The Beauty of Limitation

Soft and supple Mendocino buckskin, Sierra foothills alpaca, Mill Valley felt, Capay Valley color grown cotton, and Mt. Barnaby indigo … these are the places and raw materials that designer and artist Mali Mrozinski has been exploring.  The “limitation” of sourcing materials within 150 miles might be better described as a “creative focus.”  This palate of color and form has emerged through the processes and raw materials that Mrozinski and the Fibershed project have been researching and developing throughout the last six months.

Mrozinski looks through fibershed samples

A skilled seamstress, and painter, Mali has exposed herself to a sprinkling of bioregional forms and colors, the outcomes of her exploration have become trusted garments in my small but incredibly well made wardrobe.  Our first meeting was shared in a downtown Oakland Cafe after Mrozinski’s teaching gig at Creative Growth.  We met with our mutual friend Dyan Ashby over a cup of tea and to exchange some color grown cotton fabric.  I had been told of Mrozinski’s talents long before I met her, “she is a wizard at construction, her skill is incredible, her pieces are complex and detailed,” said Ashby.

Mali described her work in the field and in the studio.  “I started as a painter and now I’m sewing… my work is focused on understanding and exploring my raw material base… as this happens I get closer to plants and animals.”  Mrozinski’s relationship with agriculture is not new, a crew member of Outstanding in the Field, she spent many hours helping the public connect with local food producers in their region. “We organized huge dinners on farms around the country, exploring the food and culture of each farm was quite an experience.”

Mrozinski wears black felted alpaca coat, the raw fibers from the herd who greets her

This interest in farm culture as well as a curiosity for well-tailored historical women’s patterns churned in Mrozinski’s creative mind as she explored local processing technique after technique.  We traveled together to a two-day buckskin brain tanning workshop where Mrozinski fell into deep connection with the skins and furs of locally harvested animals.  She rode the bicycle powered drum carder and made her own felt.  She explored the in’s and out’s of fermented indigo, and played with the delicate yet hardy Sally Fox color-grown cotton flannel.

Sitting with her rabbit skin at the brain tanning workshop

Mali developed a meditative rapport with rabbit skin during our class.  The material was a perfect size for the lap, and allowed for a comfortable processing method.  “This skin is incredible,” I recall her saying as she nuzzled it to her cheek.  Mrozinski is studying the possibility of making fur collars from locally harvested rabbits, whose skins often go to waste in the haste of procuring meat for the marketplace.

The amazing thing that I’ve discovered, is that my great aunt was a furrier,” said Mrozinski in a recent interview.  Perhaps there is a genetic propensity for working with fur?  If so, Mali is a likely inheritor of such a gene.

Mrozinski’s connection with history– whether it is that of her own family, or sifting through vintage sewing patterns, is an expression of her interest in utility and craft.  “Historical patterns were refined, but had many uses… I’m interested in the ability to wear something over and over again.”  Mali has played with collars, ruffled bottoms, 1940’s style women’s pants… “All of the adornments were removable, and were used to enhance very simple clothing.  Designs were made so that garments had a useful foundations but could still look beautiful and tailored.

A beautiful example of Mrozinski’s collars

Mrozinski has recently returned from a trip to Northern Pennsylvania.  The Amish made a big impression on her– their simplicity, and their reliance on very few materials was an inspiration and a curiosity. ” I‘m so interested in how can you remove all the unnecessary, remain intentional, and slow down.”  These questions are essential foundations for Mrozinski and the Fibershed project as a whole.

How do you make the most with what you have?

Contrary to the belief systems espoused by our culture that devours new product…we must remind ourselves that we are a creative culture, and a DIY culture too.

Mrozinski’s black alpaca coat, waterproof and elegant– and from a herd 140 miles away

If it wasn’t for the commitment to limit our material base to local fiber producers, we would have never known that within 140 miles of our front door exists a herd of world class alpaca.  Follicle testing proves the sire of this herd is not just extraordinary, but he actually produces the densest fiber in the world.  In a rapid paced society that has created seemingly unending possibilities for material form, it makes all the sense in the world why an artist like Mrozinski, or any of us for that matter would desire to slow down, take stock of our own communities and resources, and figure out what in fact we might have been missing?

The facts are lining up here… we are surrounded by beauty, as well as solutions to our ecological crisis, we just need to slow down, and smell the alpaca…

Kuchina and Mali say hello to one another

The story of Renaissance Ridge and this fabulous alpaca herd is the subject for our next post.  We just wanted to pay mention to the incredible material that came from these lovelies- and pay our respects to Mali who worked tirelessly on the process of constructing this coat– adorned with magnets as closures, and sewn with organic thread (which proved very tricky!), Mali pulled it off.  She created a coat whose manufacturing consisted of no harmful processes.

The already black fibers were gently sheared, wet felted by hand (by Katherine Jolda), and then hand-cut and sewn my Mrozinski– a completely local supply chain, from soil to skin….and while this coat is as ecologically friendly as they come… it seems everyone dies for it when I’m walking down the street… there is some longing and pain involved when they realize it is not off the rack.

However, this does not preclude you from having your own heirloom coat.  Mali, bless her heart, does take custom orders.  You can find her by clicking here:  Mali Mrozinski

Mali’s tailored custom coat made with Sally Fox’s color grown cotton and vintage buttons

Mrozinski’s hands have been fast at work.. she also tailored our local cotton into a fine and standout piece.  We worked together on having strips of the garment dyed in black walnuts, so as to created a well constructed and flattering back pattern.  “I wanted the Fibershed to have tailored pieces, I think it is really important to answer the question of how or if local materials can be made into quality garments,” said Mrozinski.

Black walnut and buffalo brown cotton seed variety spawn a jacket of nature’s colors

Mrozinski answered her own question in spades, and everyone who sees her work agrees.. the pieces are well constructed, beautiful and will hold the test of time.

You’ve seen the pants in an earlier post… and here is my dearest and most favorite combination for more formal events… The Mrozinski and Fox fiber jacket, worn with my favorite basic tailored Fox fiber pants.  Thank you Sally Fox, thank you Mali Mrozinski, and thank you black walnuts, and organic color-grown cotton!

bio-regional attire photographed in the Redwoods

The fabric that Mali constructed this piece with– will once again be milled within our community:  If you would like more information on the process we are undertaking to re-invent a bioregional supply chain:  Come to and hear the stories and share in the most unique event of the season, entitled, Re-Weaving the Community Cloth.

Sally Fox, Mali Mrozinski, myself and all of the other farmers and designers look forward to seeing you there!