MOLLY de VRIES | AMBATALIA | West Marin
Molly de Vries makes sustainable, multi-use, everyday linens with the goal of promoting a non-disposable life. A multi-generational Mill Valley resident, Molly first opened a fabric store focused on environmental and cultural sustainability in 2004. Above the front door she painted a quote by Gandhi: “There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and poverty.” Ambatalia, Molly’s current studio, retail shop, and textile company, occupies a 200-square-foot, red shipping container at the restored Mill Valley Lumber Yard. Before moving in a year ago, she installed reclaimed windows, added birch plywood to the walls, and made shelving from wood planks and braided fabric scraps.
While running daily errands in Mill Valley, Molly witnessed the needless waste created by pervasive single-use products. She began constructing handmade, utilitarian textiles to replace the plastic bags and packaging that pollute our oceans. “I’ve always loved the history of textiles and their function in our day-to-day lives,” she says. Now, at the charming historic lumber yard, which has straddled the creek at the entrance to downtown Mill Valley for over 100 years, she sells kitchen furoshiki towels, bento bags, denim baskets, aprons, smocks, napkins, and much more. She uses linen made from flax, organic cotton, and wool. The uses for her furoshikis are endless: as carriers for casseroles or groceries, as scarves or aprons, or as gift-wrapping for bread or wine.
“While running daily errands in Mill Valley, Molly witnessed the needless waste created by pervasive single-use products. She began constructing handmade, utilitarian textiles to replace the plastic bags and packaging that pollute our oceans. She uses linen made from flax, organic cotton, and wool. The uses for her furoshikis are endless: as carriers for casseroles or groceries, as scarves or aprons, or as gift-wrapping for bread or wine.”
Molly is inspired by the resurgence of interest in the ancient craft of dyeing with plants, and her clear blue eyes sparkle when she talks about indigo-dyeing, her latest adventure. She built her own fermented indigo vat at Ambatalia from a unique Japanese indigo (polygonum tinctorium) grown in the Capay Valley of Northern California by Rebecca Burgess. Tending the vat is a labor of love, involving daily care, composted indigo leaves (sukomo), and lye handmade from hard wood ash. She stirs the vat twice a day, sensing what it needs, testing fabrics, feeding it limestone and bran, and smelling and feeling for changes. It’s an exploratory process for which there are no established rules, so she’s figuring it out as she goes, enjoying the journey. The fabric is dipped in the vat for three minutes and then hangs another three minutes in between dips. Her blue furoshiki takes about five dips to develop its rich hue. This color is meaningful to her, representing rivers, ocean, and sky—the blues that connect us all.
Molly makes her beautiful rustic pieces locally in Mill Valley but reaches out to the greater virtual community on Instagram. Through her #GiveIndigo campaign, she is connecting indigo dyers from around the world—Japan, Thailand, Africa, Australia, all over the States—to create a quilt, with proceeds benefiting International Rivers. Molly is piecing the quilt together Japanese boro-style, constructing a collective patchwork from the many distinct pieces. As she lays out some of these lovely and eclectic pieces from far-flung reaches of the globe, a vision of the final quilt comes into focus. Molly says she felt alone when she only had the fabric store, but now she has a worldwide community of like-minded makers, both online and in person.