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We’ve Bloomed

October 18, 2011

Fibershed has moved and bloomed…. we’ve loved our little home at this wordpress blog, it has been a nurturing and supportive locale, but it was time to grow and thus find a new home.  We searched for just the right place… and we think we’ve found it.  This new abode allows us to more deeply connect with our community, by giving us the ability to retain our blog, while having a website, and a place for our emerging marketplace.  So come on over!

Click here for our new Fibershed location.

One Year

September 14, 2011

It has been a year since the one year challenge began… no bells and whistles went off, not even a sense of subtle satisfaction reverberated through me, the most apparent reality was that I, and this project are really just in process.  There is no going back to slapping on the old jeans, and white T-shirt before working at the farm…

But we have come a long way.. and the ‘we’ really became a ‘we’.  This image is a reminder of this journey– it all started with Heidi Iverson, Paige Green, and the love of natural dyes.  It grew into a community 30 times that size.  On our one year anniversary we bring the original team back together with a twist.

Here’s a Heidi Iverson hand-knit Sally Fox cotton tunic in two layers, dyed in indigo– worn by me at the dye farm, picture taken by Paige Green… thanks ladies, we wouldn’t have been able to do this without you.

This way of living is about walking forward down the path.  The questions that now reverberate through me are ones of agriculture, land, mills, jobs, water, wool, carbon, cotton and community, and until those explorations and solutions are carried out and found… I and the many other’s involved keep going.

Thanks for reading this little interlude.. more on this beautiful journey soon…

The Good Life: by Conscious Design

September 3, 2011

Meet Kacy Dapp, a modern day artisan whose life has been consciously crafted to balance the needs of the individual with the reality of the times we live.  Her personal passions are carved from a value system of self-sufficiency, community building, and a quest for simplicity.

Weaving, knitting, sewing, spinning, guitar and dyeing are all skills Dapp has explored in increasing and varying depth.  Her bicycle is her chosen mode of transportation– unlike the average weekend journeyer, or commute-to-worker… Dapp goes everywhere on her favored two-wheels, including a weekend ride she made through several counties to get to a natural dye workshop.

‘I mostly cycle for the purpose of joyful transportation.  The longest distance I’ve gone has been to Big Sur, and although the trip was incredible, I mainly did it because I was in love with my company.’

Dapp holds the first handwoven piece she made on a floor loom during a class at the Richmond Art Center

 Dapp grew up in Los Angeles, and moved to San Francisco as a young adult to study.  ‘In 2005, I moved to San Francisco to attend SFSU, majoring in apparel design and merchandising.’  Dapp then moved to New York City for an internship and within a short period of time had opened the doors of her first shop.

‘The project of my business, ‘Scales’ is to focus on dimensions. There are many worlds on this Earth in which we can live. Opening the store was an attempt to live naturally and with the community among the industry of New York. The ethos was that it would demonstrate skill and ability within the community, would support local businesses,would be educational and would be an attempt to live in my favorite manner in an urban setting.’

Dapp gave classes in how to construct one’s own clothes, as well as offered ready and handmade goods, ‘I offered free workshops.  I did and do not want commerce to mean commercialism.’   Down to the very nails, the store was constructed with local materials and local labor.

Dapp returned to the Bay Area in July of 2010 to continue to develop her skills and her life as a whole, ‘I am not as interested in mastering anything as much as I am in acquiring a foundation upon which to live sustainably and with self-reliance. I live seeking splendor, which translates for me into thriving, being without fear, and making contributions. In so far as “mastering” sewing, I have been working on building a complete wardrobe and pairing down and cleaning up my patterns to be easily replicated with simple stitches and seams.’

Dapp’s quest for a complete and paired down wardrobe was a perfect match for the Fibershed project.  ‘When I realized the scope of the Fibershed project, I knew I wanted to take part not just because of the clothing, but because of the community and how the project is bound to the Earth.’

As we constructed the year’s clothing from our local fibers and dye plants, we were  managing our resources with extreme care, there were only so many available skilled hands– and each pair of them needed to be focused on ‘just the right pieces’.  At the point at which Dapp became involved, the need for a specialized wool shirt was becoming increasingly more evident– and not just any wool top, but one that could function as an insulating base layer.

In Dapp’s characteristic positive and generous way, she took on the challenge of a fitted wool base-layer, without hesitation.

Dapp was paired with Solano County Rancher, Robin Lynde, who runs a flock of Jacob’s sheep in California’s Central Valley.  The two met at a Lambtown natural dye event that Robin generously hosted on her land, (this was the same dye event that Dapp rode for two days to get too!).  Lynde has a long history of not only raising her sheep, but in processing and weaving their wool.  She is also famed for playing a large role in her region’s agricultural community.  This combination of artisan and farmer all in one, seemed like a natural match for Dapp’s Renaissance-woman skill base.  The two have a lot in common.

  As the day closed on the original natural dye event where Dapp, Lynde and I were all present… so many months ago, the discussion of including Dapp’s knitting skills into the Fibershed project were just taking hold– it seemed like the best way to get moving on the collaboration was to take a look at the yarns that were right there at the farm…. so Dapp and myself made a journey into Lynde’s studio to check out her range of raw materials.

Lynde’s heirloom herd, with their modeled black and white fleeces create some of the most uniquely beautiful spun yarns– the echos of the black and white spots appear as a speckled gray to the onlooker.  It was this strong patterning, and perfect softness that drew Dapp and I to settle on these raw materials.

A very young lamb comfortably looks on as Paige snaps her photo

As knitter and farmer shook hands, (so to speak), the yarns were passed from their source at the farm, to Dapp, and her Oakland studio, a short distance of 53 miles.  In their new home, they would be recreated into a wearable garment with Dapp’s knitting needles.

Dapp describes her relationship with the process, ‘Knitting is euphoric. It feels endless and what better way to live and end a life?! There is rhythm and power in the action. One essentially makes fabric for most uses in a portable, social, practical, natural, creative and simple manner.  There will always be something else to make as it will wear out or need darning. It has reinvented my concept of time that I’ve applied to many areas of my life.”

Dapp combined the idea of a shirt with that of a sweater, drawing from multiple inspirations– including the wisdom of knitting legend Elizabeth Zimmerman.  The length was carefully constructed to be long enough to fit over the waist and to the base of the hips– an important characteristic of a cool-weather garment, which you need to cover your midsection even as you bend and twist.

This is the type of garment that you want with you at all times….you can wear it under a larger coat or sweater, or it can function on its own.  It exudes function and beauty at every level.

Dapp and Lynde’s sweater wears perfectly under this fennel dyed vest

When Dapp was asked what changes had occurred for her during her work on this garment, her response was one of transformation.

Through working with Fibershed,  I recently had the epiphany that I don’t necessarily need the materials I initially envision for a project. There are an abundance of ways to complete a project and I’d rather look at what’s available rather than what I desire as the process of completion is just as exciting as the finished piece if I allow it to be. I also love the reassociation with clothing that the project gives me.

I cherish that I have the opportunity to buy groceries at the farmer’s market each week and I know who grew my oranges and broccoli but I never met the people involved with my waxed cotton jacket. When I knit with a friend’s wool the project and how I care for it afterwards takes on a new dimension. Clothing and the things we buy should be more approachable. My initial hesitation over working with Fibershed was that the idea was farfetched or disconnected from reality when actually the community, culture and resources were already there waiting to be pieced. This is often the case.’

When Dapp was asked what her future would look like with Fibershed, she responded, ‘It would be satisfying to expand upon the idea of the multifunctional knitted shirt/sweater and make more garments that easily transform (ie: a jacket that becomes a bag).”

She also suggested how the project could encapsulate a whole life approach, ‘Ideas for the future would be to consider recycling materials, food and shelter in the paradigm as that would make a complete circle.  I’d also love to discuss the animals involved  and how they can be treated to ensure the project is not only healthy for people, but for the land and the animals themselves.

I am intrigued by the Nicasio Grass Ranch (carbon sequestering ranch), and the role it plays in harmony and sustainability. The Fibershed project has created open space for me, physically and cognitively. Having grown up in suburban and urban settings, I rarely saw farmland except along the highway which didn’t seem appealing. With space and the outdoors as being part of a community, so much becomes a possibility. This has made a great impression on me and now I sleep better outside or when the window is open.’ 

Thank you Kacy, Robin, Paige, and the many Jacob’s sheep who lent their efforts to the creation and documentation of this story… and this garment.

Whispers of a Gentle Species

July 4, 2011
Katherine Jolda connects with the alpaca who provided her with fiber 

Believed to be a gift from Pachamama, the sacred earth mother– alpaca have been present during the rise and fall of many human civilizations from the point of their domestication 6,000 years ago.  As the lives of the alpaca and humans became increasingly and intricately woven within ancient South American culture, they became revered and honored for their integral place in pre-Colombian society.  The people of the Andes developed an exquisite language of gratitude for the animals who became a vital source of food, fiber, fuel and skins.

 The people and their herds co-existed peacefully until the 1500’s, until the alpaca, like the Incan culture as a whole was met by the invasion of Spanish colonists.  The animals were massacred by the millions by militia members who saw them as the linchpin to the Incan empire, and did everything in their power  to decimate all aspects of the indigenous culture.

The alpaca were relegated to high mountain plateaus– where they remained safe and protected from modern European weaponry.  Today less than 4.9 million alpaca exist.  They are a species whose numbers are still recovering from 500 years of history.  There are few farms that we have visited within the Fibershed who carry the knowledge and responsibility of  this historical narrative like the Rosenfeld family of Mt. Aukum, California.

Julie and Ken Rosenfeld are stewards for a most extraordinary flock of alpaca.  While visiting their solar-powered ranch in the eastern most stretches of our Fibershed, we were introduced to these four-leggeds–better known as Kachina, Celeste, Blackberry, Guns N’ Roses, and Jesse James (just to name a few).  Taking a virtual tour of their herd on the families website, one can see the carefully organized family tree that is the well hewn work of an extensive breeding program.

“It is so important to be making careful breeding decisions that improve the strength of the species.  This animal has now, for numerous reasons, been put in our care… we owe it to them to do this right,” said Julie Rosenfeld during our interview.

“So often bred for cuteness, or simply for the softest fiber, there must be other considerations that take into account the health of these animals.  Too many decisions are made lightly.  I’ve seen a lot of herds mismanaged and it is really sad.”  

Breeding is about honoring the overall health of the animal, fiber being one facet of the alpaca’s overall genetic make-up.  Julie’s husband Ken started his career as an OBGYN in Boston years ago, his original training in the sciences and in the birthing process has assisted the couple’s ability to deal with the complexities of breeding.

Renassaince Ridge is both a model for good rearing as well as good land management.  The electricity for the ranch is generated from a solar grid, the pastures are well covered with organic feed, no signs of erosion or over-grazing exist anywhere.  The herd looked perfectly at home standing on the rock studded oak and pine woodlands that make up the topography of Mt. Aukum.

The fiber from this flock averages 17 microns, including the “old gals”, and the “old guys”.  This is an above average quality for a herd– and not just slightly above average.  When the Rosenfelds had the fiber tested from their male sire- Guns N’ Roses, the follicle density surpassed all internationally documented standards.  (This means a lot of fiber per square inch of skin.)

“The beauty of Guns N’ Roses is that all his progeny carry this trait.  He has become a household name in the alpaca circles, we share him with a woman on the east coast now.  He lives here half time, and travels east to do what he does best.”

Those who raise and rear alpacas are drawn to the work for a multitude of reasons– fine fiber being one of the foremost mentioned…and there is good reason for this–  it has become hailed as the “new cashmere” by many in the garment industry.  The fiber has a hollow core and few scales, allowing it to be very warm and extremely soft simultaneously.  Because it is hypo-allergenic many people are able to wear it who find wool irritating to their skin.  The fiber has no lanolin, or “grease” and thus does not have to washed in the way that wool does, saving massive amounts of fresh water resources.

The other benefit to raising your own alpaca and utilizing their fiber, is to have access to the colored fleeces.  Commercial alpaca yarns and garments come from huge herds of white animals, and their fiber is dyed chemically to achieve black, gray, and brown.”

Rebecca Burgess with Tempest one of the animals whose fiber makes up the waterproof coat

This handcrafted black coat was felted by Katherine Jolda and sewn by Mali Mrozinski.  The fiber was generously donated by Blackberry (not pictured), and Tempest (seen above).  We wanted to illuminate the stunning options that can be created from the colored fleeces– without utilizing black, gray, and brown chemical dyes.  (Synthetic dye applications are typically the most carbon intensive processes of the conventional textile supply chain).

 And yet, utilizing non-synthetic and botanic based dyes on the white fleece creates an exquisite foundation for  fennel, horsetail, and toyon dye baths, (all naturalized or native species to our California floristic province).

Each of the animals that came close enough to smell the fibers gave the garments a sniff and a nudge– showing signs that there was something familiar in regard to what I was wearing.

Alpaca fiber has an incredible sheen, it takes the dyes more lightly than wool, and tends to enhance the pastel-like quality of all the botanic colors.  The drape that the fiber creates within a finished garment is sought after by those looking to make clothes that will flatter the contours of the human body.  The lace weight Victorian-Era inspired shawl (worn in the above picture) was created by Gale Ulvang of San Anselmo.  Her work and patterns are featured on Ravelry…. search for “galeu” for more of her knitwear.

We didn’t stop with the lace weight shawl, or jacket… we couldn’t help but to continue to make use of this world class fiber… the experiments continued…

 This piece was designed and knit by scientist and knitwear designer Danielle Svehla– no dye work necessary.  The carmel and dark brown colors are a product of the natural alpaca fibers. This is the most ideal sweater I could have asked for… it is warm, soft, and purely insulating.  The weight of the sweater is what catches you– it is heavy– but that weight is grounding and comforting, like being hugged all day long by Kachina, (the most friendly of all the animals in the flock).

Given how amazingly warm, gorgeous and completely functional this piece has proven to be for me over the last year… we have been inspired to offer the pattern and yarns to all those who want to make their own Fibershed sweater.  The intricate details are just now being worked out and the DIY local clothing kit will soon be available in our marketplace.

There is nothing like wearing a garment from an animal that you have be-friended. The reality of the sweater takes shape– it is no longer a layer of cloth next to the skin, but a part of the living, breathing daily life– supporting you, reminding you of your connection to the seasonal, annual and longer life cycles that define you and your engagement with all that lives.

If these animals are beginning to intrigue you… I completely understand– I haven’t been the same since my visit to Renaissance Ridge.  Life is different once you cross paths with the alpaca.  Their gentle and curious way slows you down and wakes you up in a manner incomparable to other encounters.

If you dream of starting your own alpaca herd… the Rosenfelds are available to answer your questions.  They are often called upon to help people discern if alpaca rearing is the right path.

 “We consult people all the time about the totality of the alpaca raising process… it is a long life commitment.  These animals live for 25 years or more.  Their gestation is 11 months.  They require a type of care and love that you have to be both passionate and well prepared for.  It is a choice we made that has defined our lives completely….I am so happy– for me, this is as good as it gets.”

Weaving the Community Cloth

May 12, 2011

Pokeberry and Indigo were dipped in merino wool that was graciously donated by “Reba” a sheep from the Potter Valley in this sweater tunic designed and knit by Sachi Henrietta.  The piece was worn atop  Foxfibre buffalo brown cotton leggings.

Fibershed Fashion came alive for the community during our first ever benefit celebration.  One hundred and eighty individuals from throughout Northern California came together during a sold-out celebration to raise money for our first solar powered community based mill.

All food and fiber were carefully sourced from within our region.  Sally Fox harvested lamb for the stew, the goat was brought in from Rossotti Ranch, the corn tortillas made just north of us.  The bread from Brickmaiden Bakery– was adorned with Carmody cheese from Bellweather farm, Foggy Morning rounds from Nicasio Valley Cheese, and Cowgirl Creamery’s St. Pat.  The nettles, douglas fir tips, and wild mustard were harvested by my dear friend Mia Andler.  My brother Michael made a rose, and gogi berry flavored kombucha, Wild West Foods made an original dandelion, nettle and cleaver ale, Molly Myerson baked the strawberry rhubarb pies. Eamonn made the chocolate and vanilla cheesecakes, local vintners Lou Preston, Porter Creek, and J-vineyards provided amazing Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay.  The local apothecary made a blend of medicinal “dye tea”.  The entirety of the meal was composed and brought to incredible life by John Murray– a talented San Francisco based chef, who poured love into every detail.

The rose, gogi, and original kombucha was a complete hit.  Everyone who imbibed in this drink, had words of praise for its maker– who was also the bartender.

The fiber menu was as exciting as the food!  Pria wears a handspun and handknit merino short from Merry Meadows Farm– an “old-style” bathing suit bottom.  (the idea came from my great-grandmother’s era.. she flaunted a wool bathing suit back in the 20’s, it was all the rage prior to synthetics)

Kacy Dapp wears a pair of earrings made by Dyan Ashby, constructed of Sally Fox’s cotton dyed in oak galls, and felted wool beads.  Her sweater was made by the Black Mountain Weaver’s collective of Point Reyes Station, the wool is from the farm of Mimi Luebbermann and Martha Cant of Starbuck Station.

The models for our event were all amazing community members, a group of women whose beauty shined from the both the in- and outside.  June wears a jacket designed by Amber Elandt, made of Sally Fox’s french terry cotton, dyed in a light iron and oak gall combo.  Her lovely scarf was hand knit by Gale Ulvang in Renaissance Ridge alpaca yarns– I dyed them in horsetail, fennel, and toyon.

Lily (top of stairs) wears a handwoven Viyella dress (cotton and wool blend), designed and created by Susan Hayes, of Susan Hayes Handwovens, the cardigan was hand knit by Heidi Iverson using three of Sally Fox’s yarns together– one strand dyed in Mt. Barnaby indigo.  Jalena (far right), wears a Kacy Dapp hand knit piece made from Robin Lynde’s natural colored Jacob’s sheep wool.

Sally Fox welcomed the Fibershed community together… asking every weaver, knitter, farmer, and seamstress to stand and be recognized for their skills, and for their commitment to creating this movement.  “We are the Fibershed,”  she said to a full house of inspired individuals.

Dyan Ashby elegantly walked the straw bale runway– wearing a Viyella shirt made of black wool and cotton, and a Foxfibre woven skirt– all pieces she made specifically for the show.

Sierra Reading wears her amazing Sue Reuser Cormo wool vest that she hand knit, felted, and dyed in onion skins and iron.  A beautiful piece, whose color and texture are reminiscent of a wild moss covered tree.

Eden Trenor was just the right fit for the Mt. Barnaby indigo dyed capri pants made of Foxfibre flannel, sewn by Kerry Keefe.  Zara Franks knit the shawl from Kenny Kirkland’s flock of mixed breed sheep.  The shirt was made of a buffalo brown light weight Foxfibre knit.

Stacie Shepp illuminated the playful aspects of the evening, as she danced down the runway wearing a piece that was hand knit and designed by Marlie de Swart of Black Mountain Weavers.  “I’m so proud of this piece,” de Swart said with a smile, “All the wool is from Windrush Farm.”  The sweater received many “wows” from the textile loving crowd.

Darcey Swanson wore the Renaissance Ridge hand felted and hand constructed alpaca jacket made by Katherine Jolda and Mali Mrozinski.  The pants are foxfibre flannel, sewn by Kerry Keefe.  (The jacket  has magnetic closures… so clever)

Elizabeth Shelhart makes her runway return wearing a perfectly fitting color-grown cotton flannel jumpsuit adorned with a stunning green cotton shawl, (when the cotton is boiled the shade darkens into this rich and deep shade of green.)

Dr. Sara Gottfried walked the catwalk like a pro, she wore Heidi Iverson’s two-layered hand knit foxfibre and Mt. Barnaby indigo piece with the vigor it so rightfully deserved.

Dyan Ashby is shown here wearing her own hand-constructed and designed naturally dyed foxfiber jewelry.  An exquisite compliment to the Fibershed offerings.

The night was brought to a new level of beauty with the music of Tim Weed– a wondrous local musician whose sound enhanced the  feeling and experience of handmade..

We paid homage to the animals who make our clothes possible… some of them were kind enough to share the evening with us.  These are Guanacos from Royal Fibers farm.

Here is the map of our Fibershed.  Each farmer and artisan is documented for their contribution– thank you to each and everyone who has made the journey possible, and continues to evolve the Fibershed into a functioning supply chain for which we can all participate in.

We’ve begun the journey to re-weaving the community cloth… may the mill’s construction be swift, and come with ease and grace.. and may we all have the ability to wear local and regenerative clothes once again.

Wool That Nobody Wanted

March 25, 2011

There is a story in each garment, a living history of our collective experience resides in the implications and realities of our clothes.  The wool in this tunic comes from the homestead of Kenny Kirkland.  His flock is small in comparison to the flocks that live north and west of us– where 1,000 sheep per ranch is considered normal.  In our current system the meat from these animals brings the highest margins, and yields vital wages and income.  However, many resources lay wasted in the process of procuring this “one” economically viable product.  Making something from the wool is time consuming and proves unaffordable for many ranchers.

I wondered…. “At this moment..the great irony and tragedy is that it is too “expensive” to use our own resources…. but in a drastically re-organized economic system which we are entering…… will this remain the case?”

What happens when we can’t get everything we need from somewhere else?

The sheep are here.

So many of them in fact….that we are throwing away, and or, store-housing 22,000 pounds of wool annually, in my county alone.  We haven’t seen so much as a sock available from our own “meat sheep” wool.  Let alone the obvious and easy applications you would expect to see– duvet fill, mattresses, and housing insulation.  Instead of making a mattress, we wanted to prove you could make something even more visually exciting– a garment so beautiful you don’t want to take it off.

This tunic is made with the wool of a sheep named Saturday, spun and knit by the hands of local artisan Nance Ottentstein, dyed in the summer and fall harvested plants of black walnut, Japanese Indigo, coyote brush, and eucalyptus.  This garment is a living symbol of what can be created when we focus on what is here and what is now.

To see this garment in person, and all of the other Fibershed pieces, you’re invited to our benefit dinner and show… a celebration to bring the first solar powered farm-based mill into existence.

We look forward to seeing you.

The Beauty of Limitation

March 2, 2011

Soft and supple Mendocino buckskin, Sierra foothills alpaca, Mill Valley felt, Capay Valley color grown cotton, and Mt. Barnaby indigo … these are the places and raw materials that designer and artist Mali Mrozinski has been exploring.  The “limitation” of sourcing materials within 150 miles might be better described as a “creative focus.”  This palate of color and form has emerged through the processes and raw materials that Mrozinski and the Fibershed project have been researching and developing throughout the last six months.

Mrozinski looks through fibershed samples

A skilled seamstress, and painter, Mali has exposed herself to a sprinkling of bioregional forms and colors, the outcomes of her exploration have become trusted garments in my small but incredibly well made wardrobe.  Our first meeting was shared in a downtown Oakland Cafe after Mrozinski’s teaching gig at Creative Growth.  We met with our mutual friend Dyan Ashby over a cup of tea and to exchange some color grown cotton fabric.  I had been told of Mrozinski’s talents long before I met her, “she is a wizard at construction, her skill is incredible, her pieces are complex and detailed,” said Ashby.

Mali described her work in the field and in the studio.  “I started as a painter and now I’m sewing… my work is focused on understanding and exploring my raw material base… as this happens I get closer to plants and animals.”  Mrozinski’s relationship with agriculture is not new, a crew member of Outstanding in the Field, she spent many hours helping the public connect with local food producers in their region. “We organized huge dinners on farms around the country, exploring the food and culture of each farm was quite an experience.”

Mrozinski wears black felted alpaca coat, the raw fibers from the herd who greets her

This interest in farm culture as well as a curiosity for well-tailored historical women’s patterns churned in Mrozinski’s creative mind as she explored local processing technique after technique.  We traveled together to a two-day buckskin brain tanning workshop where Mrozinski fell into deep connection with the skins and furs of locally harvested animals.  She rode the bicycle powered drum carder and made her own felt.  She explored the in’s and out’s of fermented indigo, and played with the delicate yet hardy Sally Fox color-grown cotton flannel.

Sitting with her rabbit skin at the brain tanning workshop

Mali developed a meditative rapport with rabbit skin during our class.  The material was a perfect size for the lap, and allowed for a comfortable processing method.  “This skin is incredible,” I recall her saying as she nuzzled it to her cheek.  Mrozinski is studying the possibility of making fur collars from locally harvested rabbits, whose skins often go to waste in the haste of procuring meat for the marketplace.

The amazing thing that I’ve discovered, is that my great aunt was a furrier,” said Mrozinski in a recent interview.  Perhaps there is a genetic propensity for working with fur?  If so, Mali is a likely inheritor of such a gene.

Mrozinski’s connection with history– whether it is that of her own family, or sifting through vintage sewing patterns, is an expression of her interest in utility and craft.  “Historical patterns were refined, but had many uses… I’m interested in the ability to wear something over and over again.”  Mali has played with collars, ruffled bottoms, 1940’s style women’s pants… “All of the adornments were removable, and were used to enhance very simple clothing.  Designs were made so that garments had a useful foundations but could still look beautiful and tailored.

A beautiful example of Mrozinski’s collars

Mrozinski has recently returned from a trip to Northern Pennsylvania.  The Amish made a big impression on her– their simplicity, and their reliance on very few materials was an inspiration and a curiosity. ” I‘m so interested in how can you remove all the unnecessary, remain intentional, and slow down.”  These questions are essential foundations for Mrozinski and the Fibershed project as a whole.

How do you make the most with what you have?

Contrary to the belief systems espoused by our culture that devours new product…we must remind ourselves that we are a creative culture, and a DIY culture too.

Mrozinski’s black alpaca coat, waterproof and elegant– and from a herd 140 miles away

If it wasn’t for the commitment to limit our material base to local fiber producers, we would have never known that within 140 miles of our front door exists a herd of world class alpaca.  Follicle testing proves the sire of this herd is not just extraordinary, but he actually produces the densest fiber in the world.  In a rapid paced society that has created seemingly unending possibilities for material form, it makes all the sense in the world why an artist like Mrozinski, or any of us for that matter would desire to slow down, take stock of our own communities and resources, and figure out what in fact we might have been missing?

The facts are lining up here… we are surrounded by beauty, as well as solutions to our ecological crisis, we just need to slow down, and smell the alpaca…

Kuchina and Mali say hello to one another

The story of Renaissance Ridge and this fabulous alpaca herd is the subject for our next post.  We just wanted to pay mention to the incredible material that came from these lovelies- and pay our respects to Mali who worked tirelessly on the process of constructing this coat– adorned with magnets as closures, and sewn with organic thread (which proved very tricky!), Mali pulled it off.  She created a coat whose manufacturing consisted of no harmful processes.

The already black fibers were gently sheared, wet felted by hand (by Katherine Jolda), and then hand-cut and sewn my Mrozinski– a completely local supply chain, from soil to skin….and while this coat is as ecologically friendly as they come… it seems everyone dies for it when I’m walking down the street… there is some longing and pain involved when they realize it is not off the rack.

However, this does not preclude you from having your own heirloom coat.  Mali, bless her heart, does take custom orders.  You can find her by clicking here:  Mali Mrozinski

Mali’s tailored custom coat made with Sally Fox’s color grown cotton and vintage buttons

Mrozinski’s hands have been fast at work.. she also tailored our local cotton into a fine and standout piece.  We worked together on having strips of the garment dyed in black walnuts, so as to created a well constructed and flattering back pattern.  “I wanted the Fibershed to have tailored pieces, I think it is really important to answer the question of how or if local materials can be made into quality garments,” said Mrozinski.

Black walnut and buffalo brown cotton seed variety spawn a jacket of nature’s colors

Mrozinski answered her own question in spades, and everyone who sees her work agrees.. the pieces are well constructed, beautiful and will hold the test of time.

You’ve seen the pants in an earlier post… and here is my dearest and most favorite combination for more formal events… The Mrozinski and Fox fiber jacket, worn with my favorite basic tailored Fox fiber pants.  Thank you Sally Fox, thank you Mali Mrozinski, and thank you black walnuts, and organic color-grown cotton!

bio-regional attire photographed in the Redwoods

The fabric that Mali constructed this piece with– will once again be milled within our community:  If you would like more information on the process we are undertaking to re-invent a bioregional supply chain:  Come to and hear the stories and share in the most unique event of the season, entitled, Re-Weaving the Community Cloth.

Sally Fox, Mali Mrozinski, myself and all of the other farmers and designers look forward to seeing you there!

Creation of the Golden Pants

February 4, 2011

There are some items of clothing that we could not survive without.

Living in the 150 mile wardrobe has made me keenly aware of how my garments are essential for my survival.  Beyond fashion, clothes are my shelter.

Each garment I have is fundamentally important.  There are now 15 items last count, including my socks, underwear and accessories.  Every item is celebrated, and well loved.  I admiringly gaze at my uncrowded, tidy closet each morning. More often than not, (this winter especially), there is one pair of pants that make their way onto my body, day after day…the “Golden Pants”, as they have lovingly been nicknamed.  Their creation took place some time back, and since that time I have worn them to the point of living in them.  Their creator and designer is Berkeley scientist, Thara Srinivasan.

I originally met Thara at a UC Berkeley botanic garden dye workshop.  She humbly mentioned and offered that she could do some sewing, as well as some carbon accounting for the project.  It wasn’t an offer for just any sewing project, she said she could re-create my favorite pair of pants in our limited supply of bioregional fibershed fabric!

I realized immediately the uniqueness of a person who could live in the world of fabric construction, while simultaneously compile the necessary data for something as complex as a CO2 footprint.  I came to realize later that in fact that these are just two of her many talents.

Thara learned to sew by constructing a pattern and making a replica of  her own favorite jeans.  (Not exactly a simple first sewing project.)

The idea of making your own jeans at home, without the consult of a tenured seamstress, causes Thara’s friends to laugh with amazement and respect.  “She just decided that she was going to make pants for herself that fit her the way she wanted them to…. it’s just amazing!” said her close friend and scientist Danielle Christianson.

Working in Thara’s Berkeley home studying the pants pattern

Srinivasan received her pHd in biomimetic chemistry from UC Berkeley and did her post doc work in Ecology and Environmental Policy.  ‘I don’t recommend doing a post doc in a different field from your pHd studies!‘ she says with a laugh. ‘It’s not easy.’  The studying and computer time were physically exacerbating and since her completion of the post doc, she has become a certified yoga instructor, a massage therapist and a docent at the UC Berkeley Botanic Garden– teaching children about the amazing plant species we share this planet with.  ‘I wanted to get outside, and to be healthy, and not in pain, a life behind a computer is not a good one,’ she said light heartedly.

Perhaps it is the young students she leads through the garden and the time spent with pollinators, but Srinivasan has taken on another creative venture– she is writing a book for young adults.  (It’s an incredible work, I recently had the chance to read the first draft of the first chapter).  The storyline combines the essential and magical essence of honeybees, the ability for children to harness solutions to our environmental crisis, and the rapid disappearance of our world’s species.  The book weaves together her broad knowledge of ecology, and her expansive creative capacities.

Thara’s loom is now warped and in her free time she weaves

Srinivasan continues to work in the field of environmental policy, she lovingly refers to her work at the Peace Lab. ‘It is such a great group of people doing such amazing work and research.’ The last paper that I read was published in the Journal of Bioeconomies and is entitled, ‘Food security implications of global marine catch losses due to overfishing.’  Her latest paper is entitled, ‘Economics of Climate Change: Risk and Responsibility By World Region.

Srinivasan’s care for the world’s ecosystems is amplified by her knowledge.  She sees the Fibershed project through the lens of someone who understands the molecular nature of our world.  When she expressed her joy at being at the natural dye workshop, her comments shed a new light on the power and simplicity of these colors.  ‘It was such a relief to splash around in the dye vats, it was like playing with medicinal tea.  It was so different from my chemistry studies, where nothing could be touched, every substance was hazardous.’

Srinivasan has a similar relationship to the fabric that she constructed into pants.  ‘It is so amazing to work with Sally Fox’s organic cotton, there is such purity running through my hands.’  The ‘Golden Pants‘, were made of Fox’s color grown cotton flannel.  The fabric (that Fox had milled prior to the eradication of our mills), has inspired everyone who has seen it.  This fabric is apart of our region’s living agricultural heritage.  The cotton is still being grown, the mills are all but gone.

We play around with the pattern next to the existing pants; preparing to create our next Fibershed garment– our own bioregional jeans

This is not to say the story is over, and the fabric potential is lost.  In fact, many of us in the Fibershed community are actively working towards a manufacturing end that would make bioregional fabric a reality once again, (more on this concept later!).

Thank you Thara for your amazing work– not only did you sew these pants but you also accounted for their carbon footprint.

Fibershed Flannel Pants = 3.4 kg CO2, (transportion footprint)

Equivalent of 2.4-7.4 miles of driving or 2.4-7.3 days of working on your computer

Seaside Day of Dyes

January 6, 2011
Group meets as the tide recedes at Drake’s Beach

Behind the scenes of the bioregional Fibershed wardrobe is a thriving community of designers, farmers, ranchers, natural dyers, and ethnobotanists.  One of the tenets of our project since the beginning has been to hold celebrations, in honor of the contributions of the project’s supporters.  Some have knit sweaters, some have donated personal finances, while others have cared for their flocks and tended their fields, providing wool and cotton for the garments.

Dustin Kahn blows life into the coal

The morning began with a set of interesting factors that had us seriously wondering wether our celebration was going to happen– including a high tide that erased all vestiges of the beach, and a small pod of sleeping elephant seals– who preferred their nap-time remain uninterrupted.  We did find a small alcove, and within hours, it became a perfect setting for the days activities… record high tides, are followed by record low tides– we had this on our side.

Jay Sliwa (seen above on the left) started the morning with a fire ceremony.  He asked us to kindly focus our intention on the fire, and support the process as he, and our mutual friend, Katherine Jolda methodically and rapidly turned the fire rod in their palms….back and forth– friction igniting coal.

Once the fires were started– a pot of native toyon, native sagebrush, and two pots of seawater were put onto the heat, and began their journey towards boiling.  Seawater has trace elements of aluminum, (only about 8ppb), however there are many qualities to seawater that have the potential for being useful as mordants.  An aspect of our celebration was to dive into the realm of experimentation– and work together to see what we could manifest with the most local and benign materials.

Left to Right: Heather Podoll, Katherine Jolda, Jay Sliwa

The toyon and sagebrush were poured into old copper vessels, and the ocean water was poured into 5 gallon stainless steel vats.

Rebecca Burgess collecting water; wearing a color-grown organic cotton pant and wrap that she hand-constructed from the Fox Farm fabrics.  The top is dyed in Oak Galls, the pants are from the buffalo brown seed variety.  The neck cowl is from a corriedale-x roving that she handspun and dyed in native toyon.

Water was captured and carried across the expanses of sand, and then poured fresh into our pots.

Heather Jackson places local wool into the salt water mordant bath

Most of our samples were doused in the sea water before entering into the sage and toyon dye vats.  The potential for more than one mordant to be reacting with the fiber was highly likely.  Toyon and sage both contain a certain level of tannin (toyon has high quantities), and this compound also functions as a binding agent for color.  We were also using copper pots, which leach into the water, adding metallic compounds to our experiment… yet another binding agent.

The sage cooks in an old french pot

If we wanted to soley identify the potential and potency of sea water as a mordant, we would have used less tannin rich plant species, and stainless steel or enamel pots for all of our work… however, the copper vessels are the largest that I own, and were well suited for our group endeavors.

Sue Warhaftig and Katherine Jolda prepare the dry rack

Our dry rack was constructed by the swift hands of Sue (expert jeweler and knitter), and Katherine (professional felter).  It was built from drift wood and seaweed… the final construction reminisced of fine art–a pure form of sculpture.

The entirety of our day was a work of art.  Including Molly de Vries‘s offering of tea, that she brought to us along with her homemade cups.

Left to Right: Dustin Kahn wears her homegrown hand knit indigo scarf and Molly de Vries holds a basket of mushroom dyed yarn balls

Dustin and Molly sit absorbing the first sunlight that any of us had seen in days.  After many rainstorms, we were all elated to be outside in the warm and temperate seaside air.

Adam sits on the ochre rocks, pole-wrapping his cloth around a kelp branch.  We used found objects as sources for resisting the dye.

Sally Scopa is an intern for the Fibershed project, visiting here from the East Coast.  The project is blessed to have her participation.  Here, she prepares her fabric through folding it like a fan.

Amber Elandt wears her hand-constructed moccasins, enjoying the detail work of her shibori process.

The pieces began to emerge from the toyon vat… the reddish, orange and pinky tones were created with the leaves and branches.  The plant matter soaked for several days before arriving to our day of dyes.

A shirt wrapped in kelp was slowly unwound after being pulled from the dye vat.

The toyon vat steams as the hot coals and embers beneath keep the water at a low simmer.

Local Mill Valley Yarns from Kenny Kirkland’s farm hang on the dry rack with fabric swatches.

The sculpted drying station comes alive with native plant color, and the effects of the sea water mordant processes.

Molly begins the process of kelp basket weaving, a project that many began to join in on..

Ellery Burgess shares in the weaving process.

The story of our fibershed community celebrations continue…. we are already looking forward to our next gathering.. and we look forward to sharing it with our online community.. thank you for reading and sharing this journey with us.

I would like especially thank my amazing brother Michael Keefe for taking all of these amazing pictures!!

For more images of our day go to: Mike Keefe

The Art of Fiber Ranching

December 25, 2010

As you glance down at what you are wearing– ask yourself, ‘can I put a name or face to these clothes?’  It’s a rarity for a majority of us to have any sense of who or what is responsible for our garments.  Name-brands, and style are the lures that draw us in, making it all to easy to overlook the reality of how materials are sourced and manufactured.

Finding wool for the Fibershed project has brought our team face to face with the humans, animals, and pasturelands that generate the raw materials of the wardrobe.

The documentary team has been led to some of the most beautiful tucked away landscapes imaginable.  Our first visit to Mary Pettis-Sarley’s ranch caused my jaw to literally drop.. with the thought– how does one create a life like this?  The answer to that question is as magical as the land itself.

feeding time for the herd

Pettis-Sarley received her MA in Visual Design from UC Berkeley from 1976-79; and during this time began running a dark room in the Napa Valley.  Over the hill from the darkroom was an abandoned cottage,‘no one had lived there in eight years,’ said Pettis-Sarley. ‘I thought it would be so nice to walk to work,’ The cottage became her home for the next 15 years.  ‘It was a care-taking position, I learned how to run cattle, and all sorts of good practical skills.’

Each of her 100 cows is lovingly named

As her intimacy with the land deepened, her life as an artist began to merge with her newly emerging role as a rancher.  ‘I was at a ceramics class one day, and was asked what I wanted more of in my life.. my response, “more magic.” Two weeks later my friends in Point Reyes offered me a horse… as I loaded him into the trailer, I asked his name–they said, “oh, he’s Magic”. Pettis-Sarley’s life just has a knack for that kind of serendipity, ‘its always been this way, the right things just always seem to happen.’

When the woman who owned Pettis-Sarley’s ranch and cottage past-on, Mary’s future became uncertain, drawing her, on many occasions to take long walks in her beloved valley… during one of these sojourns she questioned whether it might be the last time–as she approached her favorite oak tree, ‘I remember asking, if I’m meant to stay here, please let me know.

Soon after this experience, she was approached by a land-agent who represented the new owners of the 2,000 acre adjoining property, ‘He asked if I was interested in caretaking…it didn’t take me long to answer that question!‘  Since that time twelve year ago, Pettis-Sarley has settled into her new yet familiar home with her husband Chris–they collectively manage and care for 150 mother cows, around 40 head of sheep– which becomes about 100 when it’s lambing season, 20 mohair goats, a pig or two, a pack of sheepherding dogs, chickens, horses, and a few household friends–some beautiful exotic birds and at least one cat.

Pettis-Sarley’s has been (in all of her free time!), teaching me the art of screen-printing– the image she chose as an instructive sample, depicts a wild looking clown riding a pig backwards, ‘this image just says it all,’ she said, smiling and ruminating on her busy, and yet totally enjoyable life, ‘every day, and every moment is such a great ride.’

Mary wears a felted hat that she made from her herd’s wool

The creative yet efficient pacing, and freedom that Pettis-Sarley brings through, is most evident in her art.  She is a well-versed two dimensional artist, who taught textile design (focusing on screen-printing and the integration of photography) for years, and yet, she has leapt into three-dimensional work rather recently; characteristic of someone who’d been doing it their whole career.

wood-fire busts returning from a show at the Pence Gallery

While Pettis-Sarley doesn’t limit her material base– she is ultimately interested in the expression of fundamental human issues.., ‘if we aren’t talking about life, death, or beauty… really… what else is there to talk about?’ Her life brings her into constant connection with these subjects; for Pettis-Sarley, this sentiment is a complete, and unexaggerated description of her day to day existence.

The last time I visited the ranch, goats and sheep were giving birth… sweet and beautiful babies were prancing around the paddocks, while others were still so young they had the remnants of birth still on their fur.  Prior to that visit, I came at a time when a mother cow had eaten a toadstool (or some other poisonous edible), and was found dead, the conversation went immediately to her calf, ‘we’ll have to find her immediately and help her find a mother who will feed her,’ Pettis- Sarley said with a gentle concern yet matter of fact tone.

The relationship with the herds, flocks, and the land that they all share has developed over the years.  The sheepherding began in 1994,  ‘ There used to be a little sheep that continually veered away from the neighbors property where she belonged.  For weeks I would see her on the side of the road– no one seem interested in helping her integrate.  I would feed her, and try to take her home, but she kept ending up on the side of the road.  After a month of this, I said “OK”, and I cut her tail, and put a tag on her ear.  She was our first, and her name was Lambie.’

Bags of washed wool ready for the mill

The sheep are a direct link between Pettis-Sarley’s artistry and ranching talents.  It is with their fiber that all manner of beautiful creations have emerged.  ‘I am interested in breeding not just for quality of fiber, but for color.‘  Many of Pettis-Sarley’s fibers are a blend of karakul, CMV, and romeldale.  Her rovings and batts, spin and felt like a dream.  She is currently the only rancher to date, (that we know of) that takes so many steps to ensure the quality of her product.  After returning from the mill, every skein is washed and hung with a weight to set the spin.  Every skein is then neatly wound into a ball.  ‘It’s about passing along the perfect creation to the next in line, the knitters can just begin their work with pleasure this way.

first creation using Mary’s wool: legwarmers knit by Allison Reilly

The legwarmers are heavenly, and worn almost daily during this cold and wet winter season.  To add to our collaboration with Pettis-Sarley, we are in process of felting a skirt, and having a sweater knit with these same fibers for the experimental wardrobe.

If you are interested in Pettis-Sarley’s new line of native plant dyed yarns– you can expect to see them very soon in a well reknown San Francisco location… (yet to be disclosed)… but we’ll keep you posted as soon as they’re ready.

Mary and Chris sit with their sheep and sheepherding dogs, as well as Peanut the carmel colored friend in the foreground

Mary has taught and shared so much with us in both the intracacies and broader realities of what it is to live and love the land.  ‘I drink the spring water, I eat the vegetables, and on rare occasions– the meat.. they say you are what you eat… so I guess I am this land,’ she says while pausing in her darkroom. From a careful study of the minutia of her tissues, and organs, it could likely be proven without much ado… that the minerals that run through the soils are the same minerals running through her blood stream.  So, yes… the land runs through her veins.

I am so appreciative for her existence and role-modeling, of a how a deeply connected life looks and functions, and how it can be lived with such intention and artistry.

Thank you Mary….