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  • Umbra on clotheslines

    Dear Umbra, We would like to install a clothesline this summer to take advantage of the few months of sun that we get here in Oregon. Any advice on the best kind, and how to keep air-dried clothes from feeling like cardboard? German WhitleyPhilomath, Ore. Dearest German, Excellent. If your power supplier is, as I […]

  • Japanese dress down to save 81 million gallons of oil in summer

    What do you do if your country needs to meet targets under the Kyoto global warming protocol? You dress down.

    Yup, the Japanese government is encouraging public workers to wear less in order to use less oil. Since many in Japan don dark suits in summer, they crank up the AC to maintain an average temperature of 77 degrees. Someone figured out that Japan could save 81 million gallons of oil in one summer by setting the temperature at 82. To make the warmer workplace more bearable, employees now have the okay to wear short sleeves and go sans tie.

    However, one possible unintended consequence of this move is that shirt sales are up. I'm guessing that they are not organic.

  • My favorite side effects of the ivory-bill discovery

    Best local creation to emerge from the recent discovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas: a haircut that pays tribute. For $25, you too can sport a moussed mohawk painted red, white, and black.

    Second best: the ivory-billed cheeseburger. Um ... gross.

    And finally, best factoid to surface in the media hype: the former name of bird town Brinkley, Ak., is Lick Skillet.

  • Umbra on hemp fabric

    Dear Umbra, You didn’t mention hemp as a fabric alternative. JordanMarquette, Mich. Dearest Jordan, No, I didn’t. Thank you for writing such a concise letter; it stood out among the 4 million other hemp letters and cut straight to the point. I apologize for the omission. Hemp is currently a narrowly available fabric with a […]

  • Advice on natural fabrics vs. polyester

    Dear Umbra, I’ve never appreciated human-made fabrics — polyester and its cousins invariably feel less comfortable to me than cotton or wool. Until recently, I thought this personal preference also had the happy side effect of making me a greener clothes shopper, since producing natural fibers doesn’t involve long chains of polymers. A friend recently […]

  • Umbra on clothing

    Dear Umbra, My nephew says that new clothes and other apparel that come from foreign countries are treated with toxic chemicals to avoid various types of fungal or insect contamination, and upon arriving at the loading dock of your favorite wanker-mart, they are ripe to toxify the air, your skin, your eyes. He worked on […]