Fabrics for a Healthy Home
By Kim Rice
The healthy home is often pictured as a stark, barren dwelling, full of sterile white, metallic silver and unbleached natural-fiber ecru. Blaah. Chemically sensitive people have it tough enough as it is, and—especially for those who must spend a good deal of time indoors—a warm, comfortable living space brings a needed lift to low spirits.
The creation of fabric has changed dramatically from the loomed "natural" textiles of the 19th century to today’s high-tech industry of wrinkle-resistant, formaldehyde-impregnated, chemical-laden neo-fabrics. Partly because of the environmental revolution-inspired return to more sustainable farming methods and partly due an increase in people wanting and needing less-toxic fabrics, more fibers are now being grown and processed naturally. In this article, I will share sources for the wonderful selection of bedding and fabric lines now available followed by ideas for using them to create a livable whole.
We’ve heard over and over again that the bedroom is the most important room in the house because of the extensive amount of time we spend there. Those who appreciate earthtone taupes, browns, beiges and greens will revel in today’s range of environmentally safe bedding styles. (But take heart, color lovers, there’s hope for you, too.)
When organic isn’t required but a good price and selection is, untreated, undyed cotton sheets are the answer. Fieldcrest by Cannon offers a line of simple, natural-colored sheets as well as a number of 180-200 thread-count FoxFibre blend designs. (FoxFibre is color-grown cotton in shades of brown and green.) The designs include a Southwest-inspired geometric pattern, dual-colored stripes and subtle plaid. The AEHF as well as many other catalogues and stores carry this popular line of bed linens. Additionally, Peacock Alley has a line of fine untreated natural sheets. Call 214/490-3995 for their retail locations.
As we go up the scale in price and quality, we encounter the pristine look of taupe and beige found in the cotton/linen blends. The most beautiful (and costly) collection is undoubtedly the luxurious Purists line, which is totally chemical free. This line includes 220-thread-count, cotton damask, jacquard-woven paisley and houndstooth sheets, matelasse coverlets and pillow shams. These compete with the finest European bedding, and the finished look is stunning. The line even includes bedding in cotton/wool/silk blends and lambswool blankets. The Purists line is found in such stores as Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s and a variety of specialty stores and catalogues.
A line of pure linen sheets by Campbell & Company and cotton/linen, cotton/silk blankets by the All Natural Collection are also worth checking out. Call Naperies, Inc., distributor of these lines, to inquire about retail outlets: 214/741-2237.
For those of you who crave color in your life, Heart of Vermont now carries 100% cotton, 200-thread count percale sheets and comforter covers in bright, naturally dyed colors. These environmentally friendly Ecolor dyes were developed by Allegro Natural Dyes, Inc., an innovative company that has developed a range of colors from renewable, organically raised plant and insect sources. (The dyes are generally well-tolerated by the chemically sensitive.) The Heart of Vermont catalog can be ordered by calling 800/639-4123.
At the environmental health pinnacle is, naturally, organically grown fabric. Because mills with looms wide enough to make sheeting require huge base orders, no company yet has been able to meet the minimum to have organically grown cotton sheets woven. Companies are making due with what they have, though. Heart of Vermont (see above) offers 100% organic cotton flannel sheets in FoxFibre (striped), five natural-dye colors and undyed cream. Because the fabric width is not wide enough, the sheets do have seams.
Ruby & Coco has recently debuted a gorgeous line of organically grown cotton bedding with coordinating sheets (with seams), duvet covers and pillows. Their Fountain collection rivals the elegance of the Purists line (which is not organic) and offers proof again that natural and organic does not have to be dull. Delicate bow ties decorate their romantic Love and Peace collection, which comes in terra brown or creamy birch white. They also offer organic bedding for the baby’s room. Call them for retail outlet information at 800/316-2772.
For the bath, a number of choices are available. Cannon’s Fieldcrest line coordinates untreated, unbleached towels, bath mats and accessories in a number of attractive designs. The Purists line of waffle and terry towels in 100% cotton as well as cotton/linen combination feature eight fabulous designs. In the color zone, the Heart of Vermont offers towels in five Ecolor dyes. Finally, Cotton Plus has come out with the organic towel, a naturally colored version. It’s not overwhelmingly luxurious—but it is organic, after all.
Shower curtains made of tightly woven 100% cotton duck keep water in the tub and vinyl plastic curtains out of your house. Call the Atlantic Recycled Paper Co. at 800/323-2811 to order.
Ready-made kitchen fabric accessories are more difficult to come by. For untreated table linens, check out the Purists line, which features towels, napkins, placements and six tablecloth sizes.
Many healthy home decorators are happiest doing their own sewing or having items custom-made. Cotton Plus, a West Texas company formed by organic cotton growers to market products developed from their crops, is the current trendsetter in the organic textiles market. They offer a wonderful selection of 100% organic cotton fabrics from gauze to canvas and seemingly everything in between. Their experimentation with colors includes some FoxFiber lines as well as attractive solid blue and blue-and-white striped oxford, flannels, crepe and herringbone in low-impact dyes (better for the environment than standard dyes but questionable for the more sensitive individual). Cotton Plus, however, sells only in bulk. The AEHF carries some of their products, but you’ll need to call 806/439-6646 to inquire about the rest of their lines.
To bring household furniture into the all-natural realm, organically grown cotton upholstery fabric for chairs, couches, couch cushions, curtains or any other use you choose can be found through Coyuchi, a California-based textile company. The group has a beautiful and diverse selection of natural colors, weaves and designs. (They do, however, have minimum purchase amounts.) Call 415/663-8077 to get more information on their products.
Now to pull it all together, starting with the bedroom. The good thing about decorating around bedding is that, with some ingenuity and sewing skill, you can take your flat sheets and other pieces and develop the theme throughout your room. Place brass shower curtain rings on a rod, attach tarnish-resistant brass grommets to the top of two twin sheets, hem and voila -- a set of hand-washable curtains. Toss a sheet over an old (outgassed) wooden table, hem or tuck under, and you have a machine-washable tablecloth. Make pillows stuffed with organic cotton batting out of sheets or create roll and odd-sized pillows out of standard shams. Remake a flat sheet into a high-fashion cover for a plain metal chair (and pad the seat with natural cotton batting for comfort). For a room with pizzazz, mix and match the Ecolor bedding products. Order a pillow case in each color, cut and make patchwork pillows or pillow shams. Take long strips and braid into curtain tie-backs. The creative seamstress can use the variety of colors or fabrics to make patterns in pillows, tablecloths, chair covers, even curtain swags.
For a coordinated house, purchase packets of fabric samples and coordinate colors, designs and weaves. Let your imagination run free and you’ll find that you can have a warm, inviting, comfortable and very environmentally safe home!