Dear Umbra,

First let me say that I just discovered your column and have been happily spending most of my time reading your archives. Excellent stuff! I am a total fabric geek; I love to make my own clothes and other fabric-y items, but I worry about synthetics and chemical dyes and chemically grown fibers. I have spent countless hours on the web looking for a company that sells organic fabric by the yard suitable for wearing. Help, please!

Olympia, Wash.

Dearest Sara,

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Thank you. I am not a fabric geek, so I’ve run into a little puzzle answering your question. I found online fabric for you — but is it unsuitable for wearing?

There are sew many reasons to go organic.

Photo: Lauras512

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Organic cotton is expensive but clearly a good fabric to buy, especially in comparison with conventional cotton. The statistics on pesticides in conventional cotton are almost cartoonish. The USDA’s 2008 Agricultural Chemical Usage report tells us there are 10.2 million acres of cotton in 11 major cotton-producing U.S. states, and these acres received 52.25 million pounds of pesticides. Cotton uses more pesticides than any other crop, more than 10 percent of the world’s pesticides, and 25 percent of the world’s insecticides. Many of these chemicals are considered carcinogens. Organic cotton avoids conventional pesticides and the attendant water, land, air, and worker contamination problems.

Here’s what I did. I googled “organic cotton by the yard” — in fact, I mistakenly googled “… by the yeard,” and despite my typo found about 10 vendors within the first two pages. They have canvas, fleece, sheeting, terrycloth, wovens, knits, prints, solids, twill — am I repeating myself? as I said, not a fabric geek — and notions like lace, batting, bias, and thread. Many of the vendors also seem to use less-toxic dyeing procedures. Keeping in mind my near-ignorance regarding fabric, you may wish to start with a couple of pages I found interesting. Coop America had a very long list of vendors, including a nice one called Near Sea Naturals, and the various prints at Harmony Art seemed promising.

Aren’t “knits” a wearable fabric? I hope so, because if so I’ve answered your question, and if not we’re both back at square one. It also seems that a few of these folks sell wholesale to retailers, so somewhere out there are fabric stores selling organic fabric by the yard.

I hope you and other sewing readers will be able to find the right fabric for your crafty needs.