Written and photographed by Koa Kalish.
For Jessica, the journey started when she moved to Sebastopol and acquired six sheep (three Wensleydales and three Romneys). Jessica adored the animals’ beauty and tranquility, yet each spring, she found herself utterly perplexed with an abundance of wool she did not know what to do with. She would disperse it on her land for compost and mulch, but since knitting or weaving was outside her wheelhouse, Jessica desired to find a better way to process her small-batch wool. She wanted to find a solution not only for herself, but for many small farms in her community. Jessica’s inspiration led her to finding Fibershed, which eventually brought her to discover Luna.
Meet Luna: a ten-thousand needle wool felting machine. When Jessica met Luna it was love at first sight. Soon after, Jessica found the perfect home for Luna in a large, open-air workshop space in the The Barlow district (a relatively new, urban area of downtown Sebastopol). There, she founded JG SWITZER’s retail shop, creative studio, and design house headquarters.
“The Barlow is a busy place with a village of makers,” says Jessica, “and we are happy to be a part of it.” With plenty of foot traffic, people are encouraged to wander in and discover the magic and magnificence of wool.
Jessica’s question then became, “what can we provide here so that people can really have an experience with the wool, and with Luna?”
Jessica’s desire for community connection around wool created something truly unique. She started offering workshops in the summer of 2021, which have proven to be incredibly popular as they always sell out. Workshops are held once a month on Fridays or Sundays, running for 1.5 hours each. They are educational, creative, and connective for all. Participants are able to learn about wool, about Fibershed, and get to have an experience of felting their own piece.
For the felting, JG SWITZER provides over twenty different types of wool to be transformed into either sponges, a pillow, or a mat that participants can take home. And some folks bring their own wool to felt. In the workshop, the question is often asked, “what is your connection to wool?” Through sharing, listening, and creating, the communal thread of wool is woven.
“It has turned into a real source of joy,” says Jessica. “People just light up. Very often, they will return again to repeat the workshop with friends. Some call our workshops ‘wool therapy.’”
The ingenuity of JG SWITZER does not stop at experiential felting workshops. JG SWITZER’s vision is to become a design studio that is known for natural fibers and felted wool; to elevate the wool into the notoriety that it deserves.
Sadly, 95% of the fabrics in the designer showrooms are fully synthetic or acrylic. “The home goods and design trade audiences are really in need of — and some people are very hungry for — a fabric they can use in their home,” says Jessica. “There simply aren’t many natural fiber offerings.” Synthetic fibers aren’t necessarily what designers want to choose, but there’s not room to choose otherwise. Even washable wool is treated with chemicals.
To remedy this, JG SWITZER offers clean, shorn, raw wool that is 100% compostable and natural. With their beloved workhorse Luna, an industrial needle punch machine re-purposed for larger scale felting production, they are able to make natural wool yardage up to 75” wide. JG SWITZER then uses this yardage for a spectrum of products, including: wall art, upholstered furniture, pillows, animal products, laptop cases, sponges, throws, bedcovers, and fabricated headboards, chairs and ottomans.
Jessica, an artist who often paints with oil, discovered that she could “hand-paint” the wool by dying smaller pieces of wool and strategically and artistically applying them to the larger yardage for Luna to needle felt. “The courage that my oil painting teacher taught me in oil painting, taught me the same courage to work with wool,” she reflects. “Painting with oil, I can lay down oils on a canvas. Painting with wool is similar. I can put down different paints and run it through Luna and come back to it.” The process results in beautiful, sturdy, soft, sustainable art in the form of yardage. No two yards are alike, making them completely unique and customizable.
“I love the rediscovery of nature’s genius,” says Jessica. “Wool is a miracle fiber. Humans have been using it, wearing it, and utilizing it as a major source of survival for a thousand years or more. There’s no reason to stop now.”
JG SWITZER has been met by the design world with incredible success and appreciation for their craftsmanship, artisanship, and sustainability. “The design trade likes it for so many reasons: it has sound absorption qualities, it warms up a modern design aesthetic, it is antimicrobial, antibacterial, and flame resistant. And of course it is warm, regulates body heat; it is breathable and compostable. Cradle to cradle, wool can return to Earth and become a nutrient.”
Why wouldn’t we all want more cozy and healthy fibers in our home?
JG SWITZER sources their wool from local Climate Beneficial Fibershed members such as Ferndale Farms, Marie Hoff’s Stargrazers, Bodega Postures, Pont Family Farms, and their local Sebastpopl “Grandma Mob.” Natural dyeing is done by Judith Ashley and Craig Wilkinson. The in-house production team consists of Jessica Green Switzer (founder of JG Switzer), Emma Kalish (Senior Associate, Production and Design), Anna Maria (Head of Production and Seamstress), and several other retail team members.
“We’re woolists here,” says Jessica. “Welcome aboard the wooly express!”
Be sure to find them in The Barlow, online at www.jgswitzer.com, and on social media at @jgswitzer.
JG SWITZER is a part of Fibershed’s Producer Network — a membership-based network of farmers, ranchers, designers, sewers, weavers, knitters, felters, spinners, mill owners and natural dyers living and working within 51 counties in the North and Central regions of California. To connect with regional producers and their work, check out our Producer Directory.