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Once those people learn to knit, dye and sew their own coat, the true-cost price tag for labor and materials that go into Fibershed's handmade clothing starts to make more sense.
For those who can't afford the kits, or the time commitment of learning how to knit (a reality that Burgess readily acknowledges), there are other ways to help beat the exploitative cheap-clothing system. Burgess recommends shopping at thrift stores and buying clothes made from natural fibers—100 percent wool or 100 percent cotton is best.
"Plastic, acrylic and polyester blends are extremely toxic when washed," she says. "Microfibers have been getting through municipal water treatment systems and out into rivers, bays and oceans." A 2011 University College Dublin study revealed that during an average wash, one piece of clothing might shed up to 1,900 fibers—microplastics that are polluting beaches worldwide.
It's facts like these that push Burgess to think in a long-term, visionary fashion about Fibershed's future.
"The harvesting, the processing, through to the sale—all of that, to me, should be inspiring," says Burgess. "This isn't just a product. It's a way of life. It's not like you're just buying a shirt. We're creating a whole new way of societal functioning."
For more, see www.fibershed.com.—Leilani Clark
SHEAR DELIGHT TWIRL RANCH, NAPA
An afternoon at Twirl Ranch—the 2,000-acre Napa ranch where Mary Pettis-Sarley and her husband raise sheep, angora goats, cattle, llamas and even alpacas—is an invitation into jolly chaos. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in textile design and spending a few years teaching, Pettis-Sarley moved to the ranch in 1979 to embrace "cowboying" in the wilds of Northern California. Now she spends her time among the animals and plants that provide the materials for her fiber work.
On a Wednesday afternoon, Pettis-Sarley welcomes me into her upstairs studio, her blue eyes and green shirt under denim overalls as bright as the sky outside, and begins bringing out skein after skein of the naturally dyed yarn that's sold in the Fibershed Marketplace.
"I just have fun," says Pettis-Sarley, explaining the process behind colors like "thistle" and "onion." "It's all a game," she adds with a laugh, an attitude obvious in her approach to pretty much everything on the ranch, including her animals. With names like Tidbit, Noodle, Mrs. Sprout and Peanut Butter, the sheep and goats sound like cast members from Yo Gabba Gabba. Seventeen dogs run happily across the property, acting as guardians from mountain lions and coyotes.
Up on a ridge above the house, we're greeted by curious, sweet-faced alpacas—they were "rehomed" to the ranch nearly two years ago—and freshly sheared sheep of all sizes. Pettis-Sarley shows me to the shearing room, where I feel three raw alpaca fleeces. Incredibly soft and lustrous, they are surely the material for the dreamiest of future Fibershed sweaters. It's in this same space that she cleans and washes the fleece, and then transfers it outside where it dries in the sun before heading to the Yolo Wool Mill to be processed into yarn.