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Farm-to-Closet Fashion

Fibershed brings together farmers, weavers and knitters for clothes made locally and ethically

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Walking toward the garden, we pass cast-iron cauldrons sitting over an outdoor stove. "I use those pots for the natural dyes," says Pettis-Sarley. "I'm just going through the whole plant base of this property. I started with the worst weeds first. It ended up being fabulous." Overgrown kale from the garden gets thrown into the pot, producing a muted, buttery white color. Eucalyptus from the cow pasture has ended in yarns of red, light green and yellow, depending on the variety. Euphorbia, a plant that looks straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, creates an entrancing, bright mustard-green.

"At the end of the day, I just want to play," Pettis-Sarley says, standing in the garden over the land that she stewards—glimmering pond, sloping, green valley and all. "I don't dream that I'm going to get rich, but I dream that I'm going to have a really good time."

Twirl yarn is available at Knitterly in Petaluma, and can be purchased online at Fibershed.—Leilani Clark

  • Katie Stohlmann


Black Mountain Weavers was founded in Point Reyes Station 25 years ago as a co-op for clothing makers, but for the past 10 years, Marlie de Swart has run it with a hyperlocal bent. Of its 30 or so members, five actively participate in running the storefront, and four are handspinners, including de Swart herself. "Handspun yarn is very rare," she says excitedly, clutching a skein of her own soft, fluffy, undyed yarn. "Because it takes so much work, it's not always lucrative to sell."

And yet Black Mountain's handspun yarn draws knitters from miles around, she says, surely in part because of de Swart's emphasis on locale. Her skeins are marked with the farm where the wool was sourced—always within 150 miles of the store (most are within 20). "The carbon footprint is virtually zero," she says, drawing a comparison to fabric from China.

Transportation isn't the only impact on the earth; in China, wool is heaped into machines the size of her entire store, and excess material is simply burned off into the atmosphere. Chemical dyes run off into waterways, which then seep into the ground or carry out to the ocean. In contrast, de Swart spins yarn on a wheel in her home, and she and fellow co-op members use natural dyes like indigo (plant) or cochineal (insect).

It takes de Swart about two to three hours to make a skein of yarn, not including soaking the wool overnight three times. From there, it takes about two to three days to knit a sweater, and that's making good time; she's been doing it her whole life. Her mother was a spinner and knitter in her native Holland, and de Swart moved to California to attend school in Los Angeles about 35 years ago (she still has a slight accent), met the man who became her husband and moved north soon after.

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