signature towels. Lastly, before sweeping the remaining scraps into the compost bin, I can make a handful of tea bags. The small leftover pieces will ultimately break down in the compost and regenerate the soil for the next crop of flax for linen.

Great design is about form and function, and zero waste is about re-imagining our place in relationship to materials. By working more carefully with the resources we have on hand, we can acknowledge all of the efforts taken by the planet and people to bring products we love into the world. When we place our goods into this vigilant perspective, something awakens in us. We are called to find beauty in the whole of what we can hold in our hands, to waste nothing, to respect everything, and to work to be part of the solution.

A Linen Love Story (linen + regenerative agriculture)

I am more devoted to linen than most other fabrics. I fell in love with linen for its classic look and its refined feel as a material. And when I first discovered the connection between linen and regenerative agriculture, I thought my heart would burst! My love for linen has only deepened as I delve into its place in regenerative agriculture. In my products, I experiment with linen's antimicrobial qualities, test its durability, and unearth its amazing history. As I research growing flax for linen in my region at our small plot on Kneehigh Farm, I see how linen fits perfectly at the intersection of food and fabric.

 

Regenerative farming is a system of diversified principles, where organic, no-till farming methods, cover-cropping, and rotational grazing produce nutritionally dense foods. Regenerative systems, like those at Kneehigh and other organic farms in the area, help rebuild valuable topsoil, increase biodiversity, and improve watersheds. All of these practices combine to improve crop yields, raise soil vitality, and mitigate climate change. Fiber flax, as a bast (or plant-stem) fiber plant fits nicely into crop rotation on a diversified farm. A fiber flax crop can be sown at different times for a variety of uses. Fiber flax’s high seeding rate suppresses weeds, and once pulled for harvest, leaves a clean field for the next crop without the use of any additional herbicides. A flax crop also needs very little water to grow, which means less irrigation and stress on water resources.

 

I stand at Kneehigh Farm these days and I keep watch over a small 1/8 acre of fiber flax we are growing. I watch it sprout, I weed a little, and urge it to get ready for harvest. There is magic in how this flax crop grows. I watch the beauty of the plants as they wave in the wind, and I think about how linen is made. I want my linen to be ethically grown right here in my backyard, and I want the objects I make to be part of the solution. I want to grow this flax as part of a regenerative agricultural system that mitigates climate change. I want my designs to reflect this regenerative process. I want the textiles I produce to be used and loved for a long time, and when they finally wear out, I want them to go back to that same farm as compost and begin again as a new flax crop. Most importantly, I want to show everyone how linen folds itself at the junction where food and fabric intermingle, just like the kitchen garden series.

And I want to fall in love with linen all over again

Produce Bags For Summer Crops

Warm weather months means bright, juicy berries, tasty summer squash, and all the leafy herbs and greens our arms can carry. We feel all that delicious farm fresh goodness deserves to be stored with care! The kitchen garden series delightful linen produce bags are here to keep your leafy greens from wilting, your berries tasting-fresh picked, and your summer squash crispy. 

Linen is a special textile. Its unique properties help store produce for much longer in your fridge. No need to worry about your freshly picked greens going to waste and looking sad! Pull out a fresh linen produce bag, run it under the water, wring it out, and fill it with all those beautiful greens. The bag acts as a crisper and all your summer salads will be as bright and fresh as when the greens were harvested. You can even rescue wilting heirloom lettuce leaves by popping them into the damp produce bag overnight!

Summer is also the best season for blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries. Where do we suggest storing them? You guessed it - a linen produce bag! Breathable linen bags will keep your abundance of freshly picked berries fresh until you have time to make a pie or mix them into your smoothie or cook them into tasty jams. They’ll keep like a dream in your fridge or on your counter while you plan all your berry recipes. And all the bright berry juices can give your white linen berry bag a special summer tie-dye look. 

Our produce bags also work well as dry bags in your fridge. Unlike lettuce, you’ll want to keep vegetables like your summer squashes from getting wet or damp. Instead of running your produce bag under water, just use it as a dry bag for all of your back yard zucchinis, crook necks, and patty pans. The antimicrobial properties of  linen will wick away any extra moisture that builds up on your squash and inhibit mildew or mold from forming on your vegetables. 

Our linen produce bags are also great for drying herbs. Check out this blog post to learn about drying herbs in our linen produce bags in three easy steps!

Joyful Outdoor Eating

When I was a kid, the neighborhood Moms would take us to the park and we would eat our lunches sitting on a giant dinosaur, our favorite playground fixture. Our mothers would supervise from afar and enjoy a more civilized meal together on a nearby picnic blanket. I forged lifelong friendships over those PB&J meals and so did our Moms. Those lunches taught me eye opening facts about the natural world, tidbits such as a dandelion’s down are the seeds of the plant or that pollywogs will grow into frogs, and helped me realize the joy of dining outdoors.

Entertaining in the fresh air still feels special to me and it can be so easy, even when we need to be socially distanced. Outdoor eating can be as basic as opening a window and leaning out so the cookie crumbs fall down for the birds on the fire escape. Or having lunch on the front stoop with the neighbors to share the latest news. Eating al fresco doesn't have to be complicated and keeping it simple also keeps it sustainable, especially when everyone brings their own napkins and cutlery. It can also be a great opportunity for everyone to put away their phones and devices and just talk to each other and enjoy their surroundings.

Here's my advice for joyful eating outdoors:

Choose a spot where you can see some greenery, or put a potted plant or cut flowers nearby.

Include local foods from a farmstand or your CSA box for the freshest flavors of the season.

Bring beverages in thermoses and use fancy cups.

Use some of your favorite vintage tableware and linens to create an elegant outdoor space and make your meal special.

Pack your food in jars or wrap it up in your favorite tea towel or napkin or pop your dry snacks in a bread bag.

Put away your devices, listen to the birds and be curious about the world that surrounds you.

Why Shopping at Farmers Markets is The Best

The kitchen garden series is here to tell you why shopping at your local farmers market is a healthy way to do your weekly grocery run. Here are a few of our favorite reasons to inspire you to shop local this market season, even though it might look a little different this year.

Fresh air

Fresh air is good for the soul. While strolling along through a farmers market to collect your food for the week you can enjoy the weather, breathe in the fresh air, and relish a nice moment in the sun while you shop for all your kitchen necessities. Does it get much better than outdoor market shopping? Stop and smell the flowers!

Unexpected finds

Farmers markets aren’t just about fruits and vegetables. Many markets take the time to curate booths from local artists and small batch makers. You could discover your new favorite relish, or products to help you on your low-waste journey (ahem, like the kitchen garden series) or refill your glass bottle of kombucha from a local kombucha brewer. Doing some window shopping in an open air market might lead you to your next favorite artisanal coffee or home brew. 

Human Connection

Nothing beats the human connections you can make while shopping at a locally vended market. You can talk to the farmers and learn their story or hear more about the business that makes your new favorite napkins. You can learn a little history about your city. You can pet the friendly animals that people bring along. When you regularly support your local market, you can learn the faces and names of the vendors and they’ll remember you, which makes shopping a little more personal and special.

Local food

Supporting your local food chain helps decrease your environmental impact. Shopping at a farmers market for produce that’s in season and buying things locally directly sustains your local food chain! Did you know that the smaller the distance traveled between you and your food, the better? Less travel helps cut carbon emissions, and we love that! We also think it’s easier to shop plastic free at the farmers market and our products will help you on your market trips. Plus, the produce and goods you find at farmers markets is grown by people invested in the community. When you support your local food system by supporting farmers markets, you are strengthening your local economy and contributing to the health of the community. Shopping at farmers markets is more important now than ever to support your local food system even if it might be a little less relaxed this summer. 

If supporting a local, and sustainable system of community is your cup of tea, find your nearest farmers market. It can become part of your weekly shopping ritual. Things look a little different this year, your local market could be doing point-to-shop or contact free pickup or other innovative ways of ordering. But you can still shop in the fresh air, support your favorite makers, and find something unexpected.

Climate Justice & Social Justice are Inextricable.

As environmentalists we must be aware of how environmental issues affect people across the world and across social identity spectrums if we want long lasting, solid change.

Like the natural world, any human society is both a single ecosystem and a part of the larger ecosystem that is our planet. Ecological balance leads to a thriving system that supports us and ensures that no particular member is exploited or overused or driven to non-existence. Sustainability is achieved when there is balance in all the ecosystems making up the environment.

Inequities in power destroy the balance of a system. Balance cannot be achieved through exploitation, colonialism, and white supremacy. Poverty, racism and social injustice are intertwined with environmental degradation, climate change, and planetary destruction. Egregious environmental crises often go unremedied because they occur in impoverished communities. We can take action by recognizing that climate justice and social justice are inextricable.

At KGS, I’m committed to building a business culture of interdependence and support. I build business to business relationships with a diverse group of business owners. I maintain direct relationships with my producers and I continue to pledge 10% of my profit donations as unrestricted funds to diverse and inclusive groups. I also reinvest profit in my geographical area by shopping at conscientious markets and retail shops and ensure that my manufacturing process adheres to fair labor practices. I feel that it is our responsibility in society to care for one another in this way so that we can collectively care for our planet and I support others doing the same. As I say on my website, the latin origins of the word collaborate mean "to labor together" and through collaboration we deepen our impact and lighten our burdens. My hope is that the kitchen garden series can be a collaborative business space working towards a more equal, peaceful, and green Philadelphia.