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Feeling good about minimizing one's impact is great, and the sweaters de Swart knits are incredibly soft and beautiful. (Even if you managed to find something that feels as good inside and out for $265 on the top floor of Nordstrom, it still wouldn't be hand-made with organic materials.) It's not just de Swart's crafts that catch attention in her tiny store on the bustling street, either. Fingerless mittens knitted with angora rabbit fur are in stock, as well as beautiful scarves made to last a lifetime, unique shirts from tightly knitted fabric and even hats made from dog fur. (Dog fur items are usually made by request from pet owners, who bring in their own "wool.")
The only place to get these handmade items is at de Swart's store, though a limited number of items are available online through Fibershed. Black Mountain itself does not have an online store, explains de Swart, for one simple reason: "We can't make it fast enough."
Black Mountain Weavers, 11245 Main St., Pt. Reyes Station. 415.663.9130.—Nicolas Grizzle
THE ABCs OF CLOTHES HIJK, SEBASTOPOL
Heidi Iverson became a clothier almost by accident. "I make dolls for a living, it's my day job," she says inside her small studio that sits among towering trees in west Sonoma County. But an epiphany came while working in a yarn store: the university-trained ceramicist and sculptor realized that yarn is a raw material just like clay. "I thought, I'm a sculptor, I can build clothes," she says.
HIJK, the hyperlocal clothing line Iverson produces with Jen Kida, uses raw materials that are grown, harvested and processed by people she's met face-to-face. She uses the material to design, sew and dye—in other words, build—clothes. "You give me the yarn, and I will make something amazing with it," she says.
The clothes are high-quality, and the price reflects both the finished product's durability and the work put into making it. These aren't $10 shirts from a big-box store—there's one from HIJK that retails for $200. But its functionality has a certain style that isn't readily available from a kiosk in the mall. One design, large and flowing, is almost like a tunic, with pockets perfect for burrowing chilly hands in—thick yet breathable.
Though her clothes are available through Fibershed, Iverson admits that her priorities aren't solely about making money. "Most of what this is about is building community," she says. The cotton comes from a producer in the Capay Valley near Sacramento, the indigo dye is handmade in Novato, and the all the clothes are hand-sewn and designed at Iverson's studio, making the term "hyperlocal" most appropriate.
Iverson, who moved here from Iowa, also makes dye, which is quite an involved process. For instance, she finds oak galls around her studio and grinds them into a fine powder before soaking them in water for 24 hours. Then she adds iron, procured by letting metal scraps sit in jars of water. The length of time they sit determines how much iron will be added to the dye, which influences the final color. This process has been used since ancient Roman times, and it's much safer for the environment and less wasteful than synthetic dyes. The tradeoff is that it costs about $37 to dye one $130 shirt—and much more, say, for HIJK's $300 pair of fisherman's pants.
Instead of buying clothes over and over again, Iverson would like to see people appreciate what they have, and take good care of it. "People used to fix their clothes," she says. "In most of Europe, that never really went away. But in the U.S., we're all about cheap and fast. I would like to see the idea of the 'slow food' movement for clothes."