Story by Jenna Tico, photos by Alycia Lang (except where noted)
With a quote famously attributed to Mark Twain (but more likely overheard on BART in the middle of a fog-in), Bay area residents love to quip that “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco”—and most haven’t even tried surfing here. For Tisha Thompson and Heather Graef, yarn gurus behind Boneyard Beanies, the unpredictable weather of our coastline has worked to their advantage. Boneyard Beanies, their Mill Valley-based company that specializes in “beanies made for the rugged California coast,” sprang from the observation that surfers in our area emerge from the ocean feeling exhilarated, exhausted, and… freezing. “You’ve wiped out in the boneyard just one time too many that day,” Tisha explains, “and you gotta sit down and relax.” Hopefully, with a cup of something warm in your hand, and one of Boneyard Beanies’ exceptional hats swaddling your ears.
But what in the name of boogie boards is a boneyard? When Tisha and Heather first identified their target population, they knew they had to give a righteous name to their product: at that point, beanies that were either hand-knit by Tisha or crocheted by Heather. In surf lingo, the “boneyard” is the place where the waves crash, where the rocks are. “Sometimes it’s more rough, sometimes it’s not. You’ve been surfing, you’re worn out, it’s a cold day…you’re gonna put your hat on to stay warm.” And if that hat happens to be made from the fiber of sheep grazing on the bluffs above the beach, created by locals who also know and love that ragged stretch of sea?
Though they spent nine months experimenting with all types of fiber, especially “hand-me-down yarns,” Tisha and Heather are elated to be members of Fibershed. They currently rely on Woolly Egg Ranch for the majority of their stock, and are never turning back to synthetics: “[Local fiber] feels good in your hands… as it turns out, the natural wools are really beachy. They’re perfect for what we’re doing.”
Tisha, who has been a vendor in the Fibershed Marketplace in the past—as a knitter, felter, and contributor to a wildly successful wool potholder product designed by Molly de Vries of Ambatalia—has long enjoyed taking her knitting wherever she goes. “I can go downtown and knit my little heart away in coffee shops or on benches, [and] talk to people.” Passersby continually commented on her projects; until one day, she received an order to make hats…but knowing she couldn’t accomplish it alone, reached out to Heather. At that point, Heather—who has been crocheting for ten years, and making art since childhood—was focused on the graphic design business she established after graduating from California College of the Arts. Though she cofounded a fiber-friendly collaborative, Marin Handmade, she didn’t begin crocheting regularly until receiving Tisha’s phone call. “Until I told her: make me some hats,” Tisha laughs, grinning mischievously. And since that day just over a year ago, Boneyard Beanies has grown into a thriving Fibershed artisanship with a catalog of six hats, assorted fiber jewelry, and custom-made orders, all available through their shops on Etsy and the Fibershed Marketplace.
Heather’s graphic design experience has come in handy, particularly in the development of the Boneyard logo: a striking Maori warrior with a tongue that doubles as a surfboard. “We call him the Dude,” Tisha declares. “I think he’s pretty cool.” Cool, edgy, and courageous: just like Boneyard’s target clientele, who gravitate toward their trademark Woolly Egg Ranch beanie with the word “EPIC” knit across the side in bold letters. In addition to producing heavy cotton bikinis, halter tops, and cover ups, as well as silver and precious metal clay jewelry, both Tisha and Heather are excited to create more graphic-style beanies. “We’re still trying to find the perfect texture and weight of yarn,” Tisha explains, excited at the prospect of developing Boneyard’s own trademark blend.
In time, they hope to create a Look Book and to market their designs to surf shops and retailers; however, because their merchandise is 100% handmade, it’s less a question of demand and more “a question of how to get them made.” Both Tisha and Heather work primarily from home—Heather from her houseboat in Sausalito, and Tisha from the cottage she shares with her husband in Mill Valley—and both have other careers. In addition to crafting in coffee shops, Tisha nannies for the child of a woman whom she also used to look after—adding a unique, multi-generational layer to her creative and professional world. Likewise, Heather designs from a chair that her grandfather passed down to her. “He would sit in that chair and do his illustrations, and now I have it,” she smiles, placing her hand on the worn leather.
Whether designing logos or knitting on the beach, one thing is clear: the ladies of Boneyard need to have their hands in a project. Along with the orders flowing in from Etsy and the Fibershed Marketplace—sure to pick up during the holiday season—both women enjoy making dolls out of vintage fabrics, with needle-felted wool hair and Fibershed-certified stuffing. “I just have to be making something,” Tisha says, describing the drawers of fabrics, ribbons, and fibers that line her tiny home. “I’ve been upcycling since the sixties.”
For Heather, the joy comes from the process of inventing, from the “actual hands-on making of the thing… there’s a real satisfaction in just creating something from beginning to end, and it’s your own.” Not to mention, hardly a dull moment when no patterns are involved: “I would look at a pattern, scan it, and forget about it… most of the designs I’ve done in crochet are made up.” It’s a process that leaves little room for cookie-cutter creations, even less room for boredom, but provides an ocean of possibility; wild, unpredictable, and always changing, just like the sea that inspires it.
As California roasts onward into October—clear, dry skies belying the calendar date—Tisha and Heather look forward to working with new producers; creating cozy, wearable art regardless of the weather (or lack thereof). Both belong to Roots Collaborative in Mill Valley, and enthusiastically await the connections springing forth from Fibershed’s Grow Your Jeans event that took place in October, and the Wool Symposium coming up November 7th, where they will be selling their creations in the Fibershed Marketplace section of the event that is open to the public at no charge (more information here).
Tisha first heard about Grow Your Jeans six years ago while sitting around a table with other Fibershed members, and was honored to co-create the “Beautiful Beast” hood featured in the event’s fashion show of entirely local denim pants and “grass-fed” tops (some of which are currently for sale on the Fibershed Marketplace). “I was flabbergasted by the expertise in the room,” she remembers, recalling the outlandish inspiration to produce jeans and dye them with indigo. “Lo and behold… they did it! I was just blown away by the passion.” It’s a passion that runs deep for both Tisha and Heather, who—despite the relative infancy of their collaboration—treat Boneyard Beanies as the culmination of years of practice and love.
After walking across the room to pose for a photo, past their shared bookshelf—The Making of a Rag Doll, Japanese Design Motifs, and Contemporary Copper Jewelry all smiling up from the shelf—Tisha suddenly stops. “Wait!” she exclaims, reaching over to grab her knitting needles. “Okay,” she beams, suddenly relaxed, like a surfer paddling into the swell.
“Now I’m in my element.”
For more information on Boneyard Beanies and to view the full catalog, visit: www.boneyardbeanies.com