The temperature was perfect, the sun just right, sweet smelling toyon, coffeeberry, and coyote brush dye vats wafted into the afternoon air.  The thick smell of black walnuts (which have been soaking since last fall), did overpower the senses a bit– an aroma that crosses somewhere between old seaweed, and a compost pile.  It is actually a nice smell– very earthy, just a bit pungent.

Deepa Natarajan the Berkeley Botanical Garden education coordinator with Susan Kuehn the coordinator for the San Francisco Garden for the Environment

The group of 17 women coalesced creatively amongst the native plant colors– and the blues of the fermenting indigo vat.  The participants level of expertise within this field spanned from commercial textile designers–natural paint makers–scientific illustrators–to professional felters. I was so inspired, and grateful for the advanced level of awareness that was brought to this workshop.  We could have spent at least two days simply networking and weaving our skill base together, to bring forth a natural color and fiber revolution.

A handwoven hemp– roughly retted and then woven on back strap looms by the Karen women of North Western Thailand, dyed in our native toyon dye bath.

A beautiful example of Indigo on silk– with the use of a bundling shibori resist technique.

Black walnut browns over dyed with fermented indigo.

A blend of many dips in many baths- including eucalyptus, indigo, and possibly one other species…

A well organized compilation of samples– raw hemp, organic cotton, and blends of both fibers, dyed in the native species, as well as eucalyptus.

Samples were a challenge to extract, with so many floating and submerged within the pots.  There are always a few little pieces that show up at the end of the day, as I’m cleaning and re-pouring the dyes.

Thank you Berkeley.. The biological diversity of the garden was deeply reflected in the diversity of talent, capacity for understanding, and depth of interest of all those who came. I enjoyed myself so much- and am excited for our future collaborations.

Bolinas is a town set within in our Northern California coastal region that could never be summed up by one person, in one blog.  Yet, if I were to attempt to share with you the magic of this place I’d start with the mind blowing trails that hug the coast, and lead to among many things.. a clothing optional swimming lake that rests just above the Pacific Ocean.  It includes a human community of artists, poets, musicians, organic farmers, nationally renown gardeners, permaculturalists, thinkers, and philosophers, (and again these descriptions just skim the surface.)  This is also a community that was well-known in my childhood for taking out any and all sign posts leading to it.  The quieter, the better was the philosophy, and still is.  This entry, I realize is a virtual sign-post for a town that desires no publicity- and so I apologize in advance for any extra attention that may come its way.  However, exciting things are brewing in this gorgeous place.  Wild and cultivated dye colors are being discussed, and planned.

From the back of the farm the expansive view of the Pacific Ocean

The Regenerative Design Institute is a nonprofit educational organization with the vision that all people can live in a mutually enhancing relationship with the earth.  They’ve been teaching and practicing the ‘way’ for some time now.  Their farm currently supplies their partner organization the  Commonweal institute with clean, organic produce for those individuals recovering and surviving cancer.

European variety blue elderberry- great dye making species

The Regenerative Design Institute will be the site of a new breed of textile classes in the near future.  A place where cultivated species as well as tended natives will be used on an ongoing basis for color creation.  It will be a place for serious study and practice of this art form.  My visit to the gardens and surrounding wild lands imbued me with a feeling of complete serenity as well as delight– that yes, there will soon be the opportunity to chart and directly measure the effects of sustainable wild-lands harvesting.

For those coming to Berkeley this weekend, you’ll get a taste of the first harvest of the Bolinas horsetail.  The Regenerative Design Institute site is currently full with this 380 million year old species.  The early spring shoots are showing promise of a very soft pinkish tan, (as far as I can tell from the sweet smelling dye vat that boils away downstairs).  My experience of harvesting the shoots in the late spring has been that the color deepens as the soil dries out.

last year's late spring rose from horsetail-- on a Point Reyes wool

Of all the many native plants that we will have the opportunity to work with– horsetail is one of the unique color options that cannot be replicated by any other species that I’ve worked with.  Some come close, but none quite match this lovely soft shade of rose.

Paige Green Photography: Shugri is wearing a Point Reyes wool handspun hooded scarf dyed in madder root.

Its been gently rumbling throughout this blog, the message of fibershed has rippled out here and there.  However, its now a done deal! On Saturday March 13th, a team of artisans came together, over fresh local oysters, and Napa Valley biodynamic wines, and launched the project, amongst a receptive and supportive audience of family and friends.

The goal is to create a wardrobe that I wear from fibers and dye plants sourced within a 150 mile radius of my front door.

Why we’re doing it:  I’ve written a bit about the textile industry in this blog before– and most of the readers who come to this site, are here to learn about alternative color sources.  Even so, many people are unaware that the textile industry is the #1 contaminator of fresh water resources in the world– there are an average of 2,000 synthetic chemicals used to treat our garments–these chemicals are known to create anywhere from irritating to fatal effects in humans.  And, if that wasn’t enough–even though the United States has moved most of its industry off-shore, textiles create the 5th largest carbon footprint of any industry in the nation.

[For more facts on the industry see O ecotextiles]

My response to this litany of unappealing facts has been brewing for many years, and since the recent economic debacle that has many communities facing a financial tail-spin–I felt it might be time for some investigation into how we could turn our fashion industry into one that worked hand-in-hand with organic regional agriculture, local economies, and principles of sustainability.

Fibershed is designed to be a module that gathers information about the possibilities, opportunities and challenges of creating bioregional clothing–and then share these stories with you.  With the hope that both artisan scale and commercial production textile ventures will begin to harness the opportunities of creating and honing a stronger local component within their product lines.

Paige Green Photo: One of the local Chileno Valley Sheep. This lady is likely the CMV breed

Our Fibershed team consists of Paige Green who will be documenting the farmers, herds, and wildlands where our raw materials for the wardrobe will be sourced.  Our film team Melissa Mansfield and Averan Gale will be creating a video documentary of our story.  Heidi Iverson is the knit wear designer, pattern drafter, and all-around style sensible artisan.  We also have a number of knitters and spinners from around the Bay Area who are bringing their talents to the project.  If you’d like to get involved as a collaborating artisan, feel free to contact me.

To learn more about the project you can click on the image below, and go to our grassroots  kickstarter campaign.  We are using an innovative new community based model of gathering pledges– We are a non-profit– but not a 501-c3.  We decided to do this because we are focused on being a one-year, ‘project-based’  team.  All the money that comes in, goes directly into the community of farmers, artisans, photographer, and film makers.

I and all the team members look forward to bringing you the most beautiful, jaw-dropping pictures, well written stories, and captivating films.  So if you’ve been happy with this blog so far– imagine it getting even more interactive, more beautiful, and more frequently written in!  If you’d like to see that happen–make a pledge and spend a few moments thinking about all the others in your community of friends and family who would like this project, and then forward them the message. We are the ones that make this happen!!

thank you….

The first annual Permaculture Marin dye workshop was as pleasant a day as could be imagined. The clouds parted, the blossoming fruit trees stood above dense carpets of multiple shades of green, and the people gathered.

An intersection of passion, prior experience, and curiosity brought together a group of men and women with a broad background of weaving, teaching, gardening, farming, and spinning experience.  We created a laboratory of creative color — using toyon, indigo, black walnut, fennel, french broom, coffeeberry, iron, and tannin.

The indigo vat was slow to ferment the day before the workshop–too cold for the yeast.  The sun came out for just enough time to coax it into producing some very lovely blues.

This workshop took place at one of the most beautiful of gardens.  Originally planted, designed and cared for by teacher, farmer, and weaver Penny Livingston of the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas.  The land is now tended and cared for by Lauren, Dave and Molly– all teachers, and gardeners extraordinaire.  The strawbale structures, the gray water systems, the orchards, and the silver dollar eucalyptus planted for its dye properties are just some of the many elements of this amazing homestead.

The colors of the day

The dye pots getting introduced to the people.

The creations were mesmerizing– the colors soft but striking.

Thank you Permaculture Marin for your work!  I am so grateful for all you did to make this day happen.  Beginning months before we set foot in the garden, until the day of… The coordination of all the details in addition to the worlds greatest lunch, together made for a beautiful experience, now indelibly placed within the memory of all good things.