Denyse Milliken is the owner of Spinderella: Handspun Yarns and Textiles and wants to emphasize that shopping locally is about more than just food. “The textile industry is the 2nd biggest polluter in the world”, she says. “Fast fashion creates a lot of waste, during production, warehousing, distribution and post consumption as well.”
In terms of her energy savings, her workspace is in her home, which means that she has no need of travelling for work, other than trips to and from the post office to mail her products, and to receive some supplies. She lives in an old Victorian home which was not built with any plastic components. She had a home energy audit completed in 2016. She hosted an EOS draft proofing party and had foam insulation put into her basement in March of 2021. This move created a heat difference of 7 degrees, as well as improved her heat loss through drafts by 25 percent. Miliken heats her home with wood , and occasionally will use an energy efficient space heater if necessary.
In terms of recycling and waste management, Denyse uses 2 compost piles that she alternates between for food scraps, leaves, and bits of leftover wool. Wool biodegrades quickly in as little as three to four months but the rate varies with soil, climate and wool characteristics. This releases essential elements such as nitrogen, sulphur and magnesium back to the soil, which are essential nutrients for growing plants. Denyse uses her compost as fertilizer on her vegetable and plant gardens. Walking around her property, she has also noticed birds’ nests with bits of discarded wool in them.
She uses several different looms to weave different fabrics.
One of her looms is 100 years old and was made in New Brunswick. Another loom is 50 years old. Another loom was handmade in the 80s. All of her machines are powered by hands and feet. She also has a treadle sewing machine.
She tends to use natural materials to create fabrics, in wool, linen, silk and cotton which are all biodegradable. Her main products contain wool sourced from local farms, and from local suppliers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. She is also experimenting with local flax from Nova Scotia to produce linen.
She uses natural dyes and reuses them until they are exhausted. She also reuses her mordants. A mordant is a liquid that allows the colour to adhere to the fabric. She also reuses her rinse water. Once the dyes and mordants can no longer be reused, she will neutralize the liquids, before disposing of them in a designated place on her property, she doesn’t pour them down the drain.
She creates rugs with upcycled fabric, for example, she uses old scraps of fabric to create rag rugs.
The linen that she uses is spun in Montreal. This year she also spun flax roving from Taproot Farms in Nova Scotia and is working on developing some housewares and clothing items with this. The wool that she uses comes from local farms in the Tantramar area, and local mills in New Brunswick. She will spin it, and then weave it or knit it into hats, socks, mittens, blankets, etc.
In terms of reusing materials, Denyse uses repurposed fabrics to create rag rugs. Anything from old t-shirts to worn out bed sheets can be woven into rugs. Denyse creates specialty yarns from re-purposed textile waste.Denyse will mend wool sweaters and she is willing to trade and/or barter for this work.
One of her goals is experimenting with using nettle to weave fabric with. Nettle is a very useful plant which can be eaten like spinach, spun into thread and used for natural dye colour, Processing nettle is a labour-intensive process similar to other bast fibers such as flax, and hemp; the outer stem of the plant must be broken down to reveal the inner core which is what is used to make thread
Creating awareness of why it is so important to keep our clothing sources local, and sustainable is something that Denyse is passionate about. Some of the same reasons for keeping our food local, also relate to clothing: supply, distribution, and keeping money flowing in our own economy being 3 of the biggest reasons. Another one Denyse feels is very important is the fact that our oceans are now filled with microplastics, and studies have shown, a great deal of it comes from the washing and discarding of petro-chemical derived fibers like polyester and nylons, which don’t break down into the soil before they eventually reach our rivers and our oceans. These microplastics pose a significant health risk for both sea life and humans. Using natural, biodegradable fabrics for our clothing is essential to help keep our waterways free of microplastics going forward.