On June 12, 2015, needle & spindle shared an excellent post exploring the question of what is a “local” yarn. Extremely thought provoking, it paints in clear relief the impact of globalization on local fiber economies. It also, I think, will pain fiber artists and crafters dedicated to using locally-produced products.
Immediately after I read the post, I read an article in Bloomberg Business Week (6/6-14/15), “A Bay Area Startup Spins Lab-Grown Silk” (pp. 42-43) about The efforts of a startup – Bolt Threads, based in Emeryville, California (across the bay east from San Francisco) – to create a synthetic alternative to silk. It is “genetically modifying yeast, single-cell organisms that convert simple carbohydrates to proteins through fermentation, and getting them to excrete silk-like proteins.” Bolt’s “founders realized they could pitch their synthetic silk as an alternative to petroleum-based textiles such as polyester or cheap but non-eco-friendly staples like cotton.”
Would silk yarn produced in this method be a “natural” fiber? No. Granted, the goal is to replicate silk from a different natural source (in this case, yeast), but the resultant fiber doesn’t appear naturally in our environment. Like rayon, its makings start out as something that appears in nature but is transformed by a lengthy chemical processing into something else.
It also fails the test as a local yarn – even for people living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The lab is currently in Emeryville, California (across the Bay from SF). Bolt is working with the Michigan Biotechnology Institute (in Lansing, Michigan, 2,334 miles away) to handle large-scale fermentation, and a Greensboro, North Carolina (2,799 miles away), yarn manufacturer to spin the synthetic silk fibers into yarn and textiles.
Curiosity would definitely allow me to buy a skein, though … just to give it a try.