Family Fibershed

December 30, 2009

This holiday season our family received gifts of 100% locally raised fiber.  Prototypes for my fibershed project are emerging, and the visual flavor of these pieces are as divine as a Napa Valley Chardonnay or a Cowgirl Creamery round of Mt. Tam cheese.  My mom is wearing a delicately soft handspun and handknit angora (rabbit) and merino (sheep) scarf that I made.  I sourced the raw materials from Mendocino fibers; Jean Gowan of Utopia Farm, and Charlie, of ‘Tall Charlie’s Angoras’ kindly raised the animals.

The making of this scarf provided yet another opportunity for connecting more deeply with the coastal California landscape.  I am a fifth generation Marin resident, who still lives in the watershed I grew up in as a child.  We’ve always loved where we live– and found every possible way of celebrating the bounty of the land we call home.

Great Grandmother paddling on the Corte Madera Creek

My great-grandmother and her family built tent cabins along the creek, they spent their summers enjoying the sun and warmth along the edge of the water.  A concept like ‘fibershed’ would have likely baffled them– there was no ‘ecological footprint’, carbon calculations, or global economy of scale in place to define their reality.  Local food and fiber were norms, not exceptions.

My brother is wearing a hat I made from Chileno Valley wool in brown, gray, and black; all handspun and plied to create varying color combinations.  My brother is the photographer who refurbished the photo of my great-grandmother, and did a fabulous job taking shots of both my mom, and myself.

Here is my prized holiday garment– 100% Chileno Valley wool, that I handspun and dyed in native coffeeberry branches and twigs.  When I put this sweater on, I feel as though I am truly wearing a second skin.

The relationship web created by the making of these pieces is intricate and transparent.  The sun, water, and air of West Marin produce grass for grazing sheep, who in turn grow this wool– I befriend the ranchers– I buy their wool– I spin it– I grow and harvest dye plants to dye my wool– my neighbor knits– the resources remain local.  Smiles emerge at every level of exchange- each transaction becomes a story, a part of a way of life.

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Saturday morning in West Marin–in between the Redwoods of Samual P. Taylor Park and the National Seashore,  a small group of young and old met to create the ‘Every Drop Counts’ restoration dye garden.  Shaped like a raindrop or a tear, the garden greets those who drive into the SPAWN grounds and offices, and will function as a demonstration for how to slow- spread- and sink rain water that flushes into the Lagunitas creek.  The creek currently hosts the last remaining endangered coho salmon run in central California.

All efforts are being made to mitigate erosion, and build habitat along this creek.  So far this year 60 spawning salmon have been counted– the numbers are up from last year (a year we thought they may not have made it). This rain garden was filled with coyote brush, coffeeberry, stickymonkey flower, yerba buena and buckeye– all of these species will build healthy and deep root systems, promoting the permeability of the soil.  This will in turn slow the water’s movement into the creek, reducing erosion, and the risk of flushing the young salmon fry out to sea.  The co-benefits of saving salmon, healing soil, and creating bird habitat– is the ability to make natural ecological color.

This is coffeeberry dye on a Point Reyes handspun wool, it is just about to be incorporated into a ‘coffeeberry sweater’.

A young coffeeberry just planted into the garden yesterday, it will take some time before it requires any pruning.

A buckeye being well cared for by two volunteers.  Our planting was done by the hands and hearts of a group of young women, many of them came with with the support and help of  Environmental Travelling Companions. A non-profit leading trips in sea kayaking, white water rafting, and cross country skiing, for a diverse socio-economic, and  range-of-ability cross-section of folks.  Their youth leaders came to do the planting– all of them hearing about ecological color for the first time.  A follow-up natural dye class is in the works.

What a day… Young women leaders working to restore lands, hearing visions for a future  filled with environmental action and art… a male salmon swimming upstream… there is so much hope and passion that grows from the sharing of a common cause.

Toyon Cowl

December 12, 2009

Early morning Saturday expressions caught while wearing the toyon neck cowl.  I just finished the piece last night, after starting it during the last phase of our dye class last week.

I used Heidi Iverson’s cowl pattern, and borrowed her incredible circular needles (connected by a tube instead of a plastic string).

I handspun the yarn from Mimi Luebberman’s corriedale cross, West Marin roving– and dyed them in a month old Toyon bath.  This cowl is sooo warm, I feel like my overall body temperature has been raised.  My hands and toes are warm too!

After my afternoon swim– I relish the thought of slipping this cowl around my neck.  Life has improved with this little accessory!

Winter Dyes

December 7, 2009

The morning began with a 1/2 inch layer of frost on the kale leaves.  The cold was welcome, as it seemed to keep the rain at bay for a couple of days so we could complete our dye work.  We began by preparing alum and tannin baths, followed by a long hike into the watershed to look at coffeeberry and toyon in the wild, and then returned to the dye studio to prepare pre-cut branches that were gathered the day before. Students worked to light fires of the rocket stoves—these are a wonderfully efficient heat source, that bring water to a rapid boil.

The second day we worked with Toyon and Coffeeberry vats we had prepared the day before, as well as older vats of the same species that had been curing for weeks before the class began.  The above vat is an aged toyon that provided lovely orange/rust colors.

This was the fresh coffeeberry vat–made in a copper pot which created variations of yellow and bright khaki greens.

The second day ended with a beautiful array of colors–that came from two beautiful winter harvest species, no modifiers, and only an alum mordant.  The dyes are shown on a superwash merino sock yarn, and a DK weight merino yarn.

Cotton flour sacks were first mordanted in tannin, and then alum.  This pre-mordant combination created strong colors on the cellulose fiber– akin to the colors created on the wool.

Aged toyon, a fresh toyon dye, and a brief dip in the new and old coffeeberry vats are reflected beautifully in these handspun yarns.  The color of our yarns were observed to be the exact shades of the turning maples that framed the garden– yellow-green-and orange.


The third day began with some wonderful knitting instruction, that included a little history along with very clear technical support from Heidi Iverson.  Ball winding was the first order of business, followed by instruction in how to work with circular knitting needles- we cast on, and the knitting began.  More pictures of our winter cowls to come– as they are completed.

The final joy of the workshop was had when our maple prints were unfolded.  After a long dip in the tannins, and an overnight soak in iron—this completely amazing print was unravelled.

Another close-up of the flour sack– turned fine art.  Overall, a wonderful three day dye experience was had..  A time of gathering– for both plant and human, and a time of color.