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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The toyon and sagebrush were poured into old copper vessels, and the ocean water was poured into 5 gallon stainless steel vats.
Water was captured and carried across the expanses of sand, and then poured fresh into our pots.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.’
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.’
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.
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.’
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.‘
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 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….
Unexpected and extraordinary treasures can come in the form of human beings, and sometimes we are fortunate enough to have these individuals as our neighbors.
Preparing for the drop in temperatures, cold weather attire was on my mind… and so was the idea of inviting another knitter into the project. As the concept of winter-weather garments began to develop… there was Allison Reilly–a recent high school graduate, on her way to London, to study at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design.
Our lives intersected at the most opportune moment… within several days of our first meeting, we had agreed on a project– local yarns were put into her hands, and we were off to the farm to visit the source. Our interview and documentation of Reilly’s life began early one morning at her home just before our trip north.
Reilly began her knitting life at age nine, she taught herself from internet sites, ‘my mom and grandma didn’t know how,.. I taught them to knit last year.‘ She was employed by the local knitting atelier by age 15, and soon after was teaching classes to women twice and three times her age. She is a prodigy–as everyone who sees her work can agree; the patterns and forms that emerge from her adept, and incredibly quick hands and needles are created by inspiration and memory. She keeps meticulous notes of her favorite pieces, and has a collection of patterns filed away for a future book on the subject, ( we are all looking forward to that book!)
While still in high school, Reilly designed and knit the above dress, and a plethora of other projects. ‘I love pushing the boundary of traditional knitwear design to make it something exciting and fashion-forward, but while also maintaining the art of it being a handicraft.
I’m interested in modern, well-fitting pieces, that really explore pattern… I’ve done everything by hand, we’ll see how it goes when I get onto the knitting machine.’ Reilly’s four year program is focused in fashion with an emphasis on knitwear design, and she’ll be learning a variety of techniques to take her handwork to a larger scale.
Reilly’s inspiration towards life and knitting is evident from her book collection– the Sticth ‘N Bitch series is piled amongst Don Miguel Ruez’s Four Agreements and books on Buddhist philosophy. It’s not simple to assign an age to Reilly–from her taste in literature to the fine art on her walls– (all of which she painted or drew herself)–her accumulation of talents and her innate wisdom reminisce of an older lot.
The older lot is very supportive of Reilly– all the grown-up folks who come into contact with her see the passion and skill that she brings to her work, and are often asking her to do the troubleshooting on their own knitwear pieces. In preparation for her college sojourn, Reilly’s knitting circle friends created squares, each representative of their own personal style. The pieces were then sewn together into a memory quilt to adorn Reilly’s college dorm. ‘I’ve spent a lot of time with my knitting community, I’m the youngest one in the group… I like spending time with people that are older than I am.’ Her natural proclivity to transcend age is an inspiring and grounding element of our relationship–spending time with her is like hanging out with a girlfriend you’ve known forever.
Our trip northeast, brought us deeper into the Fibershed designation– within 45 miles of my front door, we had made our way to Mary Pettis-Sarley’s 2,ooo acre ranch in the Napa Valley. When Reilly was asked what inspired her about the Fibershed project, her response was, ‘I wanted to make a garment from sheep to final product. I love feeling connected to the original source of something, whether that be with a sweater I knit or a pie made of berries I picked. I love tradition too, carrying out practices that people did hundreds of years before me.’
Reilly’s early years were filled with direct experience of the natural world, ‘my brother and I were lucky enough to grow up in Fairfax and we spent the majority of our time outside and up on our hill, building forts and pretending to live off the land. I read “My Side of the Mountain” when I was in third grade and was determined to live completely independently from society or anyone else, all by myself in nature with the animals and plants.’
‘I saw Fibershed as a chance to fulfill some of those childhood dreams, and also as an incredible way for us to meditate on how we care for our environment, our bodies, and the people around us. The processes of fibershed are steeped in traditions from around the world and I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of a movement to preserve them and share them with others.‘
Reilly has blessed the project with an incredible visual palate… her first pieces are the most delicious legwarmers!
Reilly created a double cable filled-in with a pattern she calls ‘moss’. The back of the leg design took inspiration from the scotch fisherman sweater patterns… (each family had patterns that would help identify the men at sea, especially in the case of fatal accidents).
The legwarmers are a beautiful symbol of Reilly’s passions, talents, and commitment. She has graced this project with several other garments since this first creation.. and we look forward to sharing those with you very soon!
As Reilly herself has described her path merging her love of art and nature… she exists as living proof that young people, are, in fact keeping the ancient traditions alive, with a sensibility and desire to merge their creative and modern aesthetic with the good old ways.
Her final comments on the project: I can’t wait to watch it take on a life of its own (which it already has with Dr. Sara Gottfried’s organic experiment and all of the students you have taught in your workshops) and help spread it myself. I still plan on basing my BA final project around the fibershed of England at the end of my three year course.’
We look forward to an ancient future with Allison, and all of those involved in this blessed project!!
Thank you to the Reilly Family for sharing your home, to Mary Pettis-Sarley for sharing your time-animals and fibers, to Paige and Zoe for your documentation!
It’s time to document the Fibershed wardrobe from the inside-out, and tell the story of the first garments— the ones that create a soft boundary between skin and those exterior clothes that protect us from the elements. The underwear as it is known, is like the interior of our homes—soft, plush, and comforting. There was no better seamstress cut-out for the work of creating these undergarments, than Molly de Vries.
On a visit to de Vries’s Mill Valley home and studio— we instantly fell in love with the place–it is a true family den, nurtured by a sensibility of beauty and an aesthetic steeped in ecological awareness. She grew up just yards away, in a similar size cottage that her mother still resides in to this day. De Vries’s home was historically utilized as a sleeping lodge– replete with cots and cozy blankets for visiting recreationists from San Francisco. It is now the ultimate enchanted bungalow for de Vries, her husband, three children, chickens, and dog.
Her home reflects her passion for the re-use of materials– from the original Redwood beams (harvested and milled on site at the turn of the last century), to the her eclectic assortment of vintage fabrics—de Vries is highly skilled at perceiving value, and imbuing function into once under appreciated artifacts.
“They don’t make materials like this anymore,’ she says as she picks up a stack of Romanian hemp fabrics. “These materials can last forever, but would decompose in the compost pile if they were tossed into one.’
She has recently ventured into a new project that weaves together her passion for ecology and the beauty of vintage cloth. “Our family is on a journey to a non-disposable life!” she said with excitement. “We are buying food in bulk, and shopping at the farmer’s markets and carrying our food in cloth sacks.” (known in Japan as Furoshiki.)
“The non-disposable life… is a process…. you can’t expect everyone in the family to be able to forgo plastics all at once, but you can make concerted steps in that direction,” de Vries says while modeling how her hand-sewn vintage carrying cloths wrap easily around a stainless steel food container. These Furoshiki wrapping cloths are designed to supplant the need for plastic bags, and can be used to wrap and carry produce and dry goods bought in bulk.
The Furoshiki tradition began in the 1300’s in Japan, (think origami styled fabric). The cloths were originally used to carry and contain clothes and material items for Japanese bathers, who made an art out of neatly packing their belongings while they waded in the wood-fire heated waters of the bathhouses. De Vries has discovered that these cloths are wonderfully useful for contemporary lifestyles, ‘you can make an art of carrying your food.. these cloths are perfect for taking prepared dishes to your friend’s house for dinner.’
De Vries is not only producing beautiful wares… but she produces them with total heart. Her business, Ambatalia Textiles for a Non-Disposable Life–is teaching women participants of the Canal Alliance to sew. “As the students learn, I hire them to work as seamstresses… these are very locally produced pieces.”
You can find these gorgeous textiles at the Marin County Farmer’s Market in Larkspur from 9am-2pm every Saturday. The importance of purchasing local food is a clear message, that is pretty well understood by us all. De Vries would like to carry the message a step further– and give her customers the ability to buy locally sewn textiles to artfully transport their beautiful food.
De Vries talent with the cloth and the machine is what brought us together. During our first conversation I was uplifted by her enthusiasm, ‘Fibershed is such a useful term, it’s what we can use to help people understand the importance of local production.’ She has been an ardent supporter of the project since its inception. Her ardency and commitment are the qualities that support her life as a mother of three, a business owner, and a seamstress for the Fibershed project. Some how, she gets it all done.
Underwear takes careful measuring… to do this correctly de Vries was immaculate in her note taking. We also had some amusing moments figuring out how to make these garments from a fabric that has no synthetic fibers… no lycra, no polyester, no acrylic. Just 100% color-grown organic cotton from the Capay Valley, (a one-hour drive).
We used an already constructed sample for the undie bottoms; the design was somewhere between a boy short, and a low-cut traditional women’s design.
We discussed busts… at great length…
It was decided that a tank top would function for both a bra, as well as a warm layer that would come in handy in the months ahead. (That tank was the best idea ever! As I am now happily wearing it as a base layer each and every day.)
For this photo, I forewent the goosebumps for a few moments so I could share de Vries exquisite handywork. The tank has hand-stitched details along every seam, and is made to last my lifetime, and then some…
Oh, and… (drum roll goes here)… the total transportation carbon footprint for this set of underwear.. (the tank and the bottoms together)…
.38 kg of C02
The weight of the garments .14 kg
What does this mean??
The closest comparison we could find in conventional clothing was in using Patagonia’s Carbon Chronicles. The company charted a pair of mens shorts through their whole carbon life-cycle, and derived that the amount of carbon released is equivalent to the weight of 8 pairs of those shorts.
It would take only 3 sets of our Fibershed undergarments to match the weight of carbon emitted.
This footprint is equivalent to driving your car .8 to 2.5 miles (the variation dependent on the fuel efficiency of your vehicle).
So, yes… these are numbers that make one’s heart sing. They are improvements on the journey towards a more harmonious wardrobe..
Thank you Molly de Vries for designing and sewing.. thank you Thara Srivinsin for the Carbon Calculations… thank you Sally Fox for the cotton, thank you Paige Green for the pictures… well done team!
Weighing our options.. how do we clothe ourselves sustainably? Will we see individual communities begin to take more responsibility for their garments? Will large clothing manufacturers heed the call to change their practices? We will likely see a multiplicity of actions. To hear more about textiles from a local and global perspective- check out the interview by Jill Cloutier and Sustainable World Radio, on the Fibershed Project.
This is an itunes free download:
[Just as an aside- you might have to turn up the volume to hear the interviewee.. we had a skype meeting, which was so fun- and an eco-friendly way to interview- and the volumes varied a bit]
You’re invited to the annual mill-in, hosted by Jane Deamer, and the Yolo Wool Mill. Tomorrow will be a full day for all those wanting to see the one and only wool mill of our fibershed! It is a wonderful place- filled with the machines and people who are the foundation for our local fiber processing industry.
For details on the days events click here:
We’ve had pounds of raw fleece processed by Jane’s mill, and she has also spent hours linking our project to the farmers and ranchers that use her facility. A true hub of our wool community!
Thank you Jane and Yolo Wool Mill for all your hard work and consistent dedication to providing us with locally processed fibers.. we hope your mill-in is filled with good-cheer and lots of new fans.