Our first Regenerative Design Institute textile class was held yesterday, and what a day it was!  Re-skilling is happening in our community one step at a time– practical DIY textile education is here! (Check out RDI’s classes)

The Pacific Coast was feeling pretty damp yesterday– so we went into the warm and lovely greenhouse to do our work, and keep from getting too wet.

We put the dry line outdoors– under some trees, it seemed to do the trick.  The scarf that Dustin holds is an incredible testament to the late summer horsetail.

More horsetail in the foreground here, on lambswool– the soft pink color it produced was jaw-dropping!

It also proved to work beautifully on silk shibori pieces as well..  Rose is holding her horsetail scarf– a piece that she created with folding and tongue depressors.

Erin made this incredible indigo and california sagebrush piece with a pole wrapping technique.. a lovely outcome to say the least.

A beautiful and creatively dyed wool skein dipped in toyon, sage, on its way to another layer of color in the black walnut bath…

A series of wool strands dyed in all of our native colors (with the addition of indigo)…

A beautiful bowl of samples ready to be rinsed..

It was an honor to collaborate with participants whose life’s work spanned from the home-design-and-build sector– to organic farming.. we had an extremely talented and inspiring group who brought a new and unique flair to the ancient processes. I am so grateful for each and everyone’s participation– what a joy to explore the native colors with you!

Our next Natural Dye Workshop will be held on Oct. 3rd at Lambtown

Click here for the link and scroll down to for the natural dye class

La Belle Couleurs

September 6, 2010

Tannins, seeds of annatto, N’peku bark, and madder proved to have an almost infinite range of colors than I could have ever imagined– these totally unique processes were uncovered during my sojourn studying with a green chemist in the 10th century village just outside of Avignon, France.

I walked each morning through winding medieval lanes to the home and studio of Monsieur Garcia.  A genius botanic chemist, committed to the innovation of natural dye processes for the industrial scale.

We worked long days in his lab– exploring what seemed to be a small fraction of the possible permutations that one could create with simple combinations of plant pigment, pH, and readily available minerals.

The options created with indigo applications were jaw-dropping… for me, who has been immersing in indigo, and creating indigo washes, for some time– it was incredible to learn how to make miniature vats of reduced indigo paint within minutes– without the use of any toxic materials or synthetically created reducing agents.

This is an example of the range and variation we created with the use of tannin.  These greens, yellows, reds, and violets were brought to life with only two plant species.

We silk-screened masses of color variations on a locally produced wool fabric.

I spent many moments running up and down the 12th century staircase, moving between the application lab, and the larger machinery on the ground floor.  All the while attempting to keep from knocking myself out on the very low beams that framed the house.  I think people were much smaller back in the day this home was built… But what a gorgeous home it was!

This particular silk-screen has permanently changed my perception of what is possible with ellagic tannins… incredible.

The little village has a very small number of permanent residents– and yet, even within this tiny ancient city, there is a botanic garden– growing a collection of 300 dye species!

The plant colors, the ripening figs, the masses of sweet dangling grapes at every corner… the limestone architecture, all together has created an unforgettable sensorial combination.

Summer Creation

August 27, 2010

I spent the early afternoon across the Bay in the backyard of Dr. Sara Gottfried, to give her a dye garden consult and provide her with some materials for eco-painting exploration.  She had some lovely organic cotton shopping bags ready for adornment.  Her woad crop was looking incredible– and her sticky monkey flower was in full orange bloom.  Since our last consult a year ago, she’s been busily cultivating her dye plants.  Our meeting, this time, was focused on playing with new applications– particularly the use of natural dye paint…

Dr. Sara’s work is focused on helping women and men to live holistic and healthy lives.

It’s pretty well known that our everyday exposure to synthetic compounds has been creating some serious health impacts.  Dr. Sara’s patients, which are everyday folks–show the signs, within their own bodies, of an environment that is pretty chalk full of things they cannot process healthfully.  And for this reason she is committed to learning and incorporating natural and non-toxic ways of living into her own life–and inspiring others to do the same.

Natural dyes are one element, of a multi-thronged approach to shifting our personal practices towards the promotion of vitality– and health– for us, and the planet.

It is elderberry season– I brought this harvest to Dr. Sara’s house, so that she and her daughters could make an elderberry dye bath together.  Elderberry on cotton creates lovely shades of lavender.  We discussed the possibility of naturally dyed nurses robes.

Creating a healthier environment for ourselves, means resourcing and revitalizing our use of natural substances that we humans have had relationships with for eons.

Even good old cow manure, has a use beyond natural garden fertilizer.  We mixed it with hot water, stirred, and made paint.  We were certainly not the first to do this.  The manure of herbivorous animals has been used as a mordant (binder), a paint, a dye, and fuel source for open fires, for as far back as records are available.

Community of Artisans

August 1, 2010

A group of artists and designers from the Fibershed project came together on a foggy Fairfax morning– that within hours became a gorgeous sun-filled afternoon.  Designers Mali Mrozinski and Dyan Ashby prepare wool for combing on Katherine Jolda’s bicycle powered drum carder…

The Fibershed project continues to evolve and nurture a variety of our goals and visions for a cleaner and more community centered way of life.  Most of us work rather independently within the world of textiles–  it is a great alchemy and fusion when we can come together to learn, create, and share new skills.

Our teacher, Katherine Jolda– the owner and operator of Felt the Sun, designed and built her own bicycle powered drum carder to comb the wool and prepare it for felting.  With a shortage of mills in the immediate area (minus the wonderful Yolo mill), many of us working with the material are in search of ways to process it in efficiently.  The human powered carder can make a 5oz. batt of wool in just minutes!

Katherine spent  6 years on the Navajo reservation, working in a farm-based diabetes prevention program– and during this time built an intricate relationship with the churro sheep and the families that cared for them.

This pre-felted piece was all laid out and ready to felt just before this picture was taken.  This piece makes use of both the churro and the by-product wool from Marin County.

Some finishing touches are being placed on what will become a kundalini mat in Amber Elandt’s Muir Beach home.  Amber is a designer, and raw food chef that just finished an amazing hooded sweater design for the Fibershed wardrobe.

Sue Warhaftig is seen her working her wool into felt.  Sue is a knitter, massage therapist, mother, gardener, canner, and picks up new skills very quickly.

As evidenced by this incredible fedora she completed in just one afternoon!

Molly de Vries the founder of the Fabric Society, and the designer of Furo Shiki fabric products completed a beautiful indigo dyed felted beret. It was just a bit too wet to put on the head.

Molly, her husband and three children have begun a project to live without the use of plastic packaging for a year, she has entitled it the non-disposable life. They are using the Furo Shiki fabric pieces to transport food from farmer’s markets to their Mill Valley home.

The bicycle powered drum carder in action.

Susan Hayes, the designer and owner of Point Reyes Station’s Susan Hayes Handwoven’s is seen here with the wooden mat, agitating the wool into it’s soon-to-be felted form.

These are the talented hands of Erin O’Reilly of the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, CA.  Erin made a beautiful coffeeberry washed felted pouch.

In the process of coming together as a community, we became inspired by one another’s talents and enduring commitment to keeping these skills alive.  Erin, like all of us, value these community experiences greatly; and yet, she has been taking her commitment a step further– by putting countless hours into organizing a series of re-skilling classes that will be offered by RDI this autumn (some of the textile classes will be offered as soon as this September).

Through the process of skill-sharing we are brought into a place of working, communicating, and enjoying one another’s company, in such a way  that we not only enhance our own personal internal experience– but simultaneously we build a network of friendship, knowledge, and practical skill that simplify and bring ease and bounty to our lives.

The company that first brought naturally dyed indigo jeans to the scene in California– is returning to their roots. As apart of the We are Workers campaign, Levi’s is coming home to America in a fascinating and beautiful way.

In honor of this movement and campaign, my dye garden was full of potent, pigment rich dye vats, ready for use by five designers who came out from San Francisco to experiment with real native California colors.

In honor of the historical relationship that the company has with blue, the fermentation indigo pots were alive and well, and ready for a day of dye work.  I intended to illuminate that indigo can be grown in our homeland– and is well suited to create the shades necessary for quality denim designs.


JeWon Yu, Aylin, Karany, Alisa, and Alex, brought beautiful bags of white and blue denim samples and piles of vintage garments for the project.  We prepared everything in alum mordant baths and then spun them dry in my washing machine, preparing everything for same-day dye processes.

The group prepared sample books for all of their fabric swatches, the covers were made of mango leaf dyed hemp.

As a team, they covered a huge amount of natural dye territory.  The clothes line was packed with horsetail, coffeeberry, indigo, black walnut, sage, and bee plant colors.  After giving the group a presentation on the emerging reality and possibility of botanic based dyes- we were all brainstorming and feeling inspired to see the colors take a broader shape in our world.

Rollie the miniature doberman/terrier mix was a wonderful addition to our dye community.  He found interest in every nook of the garden, and especially loved the hay for resting upon.

The process of experimenting with true California color has illuminated a host of earth tones– greens, oranges, yellows, and pinks– all of which are essential representations of our native palate.  And due to the history of the Levi’s company, there will likely always be a love for indigo.

I have been cultivating a source that can grow easily in California, and has the potential to offset the need for synthetic sources.  As the group worked the dye vats, we remained surrounded by test plots of Polygonum tinctorium– the Japanese Indigo variety that I love, and I intend will have a future as the premier choice of blue.

We used our rinse wash to water the crop, a process that allowed everyone to see how pure the natural dye process truly is.  The plants are fed by remains of the dye baths.

Solar Dye vats created these beautiful hemp and cotton samples.

The horsetail was so pinkish orange that day.. the quality of the dye vats at this time of year are just miraculous.

Not sure how these coffeeberry shoes turned out– but the process was fun.  The group also dyed American currency.  They reminded me the money was cotton– and that it would take dye like any natural fiber.

The car was loaded up with bags of ready dyed materials, on their way back to the Levi’s offices– ready for presenting to a bigger audience.. with the intent that botanic dyes have a significant presence in Levi’s future design plans.

The Young Ones

July 20, 2010

It was our final week at Ecological Arts camp this year.  I worked with four and five year olds for five dayes of adobe, felting, natural dye painting, immersion dyeing, harvesting, silk paper making, and spinning.  The two ladies in the above picture are sharing their prayer flags.  They used one color at a time.  Each paint symbolized a part of the ecosystem.  We began with soil, we then added a layer of plants in the form of indigo wash, and finished the pieces with a layer provided by insects– cochineal beetles.  Each member of the ecosystem contributing to the colors– overlapping, and intersecting through each child’s imaginative intention.

Ben is seen here admiring his adobe house, wearing his Toyon dyed recycled T-shirt and habatai silk scarf on his head.  He became a Ninja, once he decided to wear his silk scarf around his forehead.  Dicing the air with his hands and kicking at invisible attackers with his feet.  He was quite entertaining.

Hannah was the youngest of our group.  She dyed an old towel dress, and her silk scarf in Toyon.  Her adobe house can be seen in the corner of the above picture– she called this her pancake house.

The Pancake house was a perfect home for a hand.

Some of these houses were perfect homes for little creatures– this one was made for insects and butterflies especially.  Working with such young children is a pure joy.  When we painted our prayer flags the children meditatively painted for an hour.  One girl said, ‘this is the best day of camp I’ve ever had,’ as she carefully painted ochre onto her cotton flag.

It amazes me how simple the requirements are for facilitating joy.  The children responded purely and with such focus to the use of these natural paints, not once did they request other colors– they peacefully and gratefully worked with the palate that nature provided.

Eco-Arts on the Bay

July 4, 2010

Two weeks of Eco-Arts classes just wrapped up… and I can say I am thoroughly content and exhausted from the experience.  In one week we cover between five and seven ancient art forms whose modern applications have a strong potential to create a more sustainable material culture– adobe house building, wild paper, animal and plant fiber spinning, felting, weaving, and natural dyeing are all covered..

The children create their own adobe houses from clay, sand, and dirt… We gather, cut and measure willow frames, and make our own silk paper roofs.

The silk paper is made with raw fibers, and gathered objects that the children harvest from the site.  We make sure to use materials sourced from the ground– or from invasive species for this particular project.

The houses are sometimes quite minimalist…

And others are more ornate..  In both cases, there is a strong attention paid to detail, and the houses always represent the aesthetic of the creator.  Every child spends hours, and sometimes days composing their homes.

This year I was asked if they could add jellyfish to their adobe homes… I gently re-directed the beach gathering practice to sea glass, and rocks, which make much better furniture than do dead jellyfish.

These sisters were very proud of their sticky monkey dyed T-shirts and silk scarves, the hint of pink came from cochineal that was painted on as a final touch.

Milo made his T-shirt come alive with cochineal brush work, and a pounded pansy.  His silk scarf was placed just-so– that he could be a ‘sushi chef.’  All of the Japanese shibori patterns, kumihomo braiding, and silk paper must have trickled into the children’s psyches, because by the end of the week, they were all pretending to be sushi chefs.

We also made paint from soymilk and clay.. This cotton fabric piece was painted with red dirt, and filled in with a cochineal wash.

By the end of the week, we were weaving medicine pouches with all of our naturally dyed wool yarns.  Some of the children handspun their wool as well.  I brought a spinning wheel in for them to begin to learn and understand the processes of fiber– and the technology surrounding it.  Overall, a fabulous week was had by all– and as you can tell– a very excited, and sometimes silly group makes for a great learning community!

Heart’s Desire

June 22, 2010

Heart’s desire beach was the location of the 6th consecutive workshop that I led last week.  I do apologize for the lack of posts.  Summer becomes a busy time of teaching, planting, watering, and tending.   In general the solstice brings so much more activity than any time of year– more light, means more time in the day to do things, and it seems there is so much to do…

I worked with Environmental Traveling Companions out at the State Park along Tomales Bay for a one day dye workshop.  These young adults from Oakland, San Francisco, and Napa are selected to take a 24 day road trip throughout California, as a means to build leadership skills, get out into nature, and create community through peaceful and conscious communication.

We used two of my favorite native species– Toyon and Sticky Monkey Flower.  The toyon had been brewing since the winter months, and the Sticky Monkey was freshly harvested at a ranch in West Marin.  The students went on a walk through the park with me to identify the native species that we were using for our vats.  We discussed how the use of local resources can offset our need for foreign and synthetic substances.  We also discussed how the practice of using these native species, done in conjunction with propagating them, enhances biodiversity, and awareness of indigenous habitat.

Some students dipped their scarves in both vats for a two-toned effect.

Toyon with a creative use of shibori patterning.

Toyon and Sticky Monkey in the wind hanging on coffeeberry bushes..

Students then used a combination of earth pigments and soy milk to make natural paints that they then used to paint onto their cotton squares.  They are creating a collaborative quilt with messages about their experience on this long 24 day journey that they are now embarking upon with one another.

These were messages that the students quietly reflected upon, and then began to paint.  These were their thoughts, and their mantras..

Toyon dyed cotton, with iron mud paint.

Done with a very fine bamboo brush…

The young people said it all.  Not much to add to this body of wisdom.

Thank you ETC for such an incredible day– I wish you many happy and awe inspiring days on your journey.

Restoration Art Forms

June 9, 2010

The students at the Lagunitas School took part in an interdisciplinary process of ecological restoration, natural dye making, and weaving this year.  To source our raw materials we ventured into the restoration site that exists just outside the student’s classroom.  We planted, tended, dyed and wove…

This is a group of second and third grade students from the Waldorf Inpsired classroom.  Their older brothers and sisters planted native plants over the last two years within an area of compacted soil, and poor drainage–with an intention to improve natural habitat for insects, amphibians, and birds.  The restoration site is now cared for by the younger students who are able, due to the maturity of some of the species–harvest for natural dyes.

We brought the dye pot out into the garden, and put our coyote brush trimmings right into the vat.  The students asked the plant’s permission prior to taking any leaves or twigs.  We likened our harvesting regime to giving the coyote brush a ‘hair-cut’.

After dyeing our yarns in coyote brush yellow, and toyon orange, we began the process of weaving our medicine pouches.  Using a simple cardboard loom, and a unique warping style– the children wove in the round.

Up close, you can see the beautiful transition of the weaving moving from coffeeberry green, toyon orange, and coyote brush yellow.  The weaving will be turned inside out once the woven pocket is removed from the cardboard frame.  This way, all the loose ends will be on the inside of the piece.

This curriculum is well designed for the activity and energy level of this age group.  Whenever the handwork is done, students go outside to put elderberries in the ground!  Good for them…. good for the ecosystem.  I am always looking for mutually beneficial outcomes.. the mottos are ‘challenges are opportunities… find the best place for everyone’s skill… direct energy where it becomes most useful.’

It is quite beautiful to see what happens when human energy is focused on constructing healthy ecosystems, rather than destructing those systems.  Although we were designing a restoration site initially to learn about native plants and ethnobotany…we soon realized that this restoration site, was creating outcomes far beyond our initial hopes.  In the third year of planting, for the first time, a tree frog was found within the restoration garden.  While there used to be many of these frogs in the area, most had disappeared.  This frog was found right in the middle of a soap root and coffeeberry planting!  It seems that this little restored zone has now become useful habitat.

We are in the process now of trying to understand how we did what we did– and attempt to keep doing it!  We are adding more components to our curriculum as of this year.. and will continue to expand our knowledge of all the members (present and future) of this ecosystem, with the intent to continuously invite more species to our bio-diverse party.

Ecologicalarts supports any and all projects that allow people to continue to live in balance with their land.  When the opportunity came to share this event with the you all– I couldn’t resist.  For the first time ever, a trip is being organized to the Black Mesa Weavers for Life and Land, during their annual wool buy, and you’re invited!

The Navajo Churro fleece is prized for its amazing colors- black and white, tans, charcoals, grays, silvers, reds and browns.  The breed is listed as ‘threatened’ by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

The life that the Navajo have honed with the Churro, has been cultivated on the land since the herds arrived to the continent in 1494.  It is the oldest well-documented animal fiber tradition in North America.

The Wool Buy will take place this Spring from June 10th- 14th.  Participants will have the opportunity to travel together to the reservation to purchase wool directly from the families who raise the sheep.  The trip includes transportation, food,  and 15 pounds of Navajo-Churro wool.

The trip is $450, $200 is tax deductible.  Orders for fleeces at $20/lb are also being taken by those who would like to work with this incredible fiber but who can’t make the trip.  For more information contact Katherine Jolda at (928) 221-4815.