Fibershed

“Black Sheep”: Dry-point monoprint by Celia Wedding

“Black Sheep”: Dry-point monoprint by Celia Wedding

FIBERSHED

Fashion gets a slow-food-style makeover

By Jillian Laurel Steinberger

Where does our clothing come from and where does it end up? We’ve grown accustomed to asking such questions about our food and our water, but why not about our fabrics and dyes? What if we could get sweaters, jeans, and hats made from locally produced materials that are organic and nontoxic: healthy for workers to produce, healthy for us to wear, and healthy for the earth? And what if these clothes were … well … hot, chic, au courant?

The answer is in an emerging term: fibershed.

Like “foodshed” and “watershed,” this word gives us an awareness of context, of where we stand in the supply chain of our region’s precious resources. According to the nonprofit of the same name, a fibershed is “a geographical landscape that defines and gives boundaries to a natural textile resource base. Awareness of this bioregional designation engenders appreciation, connectivity, and sensitivity for the life-giving resources within our homelands.” The term gained proper-noun status around 2010 when West Marin fiber artist Rebecca Burgess launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $10,000 to put toward her concept of creating a “bioregional wardrobe” made completely from fibers and dyes sourced from within 150 miles of her home. By 2012, with the help of administrator Dustin Kahn and others, Fibershed was fully operational, with a variety of research and outreach programs underway.

The nonprofit defined the Northern California fibershed as reaching from Tehama County in the north through Monterey County in the south, and from West Marin east to the Sierra Nevada. Burgess’s plan was for an open-source and unlicensed template for other regions. The organization’s posted guide on how to set up a local fibershed went viral, and soon there were regional projects appearing in places like Oregon, Vermont, British Columbia, and England.

By 2013, Fibershed organizers had completed a 70-page Wool Mill Feasibility Study and were developing projects around “carbon farming,” hemp seed planting trials, and market feasibility of natural dyes. They had held community-building events and had twice put on sold-out fiber symposia and fashion galas. There was immediate recognition that the organization had connected the dots from the farmers of raw materials through millers and designers to retailers of local, sustainable products, thus defining a market space at a time when consumer demand is rising.

“Fibershed really made sense to me as a fiber grower,” says Dru Rivers, co-founder of Capay Valley’s renowned, certified-organic Full Belly Farm, where wool yarn is one of many items produced. Robin Lynde of Vacaville’s Meridian Jacobs Farm appreciates how Fibershed has fostered connections: “They are creating awareness so that people who are raising sheep in small flocks have a market and the designers are aware of the wool. As a farmer, you don’t have time to do that footwork yourself.”

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Sarah Bloch models an ensemble designed by Amy Keefer and Myrrhia Fine Knitwear. The jacket and dress are made of Fox Fiber organic cotton. The neck cowl is made of Twirl Yarn in organic alpaca, wool, and mohair. (Photo courtesy of Ecologique Fashion)

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Andrea Plell of Ecologique Fashion models an ensemble that shows the beautiful work coming out of our local fibershed. The Oaxacan Sky Mystic Spiral Beret is by Oakland-based O’Lover Hats. The Pyramid Infiniti Scarf, MC Jacket, and A Line Pyramid Skirt are by Oakland-based Myrrhia Fine Knitwear and are made with organic fibers by Capay Valley grower Sally Fox. (Photo courtesy of Ecologique Fashion)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young urban designers with an interest in ethical fashion like it too. Andrea Plell of Ecologique Fashion, an eco-fashion promoter, organized the second annual Fibershed Fashion Gala last fall at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma. “We emulated what a garment supply chain could look like, with 11 looks in total by 22 designers,” she says. The designers, including several from the East Bay, were encouraged to adopt low- or no-waste production processes. Plell represents Oakland’s trendy 25th Street Collective and helped a group of associated designers open Metis Makers, a trendy slow fashion storefront on Grant Avenue in San Francisco.

Oakland designer Katharine Jolda, who teaches felting and natural dyeing through Fibershed, describes the empowering nature of the work: “Too often when we think about where resources come from, those of us who care abstain. We become vegetarian or don’t buy from a certain brand. There’s a lot of things that we don’t do. With Fibershed’s work, it’s very strongly something we are choosing to do. This is why I think of it as creative direct action.”

Amber Bieg, MBA, of California Cloth, helped author the feasibility study. “I want to disrupt our disposable textile economy,” she says. “We have a crazy problem of textile waste. We should not have disposable clothing; we should have clothing designed to last for 10 years.” Even the eco-fashionistas say more is not better, but quality is: When you need more “new” in your closet or your life, well-designed, durable garments will re-home easily at the consignment shop.

Top left: Starring at the 2013 Fibershed Fashion Gala was a fantasy wedding gown, modeled here by Daphne Laurels. Dubbed “Wool Warrior in Love,” the gown was designed by Oakland’s 25th Street Collective members Hiroko Kurihara Designs and Sabrina Fair using wool milled at Valley Ford Mercantile & Wool Mill in Sonoma County.
Bottom left: For a totally “Oakland street-chic” look at the 2013 Fibershed Fashion Gala, designers Kacy Dapp, Sierra Reading, and Moxie Shoes dressed model Geana Sieburger in items inspired by the free-form shapes and growth patterns of trees. The open-knit tank top and bandeau were hand knit with Meridian Jacobs wool yarn and Fox Fiber organic color-grown cotton. The twill miniskirt was hand woven with Yolo Wool Mill’s mohair/churro blend, and Fox Fibre black” merino wool. The fingerless gloves were hand knit with wool from Full Belly Farm, as was the wool hat from Fox Fibre and Bodega Pastures materials. The sandals are by Moxie Shoes, an Oakland company that works out of the 25th Street Collective.
(Photos by Paige Green Photography are courtesy of Fibershed)
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O’Lover Hats milliner Elwyn Carter at her her work table (Photo by Tara Layman)

O’Lover Hats milliner Elwyn Carter at her her work table
(Photo by Tara Layman)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Slow Fashion Infrastructure

Fibershed’s Wool Mill Feasibility Study was revealing. It looked at California, a net importer of wool, and yet producer of over three million pounds of wool (according to the USDA) per year, most of it very high quality (“soft enough to wear near the body”). So what’s wrong?

Most wool produced in the U.S. is sold cheaply (under two dollars a pound) and shipped to China and India for textile manufacturing. About 5% goes to landfills because many small sheep farmers—well over 80% of producers—don’t know what else to do with it.

Market structures that favor globalization have depressed the need for local mills, and so in Northern California it can take up to eight months to have raw fleece processed into a usable product from a local mill. Clearly, the raw material exists and could provide a valuable income stream for small farmers, but a local industry has to be created.  As it turns out, there has been a quiet micro-artisanal market operating here for years, and it is growing.

Artisanal Production

Kristine Vejar, owner of Oakland’s A Verb for Keeping Warm, stands with her pet Angora bunny Marcel, in front of the store’s line of Pioneer yarn, spun from Sally Fox’s Merino wool. Marcel, who is also a fiber animal, lives in the dye garden behind the shop, where Kristine dyes the yarn herself. (Photo courtesy of Adrienne Rodriguez)

Kristine Vejar, owner of Oakland’s A Verb for Keeping Warm, stands with her pet Angora bunny Marcel, in front of the store’s line of Pioneer yarn, spun from Sally Fox’s Merino wool. Marcel, who is also a fiber animal, lives in the dye garden behind the shop, where Kristine dyes the yarn herself. (Photo courtesy of Adrienne Rodriguez)

For about 30 years, Yolo Wool Mill—which started as the still-extant Wool Scouring Co-op—held down the fort in Northern California all by itself. Today, the mill, located in Woodland, near Davis, still specializes in washing, carding, and spinning wool into roving, batting, and about 6,000 pounds of yarn per year, most of it specialty yarn for customers interested in unique characteristics of breed and terroir. On open house days, visitors enjoy seeing the spectacle of big 1920s–1950s-era machines at work.

Last year, Valley Ford Mercantile & Wool Mill opened in Sonoma County. With its special needle-felting machine, unique on the West Coast, this mill is a boon for designers using felts, as well as for companies creating luxurious bedding, textiles for luggage, furniture stuffing, and alternative insulation. Using wool from their own Dorset sheep, the owners produced the fabric for the pièce de résistance at Fibershed’s 2013 Fashion Gala: designer Hiroko Kurihara’s fantasy eco-wedding gown . Elwyn Crawford, Kurihara’s colleague from Oakland’s 25th Street Collective, is working with the mill to create a custom felt for her polished O’Lover-label hats.

A third mill, Mendocino Wool & Fiber, is expected to open by the end of 2014. Owner Matt Gilbert will specialize in processing fine fleeces, such as Merinos, into very soft yarns. These are the types of thin-gauge yarns needed by fine-knitwear designers like Oakland-based Myrrhia Resnick of Myrrhia Fine Knitwear, who is ready to scale up and wants to source locally.

“I want to make yarn for a sweater than can be worn near your skin without scratching or blankets that you can wrap your newborn in,” says Gilbert, a sheep shearer for 15 years. By keeping his mill “small but nimble,” he hopes to offer greater production capacity for clients like Kristine Vejar of Oakland’s boutique yarn store A Verb for Keeping Warm, who currently sends raw wool she buys from local producers to Vermont for certified-organic milling.
Vejar acknowledges the challenges to building the new industry. “There is a solid learning curve when it comes to milling,” she says. “Each fleece means tweaking the machine. This requires a skilled and consistent labor force.” But with backlogs of several months to get orders returned, there is substantial room for new mills to enter the field.

A Maker-Designer Processes Raw Wool While Burning Fat, Not Oil, In Oakland
“My bicycle-powered carder, it’s all I use,” says Katharine Jolda, whose previous choices were to send wool off to be carded at a high cost or take the time to do it herself. “Using all the great bike teaching skills in the East Bay, I was able to build this pedal-powered machine. I’ve taken it to the Maker Faire, the Mini Maker Faire at Park Day School, and the Berkeley Hall of Science. It’s an interesting nexus here because we all know why the fiber manufacturers moved overseas, why we have huge factories with child labor. If we want to make fiber with some level of human-powered technology, [this] is awesome.”
(Photo by Paige Green Photography, courtesy of Fibershed)
Katharine Jolda on her Cyclocarder.

Katharine Jolda on her Cyclocarder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion Follows the Slow Food Model

Just as the slow food movement has spread through the national consciousness, so will slow fashion. Fibershed is wrestling with how to support the for-profit sector in putting an eco-textile industry with a triple bottom line—Profit, People, Planet—on the map. It faces what the electric car and solar energy industries have faced: challenges in creating new infrastructure, meeting (or encouraging) consumer demand, and penetrating a corporate world where the single bottom line—profit—dominates.

Fibershed’s Wool Feasibility Study showed just how much abundance was not being used. “The assumption was that California wool was not high quality, so we were surprised to find that it is,” says Amber Bieg. “There is all this product, but no industry. People know about New Zealand Merino, but not California Merino.”

So would a right-sized, financially and environmentally sustainable mill get our nascent wool industry on its feet? Is there value in developing other fibers? Hemp, for instance, just legalized in the 2014 Farm Bill, is an ethical and profitable win for eco-farmers, manufacturers, and consumers. This drought-tolerant weed has a higher per-acre yield than cotton and has many uses—including that its seed is a superfood—and Fibershed is conducting feasibility studies on that too, spearheading hemp seed trials in Colorado and studying the processing of hemp fiber.

Courtesy of: Fibershed Feasibility Study Team, Illustrations © Ron and Joe/Shutterstock.

Courtesy of: Fibershed Feasibility Study Team, Illustrations © Ron and Joe/Shutterstock.

Idealistically, the authors envisioned a mill that would ramp up production to account for all wool produced in the state—over three million pounds—and focus on wool knit fabrics. It would be housed in an ultra-eco closed-loop facility that would recycle all its water, create compost out of waste, and use renewable energy, resulting in a net carbon benefit. It would be cooperatively owned by farmers, producers, artisans, designers, and other stakeholders.

But at $26 million, the price tag resulted in sticker shock, and based upon current low demand for California’s wool, the utopian vision had to be modified. So Fibershed is back at the drawing board with a second feasibility study that focuses more on the industry as the series of small mills that are currently growing.

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This conceptual sketch (by Bill O’Callaghan) illustrates a “closed-loop” California wool mill, envisioned to be a state-of-the-art facility optimized for environmental performance and longevity.

Bonnie the Anatolian Shepherd (a Turkish breed) guards her flock of heirloom Babydoll Southdowns. Guardian dogs are so effective against predators that the usual suspects, coyotes and cougars, just don’t come around. The dogs are not socialized to humans, but are devoted to their sheep, playing with them and even attending ewes during lambing. Many farmers sustain their flocks by leasing them to organic wineries and public lands to browse on weeds, where the sheep serve as an alternative to pesticides. Here the Babydolls from Livermore’s Batteate Ranch are pictured working as a “chain gang” across from Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. Don’t worry, the sheep are safe, happy, and not in any trouble with the law. (Photo courtesy of Allison Batteate)

Bonnie the Anatolian Shepherd (a Turkish breed) guards her flock of heirloom Babydoll Southdowns. Guardian dogs are so effective against predators that the usual suspects, coyotes and cougars, just don’t come around. The dogs are not socialized to humans, but are devoted to their sheep, playing with them and even attending ewes during lambing. Many farmers sustain their flocks by leasing them to organic wineries and public lands to browse on weeds, where the sheep serve as an alternative to pesticides. Here the Babydolls from Livermore’s Batteate Ranch are pictured working as a “chain gang” across from Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. Don’t worry, the sheep are safe, happy, and not in any trouble with the law. (Photo courtesy of Allison Batteate)

Handsome Kingston is the ram of a flock of Navajo Churros kept by the Yolo Wool Mill in Woodland. Brought over by the conquistadors, Navajo Churros are the first breed of sheep to arrive in the Americas. The vintage breed goes with the mill’s vintage machinery, which dates from the 1920s through the 50s. Watch for open houses and events at yolowoolmill.com. Author Jillian Steinberger wants to marry this sheep.

Handsome Kingston is the ram of a flock of Navajo Churros kept by the Yolo Wool Mill in Woodland. Brought over by the conquistadors, Navajo Churros are the first breed of sheep to arrive in the Americas. The vintage breed goes with the mill’s vintage machinery, which dates from the 1920s through the 50s.

Sheep: an Efficient Animal with Lots to Give

Unaware of the whirr of the mills, sheep are hard at work throughout California, munching weeds on pesticide-free vineyards and diminishing fire hazards on public lands such as East Bay Regional Parks and utility-owned grasslands. On a well-managed organic farm like Full Belly, they might also provide fiber, milk, meat, and added soil fertility.

“Originally, I wanted to raise sheep for spinning yarn,” says Full Belly’s Dru Rivers, whose farm sends raw wool to a certified organic mill in Vermont. (For the wool to remain certified, the mill must be certified as well.) “It’s an important marketing point for us,” says Rivers, who adds that she would be excited to have a local certified organic mill in California, especially if it were Yolo Wool Mill in nearby Woodland.

Increasingly, Full Belly’s sheep have become less valuable for wool and more valuable for meat, which is sold—along with produce—to restaurants like Chez Panisse and Oliveto and to the farm’s CSA subscribers. But the farm’s 84 Merino and Rambouillet sheep also work behind the scenes as they are rotated through produce fields, eating up leftovers after the harvest, then eating and digesting the nitrogen-fixing spring and fall cover crops, leaving behind that special sheep brand of fertilizer.

Athena, a five-year-old Jacob ewe, nudges her newborn a few minutes after birth. (Photos courtesy of Robin Lynde)

Athena, a five-year-old Jacob ewe, nudges her newborn a few minutes after birth.
(Photos courtesy of Robin Lynde)

At Vacaville’s Meridian Jacobs Farm Robin Lynde, one of Fibershed’s original certified farmer producers, tends a flock of 60 Jacobs sheep, a rare heirloom breed that may have descended from spotted two- to six-horned sheep mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. “It’s nice to look out on the field and identify the Jacobs’ by their spots,” says Lynde of her sheep, who are hardy and have strong mothering instincts.

To keep the farm financially sustainable, Lynde sells Jacobs lambs—known for their mild-flavored meat—direct to farm club members, who have them butchered offsite. But it’s their colored, mid-grade wool that Lynde values most. It’s a good choice for blankets, hats, and sweaters, and it’s easier to wash and spin than the finer fiber of Merino sheep. This makes it a good teaching tool for students at Lynde’s spinning and weaving classes. The farm is a busy place: Lynde also hosts monthly drop-ins for crafters; offers supplies, like spinning wheels, looms, and yarn at her shop; teaches livestock handling; and hosts school field trips and 4H classes. Every year she brings ewes for lambing demonstrations to the Sacramento State Fair.

Jacob lambs cavort through spring pasture. at Meridian Jacobs Farm near Vacaville.

Jacob lambs cavort through spring pasture. at Meridian Jacobs Farm near Vacaville

Farming 50 miles north of Lynde is Sally Fox, who provides knitters with one of the softest wools available from her Viriditas Farm in Capay Valley. The wool comes from her flock of 135 Australian Merino sheep, a breed developed for their fiber in Persia and Spain well before the Middle Ages. This wool is fine enough to be blended with silk and cashmere, and is used for high-end athletic performance wear, which commands a premium over synthetic fabrics. “At the shop, we have all made sweaters from Sally’s wool,” says Verb’s Vejar. “It almost has the feeling of cotton, like a well-loved sweatshirt.” Vejar purchased three years’ worth of Fox’s wool, which she had milled into the store’s Pioneer line of yarn.

But in fact, Fox is best known for her naturally colored organic cotton, also grown on her100-acre certified-organic farm. Originally from Menlo Park, Fox expected to have a career as a scientist, developing disease and pest resistant plants. Then one day in 1982 she found herself holding an unwanted bag of brown cottonseeds, an anomaly in the age of global industrial agriculture, which favors pure-white, dye-ready cotton. She bred those seeds for over 10 years, developing a high-quality fiber with genetic stability that meets the demands of quality control for large manufacturers, and she continues to refine them to this day.

Her beautiful and reliably soft cottons in natural beige,brown, and green are in high demand. Says Myrrhia Resnick of Myrrhia Fine Knitwear, “I was so lucky to have found Sally through the Fibershed project. I remember the first time that I opened a box of Sally’s yarn. It smells incredible, like perfume, like a very unusual flower. Also, Sally’s cotton feels more luxurious, velvety.”

In the 1990s, Fox enjoyed lucrative contracts with major brands, such as Levi’s, Esprit, Fieldcrest Cannon, Ikea, and L.L. Bean, but the dawning of the new millennium saw globalization eroding her market. Recently, she has found that a new, highly diverse customer base has been growing. Among the faithful are slow foodies and eco-fashionistas seeking a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, Vietnam vets with allergic reactions to chemically dyed socks, and fundamentalists who only buy American made.

Like the Full Belly farmers, Fox creates an ecological closed loop on her farm. She says that her spring and fall cover crop of Sonora heirloom wheat has an extensive root mass, which builds the soil and “creates an enormous amount of carbon sequestration.” The winning byproduct is a highly flavored grain, which is great for making quick breads and and is digestible for some people who are gluten intolerant. The sheep graze on the stubble after harvest, cleaning up the fields and boosting fertility.

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Above right: On site at Veriditas Farm in Capay Valley, Rebecca Burgess models an outfit made of Fox Fiber organic colored cotton jersey.
Above left : Farmer Sally Fox selling her cotton and wool at the 2013 Fibershed Fashion Gala.On the right: Fox’s naturally brown cotton in the field, ready to be picked.
(Photos by Paige Green Photography courtesy of Fibershed)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rivers Run Blue

Just like fast food, fast fashion makes many people sick. According to a 2012 report by Green Cross Switzerland and the Blacksmith Institute, a nonprofit that cleans up ecologically devastated sites in the developing world, textile dyeing is one of the world’s top ten sources of pollution. Dyeing uses nine trillion gallons of water annually and contributes approximately 20% of global industrial water pollution. Factories, mostly in China, India, and Bangladesh, dump untreated wastewater containing carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, such as chromium, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury, into waterways near dense communities where the textile workers and their families reside. Flowing into rice paddies and killing off fish, the wastewater destroys local food fields and watersheds.

At the Pearl River Delta in China’s Guangdong province, about 285 million pairs of jeans are dyed and processed each year. It was after Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess visited there and saw a river running a life-devastating shade of synthetic blue that she decided to change her patterns of consumption. The author of Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes (Artisan 2011), Burgess began learning more about indigo, the plant that produces the rich blue-violet dye prized from antiquity but eclipsed by synthetic dyes in the 1800s. She found she could grow a temperate-climate indigo species (Polygonum tinctorium), and she became the first indigo farmer west of the Mississippi since the Civil War. She soon found she had to scale up production, and did so through a partnership with Capay Valley’s Riverdog Farms, but she continues to process the indigo herself, following traditional Japanese protocols. She composts the indigo leaves (using rice hulls donated by Lundberg Family Farms), relying on bacteria to make the blue color available for dyeing. In collaboration with local designers and growers, she has launched Fibershed’s Grow Your Jeans project: The yarns for these prototypes, from small to plus-size, are currently being processed and wound. Meanwhile, Fibershed’s Dustin Kahn has spearheaded a feasibility study for regional natural dye production.

“Blue is one of the rarest colors in nature. One of its only natural sources is the mineral lapis lazuli, an important source of wealth and trade on the old Silk Route through Central Asia. It was commonly used as a pigment in paintings prior to the advent of synthetic color… And yet, blue in pigment form is very rare… and likely why chemists have worked hard to create a synthetic version of it.

“Blue light is trapped by our atmosphere, creating what we know of as a ‘blue sky,’ which is reflected by our seas, oceans, and bodies of water. We call our planet the ‘blue planet’ due to the majority of its surface being covered by water.”
­—Rebecca Burgess

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In the photo above, a bee visits an indigo flower.
Above right: At her Mt. Barnaby Farm in Lagunitas, Rebecca Burgess (in blue shirt) gets help planting Indigo starts from Dyan Ashby (right) and Monica Paz Soldan.
(Photos by Paige Green Photography, courtesy of Fibershed)
Right: Rebecca Burgess turns fermenting indigo leaves the traditional Japanese way on a special composting floor. This is just one step in preparing indigo for use in dyeing fabric.(Photo courtesy of Dustin Kahn)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking for Color

While industrial dyeing has become an arcane chemical secret, natural dyeing can be a fun D.I.Y. activity, accessible to anyone with a large enough pot and a workable place to set it up over heat. Plants, mushrooms, and lichens that can be used for dyes surround us and are free for (responsible) foraging.
Analogies with cooking abound. “With seasonal cooking, the tastes and flavors change with plants’ life cycles. Similarly, different plants give different colors at different times of the year,” explains Deepa Natarajan, creator of a teaching site called PlantsPeople.org. Deepa is also the education program coordinator at the UC Botanical Garden, where she maintains a fiber and dye garden.

It’s an epiphany to learn that some of the seeds we plant for food also produce dye plants. Carrots, for example, turn wool a deep gold. While studying with traditional healers in Eritrea and in Rajasthan, Natarajan learned that medicinal plants are often dye plants. One example is yarrow, which makes a yellow dye and is a remedy for colds, fevers, and other conditions. “Our skin is our largest organ and it definitely absorbs what we put on it,” she points out.

Another of Natarajan’s projects is Seeds to Sew, which she directs through the Permacouture Institute and carries out at seed banks, such as Richmond Grows, Berkeley’s BASIL, the Seedfolks in Oakland, and the Santa Cruz Grows Seed Library. At these sites, she identifies fiber and dye seeds, marking the envelopes with a special stamp. “Besides expanding the usefulness of our gardens, another practical benefit of this project is passing on ancient knowledge and putting the materials of production back in our own hands,” she says.

Above: Coroepsis tinctoria, in Rebecca Burgess’ garden. (Photo by Paige Green Photography, courtesy of Fibershed)

Plant-based Dyes
Scores of plants have dye properties, derived from their roots, bark, leaves, flowers, fruits, or seeds, depending upon the plant. Here are just a few examples:

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  • Food plants: artichoke, avocado pits, black walnut hulls, carrot tops, fennel, loquat leaves, pomegranate skins, prickly pears, onion skins
  • Herbs and spices: asafoetida, rosemary, saffron, St. John’s wort, tumeric
  • Common garden plants: camellia, coreopsis, dark red sunflowers, smoke bush, yellow marguerite daisy
  • Traditional dye plants: indigo, madder root
  • Invasive weeds: blackberry, dandelion, dock, eucalyptus, Scotch broom, oxalis (“sourgrass” or “Bermuda buttercup”)
  • Natives: California poppy, coffeeberry, elderberry, madrone, redwood cones, toyon, lichens
  • Mushrooms: Cortinarius smithii (red), Omphalotus olivascens or Western Jack-o’-Lantern (purple, green, gray), Pisolithus tinctorius or Bohemian truffle (coppery brown), Gymnopilus species (buttery yellow), Phaeolus schweinitzii (gold)

Top: Coroepsis tinctoria, in Rebecca Burgess’ garden (Photo by Paige Green Photography, courtesy of Fibershed)

Above: Loquat trees can be found planted all over the East Bay. Sasha Duerr creates diverse dyes from their leaves, as seen below. When iron is added to the leaves in the dye bath, a rich black is produced. When simply steeped for a week, the leaves produce a deep coral dye. Fallen yellow loquat leaves produce a fluorescent peach color.  (Photo courtesy of Sasha Duerr)

 

Regenerative Fashion: Permacouture

The Permacouture Institute, a Berkeley-based nonprofit, derives its name from the whole-systems design theory, permaculture, which seeks to understand and mimic patterns in nature. Rooted in farm, homestead, and landscape design, permaculture asserts the philosophy “Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share.” In designing for resiliency, permaculturists encourage long and thoughtful observation of a site or a problem, valuing relationships between all beings and all things, recognizing allies (including those unseen), maximizing efficiencies, and creating a shared surplus. Permaculture concepts are spreading to professions like architecture, civil engineering, and even business management. So why not fashion?

Permacouture founder Sasha Duerr, author of The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes (Timber Press/Workman 2011), is the designer of a class called Soil to Studio at California College of the Arts, where she is a professor. Her students revive nontoxic, organic, and place-based recipes using materials like food scraps and garden prunings, turning waste into art supplies. “We are not a fashion capital in the East Bay,” she notes, “but we are a natural-dyeing capital because we get to experiment all year long. We have great growing conditions and great plant diversity, as well as the general curiosity of the creative and food communities.” She adds, “A lot of people in the fashion community want fashion to be like the food community. They’re asking, ‘How do we get back to authenticity?’”

For several years, Duerr has been hosting Dinners to Dye For, a series of slow-textile-meets-slow-food events where participants make dyes from food scraps and finish off the day with a meal drawn from the same foods. A frequent collaborator has been Kelsie Kerr, a former head chef of Chez Panisse, who is currently on target to open her own place, Standard Fare, in Berkeley before summer. This take-away eatery is distinctive in that it eliminates packaging waste by offering prepared food in custom ceramic dishes to heat and eat at home. (Click here for some of Kerr’s Dinner to Dye For recipes.)

“There’s something super satisfying about seeing fashion become as accessible as using food compost and weeds,” says Duerr. “Being able to see waste walk down a runway during New York Fashion Week changes and challenges the concept of where things can come from.” •

Above: Coroepsis tinctoria, in Rebecca Burgess’ garden. (Photo by Paige Green Photography, courtesy of Fibershed)

Above: Coroepsis tinctoria, in Rebecca Burgess’ garden. (Photo by Paige Green Photography, courtesy of Fibershed)

Recipes from a “Dinner to Dye For”

Chef Kelsie Kerr created these recipes for a dyeing and cooking workshop she and artist/teacher Sasha Duerr held last summer at Gospel Flat Farm in Bolinas as part of the Permacouture Institute’s Seasonal Color and Taste Palette Workshop series. Participants learned how to save parts of plants normally discarded during the cooking process and employ them to make dyes that they then used to color fabrics. The dye recipes and instructions for dyeing fabrics can be found in the online version of this article at edibleeastbay.com. (Photo at left is by Martha Duerr.)

Soupe au Pistou

The dye derived from this recipe makes use of the greens from the tops of carrots. When used on wool and silk fiber with an alum premordant, the carrot tops create gorgeous yellows. With an iron modifier, the dye yields deep gray/greens.

Serves 8

1 to 1½ pounds fresh shell beans, shelled (about 1½ cups shelled)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 leek, sliced and soaked in water until clean
⅓ cup olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Bouquet garni with: 1 sprig thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig savory, 1 chile pod
Salt to taste
4 summer squash, sliced
2 cups of green beans, top and tail removed and cut into 1-inch lengths
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

For the pistou:
3 cloves garlic, peeled
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups basil leaves, chopped
½ cup grated parmesan cheese or ¼ cup gruyère and ¼ cup Parmesan
¼ cup olive oil

Place the shelled beans in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot with 3 quarts water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer and cook until tender.
Drain the leek. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat, add the onions and cook until tender (without coloring), about 15 minutes. Add the leek, 6 cloves garlic, bouquet garni, and salt and cook for another 2 minutes. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add squash, green beans, and tomatoes to the soup and cook 5 minutes. Add the shell beans and their cooking liquid and cook another 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.

To make the pistou with mortar and pestle, pound the 3 garlic cloves with salt in a mortar. Add basil and pound it well, then pound in the cheese, stirring in the olive oil at the end. (To make the pistou with a food processor or blender, you’ll process the garlic with salt, add and process the basil along with the olive oil, and then add the cheese.)

Serve the soup with a large spoonful of pistou in each bowl.
Blackberry and Peach Crisp

Wild blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) can be found in many urban and rural areas. The berries create varying shades of pink, lavender, and dark blue-gray in the dye pot, depending on what mordant* is used, and the leaves and stems can be used to produce shades of yellow to gray-greens to dark teal-gray, depending on the mordant. *A mordant is a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye to fix it in a material so the color won’t wash out.

The photo above, by Sasha Duerr, shows a palette of dye colors created during an early fall gathering as part of Permacouture Institute’s Seasonal Color and Taste Palette Series.

The photo above, by Sasha Duerr, shows a palette of dye colors created during an early fall gathering as part of Permacouture Institute’s Seasonal Color and Taste Palette Series.

Serves 8

For the crisp topping:
⅔ cup almonds
1¼ cups flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
For the crisp filling:
3 pounds ripe peaches, pitted and sliced (There should be about 4½ cups fruit.)
1½ cups blackberries
1 tablespoon sugar (to taste)
1½ tablespoons flour
Crisp topping

Toast the almonds in a 375° oven for 6 minutes. Chop when cool and then place in a bowl with the flour, sugars, salt, and cinnamon. Mix well. Add the butter to flour mixture, working it in with your fingers, a pastry blender, or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, just until the mixture comes together and has a crumbly (not sandy) texture.

Stir together peach slices with blackberries. Toss with the sugar and flour. Spread into a 2-quart baking dish and cover with the crisp topping. Place on a baking tray to catch any juices that might bubble over. Bake in a 375° oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until the crisp topping is golden brown the fruit is bubbling in the dish. (Rotate once or twice while cooking for even browning.)

Serve with fresh cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.

 

 

Many historic farms around Northern California keep sheep and invite the public to learn about and interact with their flocks. In Fremont, California State Parks interpretive ranger Elise McFarland, a Livermore resident, is spinning wool from Ardenwood Historic Farm’s flock into yarn. Check out the San Ramon Historic Farm for similar public events. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Wilkes)

Many historic farms around Northern California keep sheep and invite the public to learn about and interact with their flocks. In Fremont, California State Parks interpretive ranger Elise McFarland, a Livermore resident, is spinning wool from Ardenwood Historic Farm’s flock into yarn. Check out the San Ramon Historic Farm for similar public events. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Wilkes)

When county fair time nears each summer, kids across the nation who participate in 4-H livestock programs are preparing for a really big day. Here, Emma Najarian, 12, gives her ewe, Amelia, a good washing prior to shearing. Kids of all ages get direct experience caring for livestock animals in regional 4-H groups throughout the East Bay. Find your group at 4-h.org. (Photo courtesy of Laura Lorenz, a 4-H mom)

When county fair time nears each summer, kids across the nation who participate in 4-H livestock programs are preparing for a really big day. Here, Emma Najarian, 12, gives her ewe, Amelia, a good washing prior to shearing. Kids of all ages get direct experience caring for livestock animals in regional 4-H groups throughout the East Bay. Find your group at 4-h.org. (Photo courtesy of Laura Lorenz, a 4-H mom)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fibershed-Related Events

Ongoing

turmericNATARAJAN

At a workshop taught by Deepa Natarajan in Chennai, India, students tried out turmeric dye in a resist-patterning process.
(Photo courtesy Deep Natarajan)

Monthly
Spinners and Flyers Spinning Guild meetings
This group has been meeting up monthly in the East Bay since 1955.
Info: spindlesandflyers.org

Every second and fourth Sunday
Visit Fibershed’s booth at the Temescal Farmers’ Market in Oakland.

First Thursday each month, 6:30–8:30pm
Spinners Night Out
San Francisco Fiber Studio, 3711 Grand Ave, Oakland
Bring your wheel or drop spindle to this free monthly gathering with other spinners. Info: sffiber.com

Upcoming

Saturday June 14, 8:30am–5pm
Fibershed Tour with Bay Area Green Tours
Held in conjunction with the BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) conference, this tour focuses on Fibershed’s holistic approach to clothing, which supports a culture of artisans as well as farmers. You’ll learn how to develop a wardrobe without toxic dyes, pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified organisms. Tour includes Marin County’s SkyHorse Ranch, Valley Ford Mill, Windrush Farm (includes lunch), and Oakland’s 25thStreet Collective. Tour leader is Constance Washburn, former educational director at the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. Cost: $125. Info: bayareagreentours.org

Natarajan processes wild fennel for dye by steeping the plant in the sun. (Photos courtesy of Deepa Natarajan)

Natarajan processes wild fennel for dye by steeping the plant in the sun.
(Photos courtesy of Deepa Natarajan)

June 21–22 or July 12–13 10am–5pm
Felted Vest Workshops
Bodega Pastures, Bodega
Participants in this two-day workshop will make a customized and stylish felt vest from Bodega Pastures’ finest sheep’s wool. Cost: $265, including materials, camping, and two meals. Info: fibershed.com/events

Saturday July 19, 10am–4pm
Lichen Dye Workshop
Nicasio
Visit fibershed.com/event/lichen-dyes for info.

Sunday August 3, 2pm–6pm
Colors From Nature: Introduction to Natural Dyeing with Local Plants
South Berkeley/Ashby BART
Cost: $40-70 sliding scale plus $10 supply fee
Deepa Presti Natarajan talks about the basics of creating beautiful colors from local plant materials. Explore familiar kitchen plant by-products including onion skins, pomegranate skins, and avocado pits as well as native plants and easily foragable materials. Info: iuhoakland.com/madskills.html#fiber

 

The East Bay’s Certified Fibershed Designers

Myrrhia Fine Knitwear:
myrrhia.com

Kacy Dapp:
scales-SA.com

Other East Bay eco-designers

Hiroko Kurihara Designs:
25thstreetcollective.com/2013/05/members

O’Lover Hats:
oloverhats.com

Vermeulen and Company:
vermeulenandco.com

Moxie Shoes:
moxieshoes.com

The Moon:
themoon-oakland.com

Sabrina Fair:
sabrinafair.net

 

Other Resources (from Merry Luskin, reference librarian and handspinner, Oakland)

An good online fiber-community meet-up site: ravelry.com

Founded in 1953, the Conference of Northern California Handweavers is active throughout the Fibershed, including the East Bay. There website is information central on where to find your regional guild, supplies, and other resources. cnch.org

 

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